Upsetting Day: The Grabowski Shuffle 🌭

In 1987, the producers of the award-winning Superbowl Shuffle created a SPECIAL REM HOME VIDEO PRESENTATION of The Grabowski Shuffle™ starring Chicago Bears coach, Mike Ditka. Here’s the box cover:

Just in case you’re not familiar, the “Superbowl Shuffle” was a charity rap song performed by the actual ’85 Chicago Bears players. So now, with all the knowledge and backstory you could be expected to have, stop and ask yourself: What is it? What the fuck is this? It’s called The Grabowski Shuffle™ and that’s the box, so what is it?

Let’s look at the back of the box:

“It’s a fun look at some real people who have dreams and aren’t afraid to work hard toward those dreams. A fast-moving video treat that’s honest, inspirational and fun… family entertainment at its best!” It features “#1 Grabowski” Mike Ditka, rapper and zapper, who has a winning team that plays at life, not football. So now, after hearing all that, you only have to answer one question: what is this?

The video opens on a closeup of Mike Ditka explaining how he originally thought everyone wanted to be the fair-haired kid on the block, but they aren’t. They’re the guys who had to work a little bit harder, and he likes that. That’s why he called them “The Grabowskis” and the good guys “The Smiths.” I promise I’m not leaving any information out. You’ve now seen the marketing, you know the context, and you’ve had the premise explained to you by the principle star, who is a professional communicator. Really think. What the goddamn fuck is The Grabowski Shuffle™?

Ditka adds a caveat to his explanation. He says, and I carefully quote, “maybe I wanted us to be the bad guy a little bit, but in real meaning, ‘Grabowski’ doesn’t mean ‘bad guy.’ It means hard worker, good attitude. A person that which gets knocked down and get back, daah… to me, it’s the American Dream. It’s what it’s all about. It’s the guy who struggles a little bit but overcomes and makes things happen.” I already know this didn’t help you. It probably didn’t even help eliminate any of your guesses. You still think this is a rapping West Side Story set in Chicago or a comedy about an A/A group that saves a church. I could strap a bomb on a baby set to go off if you correctly explained what The Grabowski Shuffle™ was and that baby would grow old and die of natural causes while you were still guessing.

The camera finally cuts away from Mike Ditka’s pointless, meandering philosophies on the can-do attitude of whoever or whatever Grabowskis might be. But it cuts right back to him, now a little bit further away. He gives a speech on how he preaches attitude, especially to his toughknocking, rough-manning, hard-USAing Chicago Bears. They’re not like the other NFL teams, you see. Ditka accuses those other guys of having “a lot of glamor.” With their “pretty white shoes, uniforms.” With utter contempt he says of those other professional football players, “they throw the ball around.” But on the other hand, “when you look at the team that gets down in there,” like his Chicago Bears, “hey: they’re Grabowskis.” I’m worried you not only still don’t know what this is, you might know less about football.

So maybe, possibly, Mike is trying to say that Grabowskis are people who have to work hard because they’re not very talented, and while Mike is on the subject: fuck the talented. He’s basically saying nothing, but cranky about it. If you polled 1000 men and asked the one with the least education and the most domestic abuse convictions to describe a “real American,” it would match Mike Ditka’s explanation of a Grabowski verbatim. I’ve shared every detail of the video so far, and I’m pretty confident you still don’t know what The Grabowski Shuffle™ is.

We cut away again and instead of a slightly more distant Ditka, it’s an exterior shot of the Riviera Theater in Chicago holding talent auditions for The Grabowski Shuffle™. Look at this crowd and see if it helps you guess what the fuck they’re trying out for:

A long line of Grabowski hopefuls file in, definitely less prepared than anyone has been for anything. Some of them read rap lyrics or practice a dance routine while others finish their paperwork. It’s enough context to start to understand what’s happening, but every new discovery leads to five new questions. You might be fairly confident the coach of the Chicago Bears is holding an open call for a high budget rap musical starring himself and an all-amateur cast of not football players based on Grabowskis, a term he personally invented for a type of person he can’t clearly explain. But how? Why? For whom? And to what end? You fool, you have no idea what The Grabowski Shuffle™ is yet.

Each person steps up to a mark and introduces themselves, and part of the audition process for this, whatever this is, is fully committing to the Grabowski way of life. So everybody adds Grabowski to their name. The world hasn’t been told yet what this is, but to be a part of it, you must take its name. “Grabowski,” says everyone. “Grabowski,” the rest agree.

Kurt Shaeffer Grabowski,” declares a man whose whole personality is an unlit cigar. “I am the Grabowski killer,” confesses a stranger in a hat. The director breaks the Grabowskis into smaller groups of Grabowskis and tells each Grabowski he wants to see them dance and rap. He tells the Grabowskis there will also be a surprise element “just to see how quick ya are.” So incorporate that into your understanding of what this is– it will involve dancing, rapping, “zapping,” Coach Mike Ditka of the Chicago Bears, at least some improv, no football, and all the performers will have legally changed their name Grabowski.

