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Long before videos went “viral” on the Internet, they entered the zeitgeist through word of mouth. In the late 1980s-90s a number of audio comic misadventures made the rounds via cassette tapes swapped with friends and soon transitioned to CDs. Famous audio included the “Red” Tapes, the Jerky Boys and the ones known as “Shut Up Little Man.” 

As you can guess, SHUT UP LITTLE MAN is a documentary about that phenomenon. 

The tapes themselves are a lengthy series of recordings “starring” two older gentlemen living together who had the propensity for extremely loud and abusive verbal battles with one another. 

This proved untenable to the young college aged men who moved into the San Francisco apartment next door to them. It became such a nuisance that they started to record the epic fights, first to document it in case the police were ever required, but soon it became for their own amusement. They soon became preoccupied with these recordings and started handing them out to friends to listen to. 

Hilarious to their friends, the tapes continued to get duped and passed around until they made it clear across country. Soon there were cartoons, comics and short films about the cranky duo. This lead to staged events and Hollywood coming to call for a film version. 

And this is where things get really interesting in this already bizarre story. 

At its core, SHUT UP LITTLE MAN is about the two men who made the recordings and how this changed their lives and still continues to be part of it to this day. It’s also about the two older verbal combatants. Who were they? Why did they even live together if they couldn’t stand it? 

The documentary also goes into the legality of the tapes in the first place. Can the material be copyrighted and who actually owns it? There are a lot of fascinating aspects to the tale. 

Unfortunately, the movie doesn’t all come together and though entertaining, it has tonal issues and ultimately left me unsatisfied. I not only wanted more from it, I needed more to fully appreciate the bigger picture. 

If you’re into fringe humor and comedy than you will certainly enjoy this, but it could have been better developed and answered the numerous questions that are left hanging like dead air.

FEBRUARY 11, 2014