The Schmenge Brothers were a world class polka band played by John Candy and Eugene Levy on the popular Canadian comedy TV show SCTV.
They were the leaders of the polka band The Happy Wanderers. The characters were a polka band twosome, that made you laugh and cry at all their crazy on stage antics and the over the top songs that they performed for us weekly. I can still see our old rabbit eared, black and white television set that I watched them on in my mind.
John Candy played the polka clarinetist Yosh Schmenge, while Eugene Levy was the zany accordion player Stan Schmenge. They were also so very gracious to the little people behind the scenes. This was always the case when they never forgot to say thanks to Mrs Vilve Yachke for the cabbage rolls and coffee. They were so mainstream that Yosh even made it to Sesame Street!
This band first appeared in the May 21, 1982. It was a show within a show. The band played this easy listening style of music, like Lawrence Welk, only thing missing was the bubble machine! At one time they were into even venturing into the New Wave genre… honestly.
The guys were from this mythical country called Leutonia, complete with very thick European accents. They even did a album. On this facetious 2 set disk, they play songs like “Dance, Old Man Dance”, “Just a Schmenge Waltz”, “There’s Rhythm In My Lederhosen”, “Mama Cook Me Cabbage Rolls”, “The Wanderer’s Polka”. A must for any Schmenge collection!
The Schmenge Brothers were a class act. Their act was based upon Czechoslavian-born Edmonton-based polka cable show host Gaby Haas, really! They were both in Edmonton on night and were watching TV and they came across this show. They thought that it would be a neat idea to do a parody of it, but forgot about it when they returned back to Toronto. It took them a couple of years to get back to the idea and when they did it, it was a hit to say the least.
The Schmenge Brothers popularity resulted in the HBO special The Last Polka (a parody of Martin Scorsese’s The Last Waltz). I’ve never seen it, but the reviews are great! Now I’ve to keep my eye out for that one.
When I was growing up watching SCTV, my favorite characters were the Schmenge Brothers, hands down. Both characters combined reminded me of a old friends father. The thing is, he really was the embodiment of both actors together! When I saw him, I saw them on the show. If you ever met him you know exactly what I mean.
Anyways, these guys were pure fun to watch on TV. The way they talked, the way the roamed around on their show and on how they made the Polka band just rocked! Sometimes the band portrayed the real essence of how a polka band would be on stage. Other times … not so much.
I do not have any of their shows on DVD, but when ever I am searching through my PVR(TVO) guide looking for a show and I see SCTV on it, I feel the urge to tape it and go back to those crazy TV viewing days as a kid.
So has anyone ever heard of the The Happy Wanderers, led by the Schmenge Brothers? If you haven’t then what do you think about them now?
Keep on Polka-in’