Without yet knowing what it means, the Grabowskis dance for their chance at Grabowski. This could be the role of a lifetime. It could be an embarrassing way to waste a sick day. But whatever it is, the director was happy. He saw this crowd of sweating limbs having a squirting group seizure. It looks like nothing other than a Trump rally mocking a gay wedding reception, and the director seemed to honestly mean it when he said it was better than he hoped for.

Oh, remember that surprise he mentioned? It turned out to be them standing alone in a spotlight while they get asked inappropriate personal questions. And of course, as is Grabowski tradition, “anyone caught BS’ing will be eliminated.”

“What’s the worst thing that ever happened to you in your life, Larry?” a faceless shadow asks Truck-Driving, Moving Man, Larry. A long uncomfortable silence, replies Larry.

For reference, this is Larry’s resting face:

Larry is 80% smile, and he just got done doing a silly dance for a chance to be in… a Mike Ditka music video project? A bar mitzvah for the Grabowski family? A corporate training video for a grabowski distribution company? Well whatever it was for, he was having the best fucking day and then a faceless interrogator asked him, a black man in 1987 America, what the worst thing that ever happened to him was. I know my answer: watching the joy fade from Larry’s eyes.

His answer has been cut from the tape, because I bet it wasn’t pleasant, but whatever it was, he’s in. Welcome to the Grabowskis, Larry Grabowski. And we’re, you know, sorry that happened to you and we made you bring it up for a chance to be in a … foot powder commercial, maybe?

Next up is cranky former cop, August Deuser-Grabowski. It’s plain to see the worst thing that ever happened to him was every moment of every day, so the Grabowski Shadow Council asks him, “You ever killed anybody?”

“No,” he says, but in a way that implies he’s ready to if there are any followup questions. Mr. Deuser-Grabowski, you’re in. Trade in your police badge for a Grabowski… medal? Lobster bib? The point is, all this is extremely Grabowski, I think.

Body-building clerk, Jason Solid Grabowski, comes out and nervously mutters words in no particular order. More than anyone he gets what is at the heart of this very titled Grabowski project: the babbling un-language of a madness once thought dead. Jason Solid Grabowski, you’re in. Welcome to your new… life? Short-term unpaid freelance gig?

Up next is waitress and Grabowski Gal, Valerie Meyer. She is questioned, “What makes you think you qualify to be a Grabowski?”

There is no way she could know how to answer this. How could anyone? It’s not a real word and its meaning skitters from understanding like a grabowski Grabowski. She has been thrown from her first rap audition into a groveling contest for a voice that calls itself Grabowski. Despite this, she starts speaking immediately. “I’ve never gotten knocked down far enough that I can’t pick myself up or have someone help me.” She realizes it wasn’t anything, thinks a bit about changing it, then decides no: a Grabowski doesn’t do takebacksies. She’s in. Maybe she’s perfect. Maybe there was no wrong answer. Either way, take off your shirt and replace it with this one, that of your new true name, Valerie Grabowski.

The Grabowskis also drafted a sewer construction laborer named George Arauco, whose job and name stopped being that the moment he was touched by Grabowski’s gaze. Next, Number One Grabowski, Mike Ditka, and Grabowskis Number Two through Six hold a press conference for local and national media. Not a single one of the Grabowskis is comfortable in this role of having to explain what The Grabowski Shuffle™ is, because again, how could they?

If this was filmed ten years later, you’d swear it was a Mike Ditka prank show where he makes unsuspecting nerds think they’re a hip hop crew. But Mike Ditka is deadly serious. He really thinks this will be the springboard to superstardom for these Grabowskis, a word which obviously everyone will one day be saying. He is certain, with all his generous heart, that he’s giving the chance of a lifetime to the five luckiest people in Chicago. “This is their way to get on MTV. This is their way to, uh, hit the jackpot,” he says.

A reporter asks the group if any of them have any professional singing and dancing experience. Jason Solid Grabowski decides to field the question.

“No, HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA unfortunately,” he offers. In a room of awkward, terrified rookie performers with no media training being thrust into a high stress situation on live TV, Jason is the nervous one. It’s very Grabowski, or potentially not Grabowski at all.

A reporter, with the kind of seriousness you would use when addressing a funeral director about your grandfather’s remains, asks the director to “describe Mike Ditka’s star quality.”

The director says, and I quote, “What we’ve seen so far is he’s one heck of a good rapper. And he’s got smokin’ feet.” On paper, this exchange should be withering sarcasm. Mike Ditka should be furious and embarrassed, but I have no reason to believe they weren’t sincere. These were two adult men having an honest discussion about Mike Ditka and how he’s a real solid rap-and-dance man.

