Crazy Eddie’s Place in Pop Culture

As breathless sales pitches occasionally remind us, everything must go. And so it is: Eddie Antar, the Eddie from the Crazy Eddie's chain of electronics stores, has died. The 68-year-old New Yorker started his brand with a single Brooklyn location in 1971, eventually expanding into the Greater New York City and Tri-State areas, with locations in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, and Pennsylvania. As the chain grew, so did Antar’s propensity for tax fraud. He underreported the business’s income to the IRS and wound up serving six years in prison. By 1989 all 43 Crazy Eddie’s locations were shuttered.

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During the chain's eighteen-year history, it became something of a household name for people in the Tri-State area. The Crazy Eddie’s name brings to mind a visage not of Antar himself, but of his designated pitchman in a long series of TV ads. Former DJ Jerry Carroll was not technically playing a character called Crazy Eddie when he frantically rattled off lists of often seasonally themed consumer electronics available at "INSANE!" prices. But he provided plenty of crazy referrals to the unseen Eddie, whose purported mental health issues would allow customers to get the upper hand when purchasing VCRs, air conditioners, stereos, and so on.

Carroll got the gig after reading a Crazy Eddie's radio commercial live on WPIX in New York; he communicated Crazy Eddie's insanity with such lusty commitment, stretching out the a in insane, that Antar hired him for what would become an iconic role. Those spots are part of a rich, strange mini-tapestry in American pop culture. They showed the clear influence of Madman Muntz, an electronics-obsessed salesman who made his name selling cars (and later electronics) with bizarre gimmicks and publicity stunts. Muntz and Eddie both likely contributed to the low-rent excitability of local commercials all across this great nation, which means we may owe both of them an affectionate punch in the face.

This aggressive pitching was, of course, the perfect target for Saturday Night Live's own excitable pitchman Dan Aykroyd, who has demonstrated a career-long fascination with fast-talking slickers. The Bass-o-Matic guy gets more clip-show airtime, but Aykroyd spoofed Crazy Eddie himself in a 1976 bit that's available with a Hulu subscription, because NBC's pre-2013 online archiving of SNL is a total garbage fire. 

Aykroyd's Crazy Ernie isn't the only pop-culture offshoot of Crazy Eddie. Without Crazy Eddie, Seinfeld's Elaine may not have mistakenly dated The Wiz (as in Nobody Beats), perfectly expressing the bizarre mélange of comfort, fascination, and horror a lot of us have with cheesy, inescapable TV ads produced on a budget. Crazy Eddie also begat Futurama's robot equivalent, Malfunctioning Eddie, who sold goods at rock-bottom prices due to actual mechanical failure on his part, which also caused his commitment to a robot asylum and frequent self-explosions.

Of course, these cultural touchstones eventually get abstracted, to the point where it's likely that a decent percentage of Futurama viewers around the year 2000 had never seen or heard of an actual Crazy Eddie ad. But nothing beats the real thing — or in Crazy Eddie's perfectly huckster-ish case, a loud and famous ripoff of the real thing. Multiple businesses, family members, and Eddie Antar himself have all subsequently attempted to revive the Crazy Eddie brand as the trademark rights to the name have been bought, sold, and grafted onto a series of failed websites. Beyond the fact that discounted electronics have more or less been nationalized by both the internet and now-flailing chains like Best Buy, Crazy Eddie doesn't really work on a cross-country, non-local level. The ads need to be authentically cheap and ridiculous in a way that current national ads can only muster with irony and irritating smugness (Napoleon Dynamite may not have influenced a lot of other movies, but it sure looms large in advertising). It also probably helps to have some malfeasance from which to frantically distract. Jerry Carroll, not being the "real" Crazy Eddie, may not have known anything about Eddie Antar's financial trickery (he's also not dead). But the spirit of Antar's enterprise was certainly there in his performances.

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