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Ape Week: Lancelot Link 🌭

Happy Ape Week! Today I’m talking about Lancelot Link: The 1970 spy-spoof television show starring exclusively chimps. It was a simpler time in America. A time when adequate men could become very rich by asking “what if anything, but chimps?” And they did. They did ask that. The writers behind Get Smart asked producers “what if we did more Get Smart, but chimps?” They were given a record-breaking seven figure budget for this astonishing idea.

I have lots of TOTALLY APESOME facts about Lancelot Link!

Here’s one: The chimps were made to “talk” by rubbing peanut butter on their gums. Most also knew a hand signal, which looked like the universal yapping gesture for “blah blah blah.” When they saw a human go “blah blah blah,” they’d all start flapping their mouths like bees got into the muppet set.

This is Tonga, the chimp who played Lancelot Link, and the only one who didn’t know the hand signal. Instead they had him chew gum in every scene. He loved it!

Today, you get to choose to know that, and only that. Or you can also know the APESOLUTELY TRAGIC facts, which will pop up in italics, like so:

APESOLUTELY TRAGIC!

Tonga despised the set veterinarian in a way normally reserved for grindhouse revenge movies. His trainer, Daryll, warned the showrunners “someday, he will get that vet.” Daryll is one of those prophetic ape trainers who can foretell ape tragedy. It’s actually really easy: Is there an ape around? There’s tragedy. While being led off set one day, Tonga leapt over the other chimp’s heads, scaled a wall, and sunk his teeth into the vet. This happened on the very first and only time studio executives visited the set. They showed up to a multimillion dollar ape disaster, witnessed a man being devoured by a chimpanzee, then walked away and pulled funding. I’m kidding. They did not pull funding.

Let’s meet the rest of the cast. There was Mata Hairi, whose voice actor once played “all the children in a Japanese train wreck” on an episode of Godzilla. I don’t actually know if that’s fun or not. That’s uh, that’s a NEUTRAL MANDRILL fact!

There was Commander Darwin, who gives his “theory” on each case – that’s almost but not quite a pun. Good job, writers of Get Smart! Darwin was voiced by Bernie Koppell, who you probably don’t know as Doc from Love Boat. NEUTRAL MANDRILL!

We’re being overrun by Neutral Mandrills. Let’s get-

TOTALLY APESOME!

Show writers were brought on after the chimp’s scenes were recorded, and made to match their dialogue to the chimp’s random peanut butter licks. As a writer, that’s the saddest job I can possibly imagine, and they were not very good at it. They filled out dialogue with insane gibberish, wild screeching, random coughs, gags, and sneezes. The only way it could have been sadder is if they had actually tried. Oh no, this was supposed to be TOTALLY APESOME! Uh…. t-this is maybe the most creative control a chimp has ever exerted over man! TOTALLY APESOME!

Our hero chimps worked for an organization called APE: the Agency to Prevent Evil.

That’s actually pretty solid. Is it weird to be proud of these writers when they get a win? It’s like watching an orphan catch a game-winning homerun at the World Series. Let them enjoy that moment while they can, you know an eBay reseller’s going to mug them in the parking lot.

It’s APE’s job to fight CHUMP.

The Criminal Headquarters for Underworld Master Plan. Oh no, there’s that eBay mugging.

CHUMP was run by the Baron, also voiced by Koppell, who previously played the villain Siegfried on Get Smart. Here he’s branching out by playing exactly Siegfried again, only for less money and shared credit with an ape, because he’s a home run orphan waiting for his turn in the parking lot.

The Baron was a foppish German evil genius, and here’s something TOTALLY APESOME! The chimp who played him loved his monocle so much that he never took it off. If it fell out, he’d put it back in himself – he was not trained to do this!

There was Dr. Strangemind, an eccentric mad scientist.

