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Credibility Gap

Satirical comedy troupe the Credibility Gap didn't enjoy significant popularity outside their native Southern California during their life span, but the group was a training ground for a number of major comic talents, including Harry Shearer, Michael McKean, and David L. Lander. The Credibility Gap's name came from a Nixon-era euphemism for the distance between a politician's statements and the truth, and began in 1968 as a regular feature on Los Angeles radio station KRLA-AM created by news director Lew Irwin. Irwin and his collaborators Richard Beebe, Thom Beck, Len Chandler, and John Gilliland created the Credibility Gap to record and perform humorous sketches that parodied current events and were broadcast as part of KRLA's news and public affairs programming. Under Irwin's leadership, the troupe was popular enough to land a deal with Blue Thumb Records and release an album drawn from their KRLA sketches, An Album of Political Pornography. But in late 1968, Thom Beck left the group, and Lew Irwin followed in early 1969 (Irwin would go on to found another comedy group, the Fifth Estate, and created a successful syndicated underground radio news feature, Earth News). Joining the Credibility Gap in their absence were Harry Shearer, an actor, comedian, and writer who as a child appeared on The Jack Benny Show, and David L. Lander, a talented voice mimic hired by Irwin shortly before his departure. By 1970, Len Chandler and John Gilliland had drifted away from the Credibility Gap, and a friend of Lander's, a New York actor named Michael McKean, had joined the team, though the troupe's relationship with KRLA had soured and their show had been shrunk from 15 minutes to a mere 180 seconds. However, after Shearer landed a side gig as a disc jockey on an FM "free form" outlet, KPPC, the Credibility Gap found a new home on the station, and the group's satire gained both sharpness and depth. In 1971, the group, now centered around Beebe, Lander, McKean, and Shearer, released a second album, Woodschtick and More, for Capitol Records, which coincided with the end of their run at KPPC when they were fired along with most of the station's staff. Woodschtick and More didn't sell well, but the group did find a sympathetic ear at Warner Brothers Records, who after hiring the Credibility Gap to do some satirical sketches that appeared on promotional releases signed them to a record deal. However, due to a contractual glitch, the Credibility Gap's album for Warner Bros., 1974's A Great Gift Idea!, wasn't released until shortly after their deal with the label had lapsed, and both promotion and sales were non-existent. The Credibility Gap regularly performed live during this period, and on KMET they continued a New Year's Day tradition began at KPPC in which they performed surreal improvisational commentary on Pasadena's annual Tournament of Roses parade; an album was compiled from their New Year's Day shows called Floats. In 1975, Richard Beebe left the Credibility Gap, and the group split up a year later; a collection of material from their KPPC broadcasts, The Bronze Age of Radio, appeared shortly after their breakup. Michael McKean and David L. Lander soon found success on the popular television series Laverne and Shirley, playing thick-headed greasers Lenny and Squiggy, while McKean and Harry Shearer teamed up again in 1984 for the cult classic heavy metal parody This Is Spinal Tap, and later played aging folkies in 2003's A Might Wind. Shearer and McKean were also members of the cast of Saturday Night Live (Shearer in 1979 and 1985, McKean in 1995), while Shearer has enjoyed a long run as a member of the voice cast of The Simpsons. After a long career in radio, Richard Beebe succumbed to lung cancer in 1998.
© Mark Deming /TiVo


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