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Al Martinez

King of the Kazoos

April 24, 1986|AL MARTINEZ

Albert Broder was in a high state of annoyance. The customer who had just walked into his Fairfax Avenue office had committed the unpardonable sin of putting the wrong end of a kazoo in her mouth.

"My God," Broder was saying, "haven't you ever played a kazoo before?"

He is a large, balding man with an aggressive manner and a voice as flat and dry as a Texas desert.

His customer, on the other hand, was a small, whispery woman in her mid-30s who was obviously not accustomed to verbal assaults by kazoo salesmen.

"Only as a child," she replied in a teeny-tiny voice.

"Where you from?" Broder demanded.

"West Covina."

"What do you do?"

"What?"

"What kind of work?"

She said she was an actress and a part-time chandelier salesman.

Broder shook his head, the implication being that he has had trouble before with West Covina actresses who sold chandeliers.

"You do it this way." He put a white kazoo with a Coca-Cola logo in his mouth. Then he played something that sounded like "Stars and Stripes Forever."

"Try it," Broder said to the poor woman.

That was when she made her second mistake, or perhaps her third, if you count walking into the store in the first place as a mistake. She blew into the kazoo.

"You don't blow into the kazoo, for God's sake!" Broder said, grimacing. "You hum! "

He demonstrated a second time, gave the woman a bag full of free kazoos and sent her on her way. She hurried out, never knowing that Broder in reality is a kind and generous man. He is just very passionate about kazoos.

"Educating the public is my No. 1 job," he explained with a sigh. "I even had an instruction booklet made up."

He handed me a booklet: "The Kazoo. A Fun Music-Maker for All Ages. Operating instructions: (1) Place larger end in mouth. (2) Keep fingers and thumb clear of turret and small opening. (3) Hum (don't blow). Note: If instrument fails to activate, loudly say the word 'doo' into the larger end."

The instructions are accompanied by the silhouette of a man playing the kazoo properly. One can almost sense the presence of Broder just outside of the picture, watching.

Broder has been selling the instruments for three years. Before that, he drove a taxi in Detroit. He considers himself Mr. Kazoo.

You can't miss his small, kazoo-cluttered office across from the Farmers Market. In front, there is an animated gorilla with a clown on its shoulders and a kazoo in its mouth. The gorilla's head moves from side to side.

I visit Mr. Kazoo occasionally to see what he's up to. He is not the only promoter I have ever known, but he is the only promoter I have ever known who is trying to be to the kazoo what Col. Sanders was to fried chicken.

His latest kazoo-oriented undertaking involves wrestling.

"I'm looking for a wrestler I will call Captain Kazoo," Broder said. "He'll wear a Captain Kazoo outfit and hand out 5,000 kazoos with his picture on it every time he wrestles. You like wrestling, I'll get you tickets."

I said I didn't want any wrestling tickets.

"I'll get you tickets to 'Cats' then. You know the guy who wrote 'Mairzy Doats'? Al Trace. He's doing a special song for Captain Kazoo. All I need is the right wrestler. When do you wanna go?"

"I don't want tickets to 'Cats,' " I said.

Broder played "Mairzy Doats" on the kazoo. It also sounded like "Stars and Stripes Forever."

"You ever hear of the Kaminsky International Kazoo Quartet?" he demanded.

I said I had not.

"They're famous, for God's sake!"

"I still haven't heard of them."

Broder scowled. "The Kaminsky International Kazoo Quartet plays all over the country," he said. "They're coming here to some colleges. They'll be using my kazoos. I'm trying to set them up to play half-time at a Lakers playoff game. You like basketball? I'll get you some playoff tickets."

"I don't want playoff tickets."

"They used my kazoos once, but they always wait until the last minute. I can't wait that long. Take a look at this."

Broder handed me a piece of flared plastic, allowed me to examine it, then took it back. He affixed it to the outer end of a kazoo so that it looked a little like a miniature plastic trumpet.

"I invented that," he said. "It's so you can tell one end of the kazoo from the other. It'll be ready in 30 days. Write that down."

"Hey, you can't . . . "

"Write it down, for God's sake."

What the hell. I wrote it down.

"It makes a different sound," Broder said. He played a tune. "You know what that was?"

" 'Stars and Stripes Forever'?"

He didn't say whether I was right or wrong. He just said, "What kind of cigars you smoke?"

"Broder," I said very slowly, "I don't want to see 'Cats,' I don't want to be at a Lakers playoff game, I can't stand wrestling, I've quit cigars and to hell with the kazoo."

"Hey," he called as I stomped out past the animated gorilla, "will I see you again?"

Of course.

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