They actually taught him to play with those little beakers! He runs back and forth pouring liquids from flask to flask with this genuine look of concentration on his face, it’s magical. I love that a chimp knows how to do science now, but not why. If he ever escapes his cage at the Maybelline facility, they’ll find him in the lab inventing a new kind of foundation that gives you third degree burns. That doesn’t count as an APESOLUTELY TRAGIC fact because it’s only very probably true.

There’s the Baron’s bodyguard and chauffeur, Creto:

I know what you’re thinking. That’s a borderline offensive caricature of Kato, the Asian bodyguard/chauffeur from Green Hornet. That’s on you, that’s your bias showing. Creto is a directly offensive Mexican stereotype. That’s a little thing the 1970s called diversity.

It seems hard to fuck up a comedy show for kids starring all chimps. Basically just don’t make all the humor extremely racial and you’re good to go. Meet Dragon Woman:

Huh, no ape pun for that name. I guess I don’t have one either. Something about bananas being- no, this was the right call. This was the classy move. Here’s her henchman, Wang Fu:

That’s sort of adjacent to a pun on kung fu? Although I should clarify they did not teach this chimp kung fu for the show. I probably didn’t need to clarify that actually, we’d have a national holiday to mourn the ensuing massacre if they did.

There was Ali Assa Seen, the Arabic chimp henchman. Wouldn’t it be crazy if I told you he was actually a really sensitive and progressive portrayal of Arabs at the time? I am not telling you that.

It’s been a while since we’ve had a TOTALLY APESOME fact! Here’s one: That’s a real hawk on his shoulder. They were friends!

It’s also been a while since we’ve had an APESOLUTELY TRAGIC fact! Here’s one: The hawk is with Ali because he’s the only chimp who wouldn’t tear it apart. That seems like one of those things you can only find out through trial and error…

Finally, the Duchess:

No notes. A chimp pretending to be a posh English dame is the hand grenade of comedy. You don’t have to aim it real well; it still works pretty good if you miss.

I mentioned earlier they secured a record-breaking seven figure budget for this pilot, right? It was called:

And right away it opens with a cultural constant nightmare. A terror inexplicably shared across every human civilization, no matter how disparate.

Teaching a chimp to use scissors on another chimp is illegal everywhere except floating fight clubs in international waters. Even there it’s frowned upon as crass – a sophisticated chimp wields the katana.

APESOLUTELY TRAGIC! Speaking of chimps fighting with scissors, there was a rumor that all the male chimps were castrated before production, and that’s ultimately how PETA got the show shut down. That’s not true: They actually castrated the chimps one day before filming, and PETA has never accomplished anything. Also, castration didn’t help: the chimps were exactly as aggressive on set, so the only net good here was the bag of Purina they turned those 12 monkey cocks into.

The APE agent’s cover was a psychedelic hippy band called the Evolution Revolution playing out of the Coconut Grove club, which was really just a flimsy excuse to dress chimps like hippies and have them wail on instruments. You know what? I’ll take it.

TOTALLY APESOME! Chimpanzees usually hit things with the backs of their hands, and with both hands at the same time. But when trainers handed them their musical instruments, all the chimps just seemed to get it. At first they only flailed wildly with their paws facing down, but as soon as the director played music through on-set speakers, every chimp synced up to the beat. It mystifies Chimp Hop experts to this day!

APESOLUTELY TRAGIC! The chimp on drums stole the show. His name was Blackie. In the documentary I Created Lancelot Link, the showrunners are given his picture. They have this exchange:

“Remember him?”

“Oh yeah, Charlie.”

“Blackie.”

“Blackie, right. He was the one that had the stroke.”

WHY ARE YOU READING THESE?

The best thing Lancelot Link ever did was teach these chimps to dance. And they took to it instantly. This chimp fucking rules!

Fucking rules in particular, out of an entire party of dancing hippy chimps! That’s like making Valedicktorian in All Hunk High School (check my Patreon for more AHHS).

