Max: Parodies

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A satirist must often suffer the same slings and arrows in return. Max Headroom has been parodied, satirized and paid homage in a surprisingly broad variety of ways.

David Letterman: "Larry Bud Headroom" (September & October 1986)

David Letterman of Network 66 unveils his answer to Max.

A few months after David Letterman had Max as a guest on his show, he jumped into signature parody mode and brought out "Larry Bud Headroom" - his regular "court jester" Larry Bud Melman (played by Calvert DeForest) transformed into a computer-generated talking head. More than just a brief joke, Letterman gave over a significant segment of his show to parody Max's talk show, with his "Headroom" answering audience questions and giving away absurd gifts (a package of fluorescent light tubes).

Letterman ran the skit twice, once on September 15, 1986, and then again on October 8. The first appearance had a very approximate version of Max's background (mostly neon-green stripes), while the second one used a bouncing lines background that may well have been borrowed from the ABC series video archive.

The joke does not appear to have been repeated a third time, and even Letterman alludes to the waning popularity of Max humor in the introduction to the second.

Tracey Ullman (with her baby) was a guest on the October show, and had been a guest on Max's show just weeks before.

Neil Young: "Pressure" (1986)

It's hard to imagine a singer/songwriter who would be less affected by the Max phenomenon than Neil Young, and something of a tribute to Max's pervasive influence that Young referenced him in a song on the "Landing on Water" album, released on July 28, 1986. It's much more homage than parody, but the lyrics about the pressures of television influence and its drive of consumerism - at least, as I read them - include:

You watch the box and the video jocks
If you could talk that could even be you up there
That's why you need max head room
Too much pressure for peace on earth
Too much tryin' to get your money's worth
Too much dying
The eldorado, the mercedes benz
The job security that never ends.

"Maxine Legroom" (January 1987)

Maxine Legroom, tastefully cen-cen-censored here.

When Max was interviewed for Playboy magazine, the editors accompanied the interview with a layout for a rather hot blonde (female, of course) equivalent named Maxine Legroom. It's an absurd self-parody of their usual Playmate pictorials, complete with a "biography" listing Maxine's interests. It ran under the subtitle, "Max, have we got a girl for you!"

The model was Playboy regular Sondra (Sandy) Greenberg, who also appeared in Playboy Video Magazine #12, doing four Max-like segments. I haven't seen those yet...

(There is also a series of workout videos under the "Maxine Legroom" name, but if there's a connection - to either Max or this Maxine - it's escaped me.)

This issue of Playboy is in the MaxRchives; inquiries about the pictorial and interview are welcome.

MAD Magazine (March 1987-1990)

(March 1987) One of Max's two national magazine covers - this and Newsweek appeared within almost the same publication month.
The inside content of the March 1987 issue.
(September 1987) The on-the-heels Newsweek cover did not escape MAD's editors. (Newsweek even had MAD's cover in their writeup!)
(December 1987) Max's strange obsession with golf irritated even MAD's readership.
(March 1988) This comparison of Max and Don Johnson had special sting in that "Miami Vice" was one of the two shows that tanked time-slot companion Max's ratings.
(January 1990) Max's last appearance in MAD was this jab at Matt Frewer's difficulty in moving on to other roles.

Max famously appeared on the cover of the March 1987 issue of MAD, albeit wearing his Alfred E. Neuman mask. An inside sidebar was the only related content, showing that the decision to go with Max was probably a late decision by The Usual Gang of Idiots.

MAD ran a few Max items over the next few years, probably stuff that was in hand, in prep or in press as Max started to fade from the scene. Most are fairly sharp, even unkind observations... but still funny.

(Ah, MAD, I miss you...)

All images ©1987-1990 EC Publications. Thanks, guys.
This issue of MAD is in the MaxRchives; inquiries about the content are welcome.

Doonesbury & "Ron Headrest" (April 1987-1993)

The first two "Ron Headrest" strips from April 27 & April 28, 1987.
Doonesbury ©1987 G.B. Trudeau. Reprinted courtesy of the creator and Universal Press Syndicate. All rights reserved.

Gary Trudeau was one of many comics artists to latch onto the Max meme, turning then-President Ronald Reagan into a digitized parody of himself, Ron Headrest. The gag outlived Max's run, as well as Reagan's. "Ron Headrest" makes 77 appearances through about 1993, which (subscribers only, sorry) can find in the online archives.

Garry Trudeau is quoted as saying that this was one of his least popular characters... but damn if it isn't the most spot-on parody of them all. Trudeau clearly "got" what made Max interesting and a little scary, and found the ideal candidate to carry the joke...

My thanks to Garry Trudeau and UPS for permitting me to include these sample strips.

Sesame Street (1987-8)

Mup-Mup-Muppet M-Max. What a ham.

Along with his brief appearance reciting the al-al-alphabet, Max made two appearances in the Muppet universe.

