Check Your Head

If it's loud, lewd, or crude, it's bound to be on Reality Check

For some people, the American Dream is about getting a high-paying job, raising a family, and buying a house in the suburbs. None of those people will ever be featured on Reality Check.

The show's host and editor claims it is for a particular kind of Everyman. "Reality Check is the show for the all-American guy," says Stuttering Danny D (aka Danny Shipman).

According to the long-running, award-winning, underground-trolling cable access show (Saturdays at 11:30 p.m. on Channel 29), all-American guys hunger for the holy trinity of sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll. For 10 years now, Reality Check has been supplying all three in abundant, off-the-cuff fashion, whether it be by sampling the wares at a Nevada brothel, taste-testing Burning Man specialty cocktails, or interviewing metal giants like Alice Cooper and punk upstarts such as the Donnas. Over time the show's crew has highlighted the noisy, salacious, and totally bizarre, gaining fans such as Rancid's Lars Frederiksen and Metallica's Kirk Hammett along the way.

Amazingly enough, this "video journal of underground culture" got its start because of a Gulf War protest.

"I was working at the Fairmont [Hotel] at the time and the protests were going on down on Market Street," says Reality Check co-creator and executive producer Huge when we speak at a Richmond District restaurant. "So I said, "I'm going to borrow that [camera] and show all the mayhem that [is] happening.'"

After documenting the chaos, the now-39-year-old New York transplant decided he wanted to air the footage on San Francisco's cable access television station (then Channel 25). His idea for an alternative news program quickly morphed into "a parade of tits and ass" as he and his bandmate, Moca D. Lite, realized they could promote their fledgling group Maximus and showcase the weird shit that happened every time they left the house. After taking the prerequisite instructional classes, the pair aired the first episode of Reality Checkon a Tuesday afternoon in September 1991. It featured the war protests, a house party, several bands, a girl they'd followed home, and various "shenanigans" at Murio's, the Nightbreak, and other Haight Street haunts. Masterpiece Theatre it was not.

But high art was not the intention: The show's creators merely wished to capture the wacky underbelly of San Francisco society with their tiny Hi8 camera. "We'd try to find the cockeyed humor in everything," Huge says. Classic early episodes included "See You Next Tweak," in which the duo spent all night with a bunch of furniture-arranging, paranoia-spewing speed freaks, and "The Show With Three Jennies," in which a friend brought home three different Jennies from three successive raves.

Still, the program didn't really hit its stride until Ace and Danny joined in 1993. Ace (aka Edward Annese), a 39-year-old Brooklyn native and current writer for Bay Arts and Music and knac.com, was a DJ at "Bondage A Go-Go" and a hard rock columnist for several fanzines. One night he went to the Paradise Lounge for a show. "I saw this thing on the wall that said, "If you enter the premises, you agree to be filmed for Reality Check TV.' I thought, "That's pretty ballsy for a tiny company to put that up like a big media company. I've got to meet this guy.'"

Ace suggested Huge come down and film the wild smack-and-tickle shows at "Bondage A Go-Go." Soon, Ace and the club became regular fixtures on Reality Check, and it wasn't long after that that he had his own segment, "Ace's Space," devoted to local and national celebrities.

For his part, Danny, a 34-year-old telemarketer from Watsonville with headbanger hair and a love for metal and shock rock, first met Huge during a segment chronicling his roommates' Kiss "museum." Afterward, Danny ran into Huge again at the fourth annual Battle of the Bands at Big Heart City, and Huge stuck him in front of the camera. With his musical knowledge, his fanboy enthusiasm, and his pronounced stutter, Danny made an unorthodox and oddly endearing interviewer. By 1995, when Huge's job as an Avid video editing technician began to eat up his time, Danny took over as Reality Check's main producer and editor.

The last piece of the puzzle was Dragon Dave (aka Dave Dragon), a 33-year-old salesman and sometime movie extra from Colombia. Dave began in 1997 as one of many guest interviewers; when he wanted to become a permanent host a year later, the other three honchos were apprehensive.

"A lot of people wanted to horn in on the show without really helping," Ace says.

"I had to figure out what I had to give that they didn't have," Dave says. "I knew a lot of XXX stars from working at a video store where they would come in when they would feature dance. When I told [the other hosts] about it, they said, "OK!'"

"We needed something to show more T&A," Danny says matter-of-factly.

By 1999, the show was really rolling. It had picked up two Cable Access Awards -- for Best Music & Variety Show and Best Rock & Roll Video Show -- and its hosts were starting to get recognized on the streets and in bars. They had interviewed such well-known rockers as Joey Ramone, Glen Danzig, and Motörhead, over-the-hill TV stars like Adam West (Batman), Al Lewis (Grandpa Munster), and Elvira, and porn stars like Marilyn Chambers, Nina Hartley, and Ron Jeremy. Singer Falling James of L.A. punk band Leaving Trains ranted about politics and his ex-wife Courtney Love, musician and producer Todd Rundgren lamely tried to pick up girls at Burning Man, and Penthouse model and porn star Teri Weigel gave Dragon Dave a hot scoop he'll never forget (or forget to talk about). On various episodes, the show featured artists who juggled fire, hung by nipple piercings, and fought with grotesque, spongy hellspawn; it also traveled to comic conventions, sci-fi conventions, merchandise conventions, the Exotic Erotic Ball, the Grammies, and the Vans Warped Tour.

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