Let’s get to the pilot. Ali Assa Seen is recruited by the Baron to steal the Star of Karachi Diamond, which is worth a shocking three million dollars. CHUMP brags at one point that even after they split it, they’ll get 500k each. Also known as “not enough to buy a starter house anymore.” That joke wasn’t TOTALLY APESOME, and I’m sorry. I’ll make it up to you:

Look at his little hawk friend riding his shoulder, surely bragging to all the other hawks about his sick problematic chimp mech.

Ali is supposed to hand the diamond off to Dragon Woman and Wang Fu, who’s using chopsticks when we meet him!

That chimp is working those chopsticks better than a conservative uncle at Panda Express, and I’m so fucking proud of him. Although hey, real quick, what do you think is the maximum number of racist props you can legally glue to an ape?

I don’t know the answer, either. I think it’s one less than this:

APESOLUTELY TRAGIC! The writers use lip syncing fills as an excuse for extra racism here. “Ah so,” and “me no,” and at least one racist sneeze. I didn’t know that was a thing!

IT IS VERY MUCH A THING.

I’m sorry if you’ve been avoiding tragedy so far and saw that, I don’t know how to make a screenshot italic.

Because it’s really hard to get chimps to do anything but fuck and eat vets, and because that seven figure budget was for sure a way to launder coke-money, the entire heist happens offscreen. Ali just shows up the next scene with the diamond already stolen:

These episodes are ten minutes long, we are eight minutes into the very first one, and the most we’ve done is watch a chimp eat with chopsticks. Don’t get me wrong, I’m real fucking proud of my boy – I’ll watch him maw those noodles down for an entire two-hour special feature. But for three-quarters of the pilot episode? And the other quarter is all phone calls?

Look, I know it’s pretty funny to imagine what one ape has to say to another on the telephone. “Probably something about bananas!” Say the writers, inwardly praying for a gas explosion. But the pilot episode is where you go all out to sell the concept, and the concept here was “chimps doing spy shit.” There’s only one more scene left, surely they won’t-

And that’s it! That’s the pilot. Now, remember it is a two-parter, but also remember studio execs will watch the absolute bare minimum of something before making a snap decision about its fate, because everyone in the world is sick of doing their job when they could be getting head on a yacht. Just imagine authorizing a seven figure budget and getting back a ten minute reel of chimpanzees opening and closing their mouths next to phones. If this was any other decade but the 1970s, in any other place but Hollywood, somebody would have been fired for Lancelot Link. Instead people like this were allowed to fail upward and upward until they negligently killed two children with a helicopter, and even then it just meant they had to fail sideways from now on.

We’re getting APESOLUTELY TRAGIC when we should be TOTALLY APESOME!

Quick, look at Tonga in his little ascot.

I know that’s not a fact, but look at his bashful smile. He knows he’s handsome. That’s a fact!

In part two of “There’s No Business Like Snow Business,” Ali Assa Seen rides a camel from the Middle East all the way to a ski resort in the Alps to fence that stolen diamond. Ignore the inexplicable racism of that – they actually got a chimp to ride a camel!

That’s a hawk riding a chimp riding a camel, or as zoologists call it: The beginning of the end. This looks like the start of a transformation sequence in one of the weirder Sentai series. I imagine this is the kind of brag that gets you laid at animal trainer conventions. They would name this accomplishment after you, they’d call it the Daryll Trio and you’d get to sidle up to two ladies at the hotel bar who always smell like horse and ask if they’d like to make a Daryll Trio of their own. It would work. It would work. What a moment, what a victory…

To be immediately overshadowed by this chimp getting stuck in a hat.

Man, I could watch a chimp get lost in a ski mask for five straight minutes which is good, because that’s what happens. But I would not need seven figures to film this. All I’d need is your dumbest chimp, your most complicated ski mask, and a cameraman who failed the Voight-Kampff test.

This is not the showrunner’s proudest moment.

TOTALLY APESOME! When asked what their proudest moment was, the creators of Lancelot Link said it was this shot:

Understandable. That rules. It’s got everything: Chimps, silly outfits, attempted sports. This establishing shot of the ski resort took 30 chimps to film!