They wrap up the press conference, and I feel it’s worth mentioning that it was held only to tell the world how coach Mike Ditka has completed his quest to find the five Grabowskis, and you wouldn’t know them. Or what they’re doing. Okay, it’s time to head to the recording studio!

The five untrained Grabowski singers crowd into a studio for the first time and an engineer hands them headphones. He jokes(?), “They’re no longer headphones. They’re Grabowski phones.” A day ago these people were living normal lives. They were, in fact, chosen for having the most normal of normal lives, and now they have one name not only for themselves but for all things they touch, and their only job is being and promoting that name. If this was a horror movie about a memetic alien virus called Grabowski, you wouldn’t have to change a thing.

Speaking of Grabowski touching, the Grabowskis are pretty close in these intimate surroundings. And the only Grabowski Gal, Valerie Grabowski, has to deal with a lot of playful touching from the other Grabowskis. She pinballs between the men to avoid their hands while expertly hiding her disgust. The Grabowskis were selected for their lack of experience, but as an ordinary woman, life had already prepared Valerie for this aspect of the creative process.

I should confess I only made that gif because I thought it was funny how Jason Solid Grabowski involuntarily pumped his dick while he sang, and I didn’t notice Valerie Grabowski’s silent screams until at least the 50th loop. We should apologize to women every day for 1987. But you can’t unhonk a titty, so back to the Grabowski music. It’s not going well. They are uncomfortable, out of sync, and nothing can be done about the lyrics. 

We like to polka!

We like to shuffle!

We may wrinkle,

but we don’t ruffle!

We like to work!

We love to play!

We do ’em both

’bout the same way!

It’s a humiliating disaster and a waste of time, but their Grabowski spirit won’t let them give up. “It’s a dream come true right here,” says one of them over footage of the frustrated group flubbing take #281 of “♪ we may wrinkle, but we don’t ruffle! ♪”

With more footage of Ditka’s rehearsal, it’s finally becoming clear what this is. Mike Ditka said earlier how the American Dream was grinding it out in the shit while the pretty boy hotshots are running passing plays, but that’s not Mike Ditka’s American Dream. Mike Ditka’s American Dream is not leaving money on the table. This is a man who put his name on boner pills, antifreeze, and Vienna sausages, and when he saw “The Superbowl Shuffle” become a huge hit and all that money go to charity, his keen entrepreneurial brain gave him an idea: the same thing, but keep the money.

But if he did a sequel to the “Superbowl Shuffle,” that would mean splitting the profits with owners and players and agents. So what if instead of football, nothing? Like a shuffle for people who aren’t something. I mean, the public loved it when a once-in-a-generation dominant NFL team of all-pro hall-of-famers celebrated with an amateur rap song. How much do you really lose if you take away everything except literally the last three words?

So okay, let’s see if you were right. 

The Grabowski Shuffle™ is Mike Ditka’s attempt to recreate “The Superbowl Shuffle” for profit by taking out the football part, replacing it with nothing, and then giving that nothing a name. Doing so did not give meaning to that nothing. This is the catastrophically stupid idea of “how come sewer line workers don’t get their own superbowl shuffle?” being indulged past the point of reason.

To be fair, though: dance rehearsals are going great!

I can’t help myself and I love them. The Grabowskis are learning, becoming a team. They believe in this, whatever it is, and the choreography is too complicated to allow them time to molest Valerie. The non-union, possibly unpaid Grabowskis even sleep together in a tiny trailer during the shoot. Larry had to move his kid in!

They do an official photoshoot (pictured below) and hold another press conference to let the world’s media know how the Grabowskis, five people no one knows, learned how to sing and dance and they’re ready to film The Grabowski Shuffle™ which won’t make sense to you yet, or ever. And it’s all been building up to this, the official music video.

Mike Ditka walks out onto an empty football field to… recruit a rap crew from the crowd? He hip hops, “I’m looking for a special team, where workin’ hard is more than a dream.” So all this video we’ve been watching a football coach throw together a ragtag musical group to tell the story of the same football coach throwing together a ragtag musical group. It’s like watching the last 7 minutes of a Hulk Hogan movie and trying to make sense of it. You get he’s a cyborg muscle nanny, but you’re not sure why the dress alone convinced the beauty pageant judges he was a contestant.

