Holiday Horrors: Crazy Eddie Christmas Ads

Continuing the fabled tradition begun all the way back in 2009, Scratchbomb presents Holiday Horrors and Holiday Triumphs: an advent calendar of some of the more hideous aspects of this most stressful time of year–with a few bits of awesomeness sprinkled in.

crazyeddie.jpgLocal ads have all but disappeared from the landscape, particularly in the New York area. I don’t know if this is because of skyrocketing ad rates, the rise of cable, or the death of small local businesses in general, but other than the occasional car dealership spot, almost all commercials you see on TV days are nationally produced for national chains.

That’s a shame, because I miss local ads. They were usually the product of one man’s vision, and that vision was almost always askew. Because in most cases, the ads were created by the owner. He pulled himself up by his bootstraps, he did, and built the largest chain of wig supply stores in all of Queens! And he’ll be damned if some college boy is gonna make his ad for him!

In New York in the 1980s, the king of local ads was undeniably Crazy Eddie, a chain of electronics stores. Why? Because his prices were INSANNNNNNNE! And so were his ADSSSSSSSSSS!

The “Crazy Eddie” of these ads was actually an ex-DJ, “Dr.” Jerry Collins (he received his PhD in Morning-Zoology), who got the gig after coining the store’s signature catchphrase during an on-air spot for WPIX-FM. He was crazy enough to wear a turtleneck with a black blazer (kinda like another crazy person, George Steinbrenner) and to zip through the store’s mentally-ill deals at breakneck speed.

The classic ads were almost always done for pennies on the dollar, and looked every cent of that, with threadbare sets that appeared as if they would fall apart with the slightest breeze. When Crazy Eddie later expanded into SUPER STORES across the tri-state area, the ads got progressively more elaborate and professionally done, but actually suffered for it.

Amazingly, they actually seemed to realize this in the late 1980s and reverted back to the cheap mise en scene of yesteryear. (Although this also coincided with the collapse of the Crazy Eddie empire, which we will get to later.) The commercials were an inescapable presence on New York TV in the 1980s, and a Crazy Eddie t-shirt was an essential part of any mook’s wardrobe.

Naturally, Crazy Eddie capitalized on every holiday imaginable–President’s Day, Fourth of July, Arbor Day–and Christmas was no exception. I debated whether I should put these ads in the Horror category, because I find them both nostalgic and genuinely entertaining, in a totally unhinged way. Cheapness is almost always more entertaining than precision, and these ads have cheapness in spades.

Ultimately, I have to lump the Crazy Eddie Christmas ads in with Horror for contextual reasons. Because back in the 1980s, holiday commercials were subdued, almost reverent. They were not ironic or shrill, and they generally did have bug-eyed maniacs screaming at you about how crazy they were.

Imagine: it’s a snowy winter night. You’re back at home from an evening spent shopping and fighting your way through the crowds. You settle in on the couch to watch a holiday classic, maybe Miracle on 34th Street or It’s a Wonderful Life. You turn the lights down low, except for the glowing red and green bulbs in your window. You snuggle up under some blankets. It’s a tranquil, calm Yuletide evening, not unlike the one in Bethlehem lo those many years ago.

Then the movie goes to a station break and you are assaulted with THIS:


Now it’s the day after Christmas. It’s sad that there’s nothing left but wrapping paper and egg nog cartons. Still, you made a lot of great new memories, ones that will last you a lifetime. And at least now you won’t have to see anymore OH DEAR GOD IN HEAVEN HE’S BACK!

In real life, “Crazy Eddie” was crazy like a fox. A tax-evading, book-cooking fox, that is (zing!). Turns out the Crazy Eddie empire was really a Bernie Madoff-esque financial Potemkin village built by founder Eddie Antar and his family, who skimmed millions of dollars off the top of the stores’ profits and deposited the dough in offshore accounts. That helped them avoid paying taxes on earnings, but when they needed to show profitability for investors, they used Panamanian banks–the favored financial partner of Pablo Escobar!–to artificially inflate their total worth.

This might have continued indefinitely if family squabbles hadn’t broken the code of silence necessary to maintain the fraud, and if the scheme hadn’t gotten so ridiculously difficult to maintain. (It’s not easy to show 100+ percent growth every FY and still not pay back any of your shareholders.) Eventually, a former business associate blew the whistle on the whole scheme, and after an international manhunt and almost a decade in the courts, Eddie Antar went to jail for eight years. Former stockholders are apparently still trying to get their money back.

I remember they finally opened a Crazy Eddie near my house, and I thought that was so awesome. They gave away frisbees! I got Contra for Nintendo for like 10 bucks! And the next week–I mean, literally a week after the store opened–it was shut down. I was insanely disappointed about this, but at least there’s still a Crazy Eddie frisbee in my mom’s garage somewhere.

So I guess these ads are ultimately Horrors because while they were giving us all yucks, Eddie Antar and co. were laughing all the way to the bank. Behind that wacky insane logo throbbed the brain of a criminal mastermind!