APESOLUTELY TRAGIC! They filmed this in California during the summer, where it was “110 degrees in the shade.” The chimps had to be out in the direct sun at midday, in heavy parkas, with bulky objects strapped to their feet and hands, while repeatedly being shoved down a hill. Also all that snow was fake, which in 1970, means it was probably asbestos.

But how did they keep the little guys from eating shit on those skis? I’m glad you asked:

Then there’s an all-chimp toboggan chase. That alone is worth a quarter million dollars to one specific guy, and he’s a rich Swiss pervert with a chimp fetish. Which means he still would have considered this episode a rip-off since it cost at least four times that to film.

We close out on a big chimp snowball fight!

TOTALLY APESOME! They clearly accomplished this by standing just offscreen and whipping snowballs at unsuspecting chimps. Or wait, maybe that’s not TOTALLY APESOME! No, come on, a snowball is pretty harmless and it’s a fantastic day at work when you get to whomp a chimp with a fistful of snow. Besides, I’m saving the-

APESOLUTELY TRAGIC fact! That’s Mata Hairi in the red hat and blue sweater combo, and she obviously gets the worst whomping. Maybe that’s because, when asked about Debbie, the chimp who plays Mata Hairi, showrunners said “she was a bitch chimp. If there’s a thing called a bitch chimp, Debbie was a bitch chimp.

TOTALLY APESOME! “Whomp the bitch chimp” is a fun onomatopoeia you can use to beatbox Darude’s “Sandstorm!”

Link and Mata trick the evil chimps into tossing them the stolen diamond in one of the snowballs, and that’s the end of the two-part pilot! The seven figure two-part pilot! The successful seven figure two-part pilot that was ordered to series based on this footage! TOTALLY APESOLUTELY APESOMELY TRAGIC!

Wait, you haven’t heard my favorite story. It is both TOTALLY APESOME and APESOLUTELY TRAGIC. You can’t separate one from the other. It happens while filming the episode “Bonana” which, holy shit, is the title of the all-chimp Bonanza parody. I take back everything I said about these writers. They were tasked with shoveling shit and they made an all-shit Veiled Virgin.

First, and most importantly, look at the chimps ride the ponies!

How did they make sure the chimps didn’t eat shit while doing this? I’m glad you asked:

The less said about the motorcycles, the better.

This story isn’t about Pony Chimps vs. The Motorcycle Apes, that’s a more personal tale you have to sign up for my Patreon to read. It’s really about my relationship with my father. This story is about the chimp who played the Indian in “Bonana” which, don’t worry, is exactly as tasteful as you assume:

To the surprise of no one except everyone involved in making Lancelot Link, as soon as they got this chimp all dressed up like a genocide and let him free in the forests of California, he bolted.

Yes, in full costume.

They had no contingency plans for rogue chimps in redface. It wasn’t in any of the binders. Those all dealt with rogue yellowface chimps, plus one Mexican, and the tactics just don’t carry over. The showrunners couldn’t do anything but stand around, hoping whatever child it tore the face off of was near-sighted.

A few hours later, the chimp shows up again. As the showrunners describe it: “A hippy – a human hippy – comes walking out of the woods hand in hand with this little Indian chimp.”

Weird emphasis theirs. Personally I think it would’ve been wilder if the hippy was another chimp, escaped from a rival production across the forest. Kind of a Romeo and Juliet thing. Again, check my Patreon.

The hippy had a cabin out in those woods and was just chilling there, presumably stoned out of his mind, when he looked up and saw Chief Chimp staring through his window. Instead of assuming he was in the fun part of an anti-drug PSA, he decided to go out there and bond with an ape. Then, instead of hopping in a van with a chimp and having a series of grand adventures solving musical mysteries across the USA, this fucking hippy soured chimp/man relations forever by betraying his new friend and returning it to the set.

Another thing the showrunners don’t specifically say, because they don’t have to: Chief Chimp was high as shit when he came back.

This article was brought to you by our fine sponsor and Hot Dog Supreme: Vooster, who would take that chimp vanning because she’s not a fucking narc.