Let’s talk about what the Grabowskis are doing. Former cop, August Deuser Grabowski, walks up to a man and starts beating the shit out of him. Hey, wait. That’s the cigar guy from earlier. I guess he got cast as a Smith? In the intro Mike Ditka said the good guys were The Smiths but they were never mentioned again. And George and Larry are cheering him on? Jason has grabbed a stranger’s child and is holding him above his head? And he just lets the boy drop after Mike Ditka recruits him for this… boy band? Halftime skit? This has missed zany by at least five concussions. There is nothing else made of such concentrated insanity. Through sheer force of untalent, Mike Ditka has rapped a hole into our reality.

So Mike Ditka has selected five people from the crowd. The two white men committing assaults and three people I assume he described to the casting director as “one of each of the others.” The five of them break into a well-rehearsed but not quite ready dance routine and it cuts to the next stage of their Grabowski journey– dinner theater. I don’t want to hyperbolize, so I’ll put it like this:  Mike Ditka set out to make art and accidentally committed an act of terror. Fuck you if these aren’t the forbidden summoning movements of a chaos god.

Number One Grabowski, Mike Ditka, who added his name to something that already had more than enough name, comes out to do another rap. He has the charm and showmanship of a wet cough into your open mouth.

August Deuser Grabowski takes center stage and gives off the exact vibe you’d expect from a grumpy cop in a red baseball cap that says GRABOWSKI POWER– tolerant and inclusive fun!

The Grabowski Shuffle™ isn’t quite a knockoff of “The Superbowl Shuffle” so much as it’s the exact song with words not about sports legends, but the personality traits of five below average karaoke singers without interesting hobbies or jobs. It’s the absence of an idea. It’s the musical equivalent of a pouty bus driver’s complaint every time he hears it’s Secretary’s Day.

Mike Ditka invites everyone in the restaurant to join the Grabowskis on the tiny dinner theater stage, including the cigar guy from earlier again, and they can’t believe the honor. They all line dance until it transitions to the final, ultimate form of the Grabowskis– total Grabowski domination. They are performing their one song, a half-remembered Superbowl Shuffle about themselves, to a massive stadium. There is never a mention of The Smiths or what the conflict was with them, and it ends. What’s next for the Grabowskis and their ill-conceived, roughly manufactured celebrity!?

I couldn’t find a second entertainment project from any of the Grabowskis. George, Larry, and Valerie changed their names back from Grabowski, and like The Grabowski Shuffle™ itself, quietly left no trace of themselves. August, on the other hand, rode that Grabowski fame to a successful political career.

Two years ago August Deuser Grabowski campaigned on pro-guns and anti-abortion, but failed to secure enough votes to win a state senator write-in campaign. Which surprises me, because according to Internet analytics, I was the 142nd person to watch his campaign video. He even proudly commemorates his time at the top of the world. See it up there? Right after PRO-LIFE and ABOUT? A link that only says “GRABOWSKI.” I’m going to click it.

Aww, it’s only a newspaper article he clipped and nothing else. I was really hoping for some kind of retrospec… oh my God, wait. Do you know what this means!? Some of those reporters at those Grabowski press conferences were real! Some of them wrote articles! Oh fuck yeah, Chicago Reader, 1987:

I was right! They didn’t pay these poor people! Cigar guy confirmed it! The director confirmed it! They paid them in exposure, which here, 35 years later we can measure! All that work was worth a single, confusing splash of whimsy on an old gun nut’s political campaign website, and nothing else. Truly amazing. And when the reporter asked the director of The Grabowski Shuffle™ how it was going to be different from the other failed “Superbowl Shuffle” knockoff Mike Ditka already made, he explained that one was missing a strong concept. Which means he fucking thinks The Grabowski Shufflehad a strong concept! It’s perfect. A truly perfect cursed artifact made by truly perfect maniacs and the perfect way to end this arti— wait, hold on, I forgot to look up Body-Building Clerk, Jason Solid Grabowski. I wonder what he’s up to today…

Okay, that’s the perfect ending. Grabowski as fuck.

5 replies on “Upsetting Day: The Grabowski Shuffle 🌭”

I have to give it to the The Grabowski Shuffle™, it made me want to go to the Frankie’s in the West Side Market in downtown Cleveland and get a Polish Sausage with extra sauerkraut for lunch, (I won’t because that’s way too far away,) and it also made me lightheaded for a good half hour.

Perfectly cursed.

Brainfucked by capitalism into being depressing whores, I have never been sadder for the state of the human experience. It’s worse now than Grabowski was. Fuck.

I’m… concerned. Because we’ve heard this story before. Heard a tale of bland, mediocre humans, plucked by fate and corporate greed. Given new names, and sent on tasks none of us can understand. Oh, sure, Mike Ditka seems to be in charge, but what if he’s merely a pawn, a cats paw used by something… else. Something darker. Something familiar.

I see visions. Visions of the Grabowskis and the All-American Boy, laughing as the world burns.

None of us are safe.

Is that a young, uncredited Martin Starr getting unceremoniously dumped by the meat man?

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