  • "Muppet Babies: 'This Little Piggy Went to Hollywood'" (1987)
Max was briefly impersonated as 'the weirdest guy on TV' by 'Baby Gonzo' in Episode 406 of "Muppet Babies," 24 Oct 1987.
  • Sesame Street Magazine (1988)
Max was portrayed as "Max Hogroom," by 'Link Hogthrob' in the Spring 1988 issue of Sesame Street magazine.

Maxine (1988)

Maxine: Allison Carter gets dig-dig-digitized, in more ways than one.

It's Rule 34 before anyone conceived of a Rule 34, much less an internet. Yes, it's Max-themed porn starring Porsche Lynn as both Allison Carter and Maxine Bedroom.

Gawd help me, here's a synopsis:

"Porsche Lynn stars as Maxine, an intrepid reporter for a busy metropolitan TV news show. She's hit upon the story of a lifetime when she meets a couple of couch potatoes who claim that by watching network television that were turned into a pair of feverishly frolicking sexual animals. Rather than just enjoy the situation, though, the couple feels the need to expose the networks nefarious scheme — to entice viewers into sex through subliminal manipulation. How causing sex among your viewers is supposed to boost ratings is a mystery, but Maxine lays bare the whole sordid story on her nightly broadcast. But now she's run afoul of the powerful network execs who created the whole plan! They plot to assassinate Maxine, but little do they suspect that her personality will be transplanted into the network's own central computer. She becomes more powerful than ever, beaming her sexy shenanigans into homes from coast to coast. A take-off on the one-time hit series 'Max Headroom,' this video uses flashly effects, gorgeous women and plenty of white-hot action to keep you intrigued from start to fiery finish. It's a cyber-sexual trip to the far side of sexual bliss — a trip you'll be happy to take again and again."
This video is in the MaxRchives; inquiries are welcome.

Back to the Future II (1989)

Back to the Future II: Ronald Rea-Rea-Reagan (Jay Koch).

The second installment of the time-traveling movie franchise took Marty McFly to, uh... 2015, where among our flying cars, rehydrated food and other wonders he encountered several Max-like characters on the service screens of the old diner.

(I have to say that I am beyond embarrassed not to have realized, until it was pointed out to me, that in an additional layer of satire these t-talking heads were pitching The P-Word... Pepsi.

Excuse me, I'm going to go ride my hoverboard around to look for flying cars and self-lacing shoes...)

Back to the Future II: Michael Jack-Jackson! (E. Casanova Evans).
Back to the Future II: Ronnie joined by Khomei-meini (Charles Gerardi).

Batman & Robin (1997)

In what is regarded as the nadir of the Batman film franchise, director Joel Schumacher shoehorned in a brief Max reference as an AI made from Alfred Pennyworth's computerized mind.

(It made me laugh when I saw it, but the movie still stank.)

T-Mobile Germany's "Robert T-Online" (2001-3)

One of the more bizarre Max spin-offs was the use of a very Max-like character to pitch Deutsche Telekom's mobile service, branded T-Mobile after the US service of the same name, logo and signature color (magenta).

The translation of this ad is "They knew that I am a spastic?" - which can't be right...
Mhcom roberttonline tv.jpg
Mhcom roberttonline.jpg

Unlike Max, "Robert T-Online" was a full-figure character with hands and arms and legs and everything, but otherwise, he was the same kind of strange plasticky robot/computer image avatar. Like Max, he was portrayed by an actor in prosthetics, Matthias Kostya, and with additional video processing.

In 2002, he appeared in a television ad with the well-known VJ/presenter Enie van de Meiklokjes, who was known for her bright red-dyed hair (much like that of "Lola" in Lola Rennt / Run Lola Run). For the commercial, her hair was T-Mobile's trademark magenta instead.

Rebranding of T-Mobile as T-Com in 2003 brought the "annoying" spokesbeing to an end.

Music Videos

For some reason, Max and his stuttering-head trope continue to be popular on the music video scene...

  • In the Gigi D'Agostino's video for "Another Way" (1999), the main character resembles Max's appearance and movements. However, as a full-body figure with gloved hands, and appearing in a European artist's video, "Robert T-Online" might have been the more relevant influence.
  • The Canadian band Sum 41 wrote and performed a song called "Second Chance for Max Headroom" on their album "Half Hour of Power" (2000). The lyrics have no connection to Max, though.
  • In the beginning of Tony Yayo's video for "Pass the Patron" (2010), 50 Cent appears as a Max Headroom-like character who drags two nerds (Yayo and another band member) into the video.
  • Selena Gomez appears as a Max-like character on video screens in her video, "Love You like a Love Song" (2011).
  • Eminem's single "Rap God" (2013) features an extended homage to Max with the singer in full costume and on a signature moving-lines background, and seen in stacks of old-style TVs.

Minor Parodies & Homages

These entries will be expanded and added to the listings above as time permits.

  • "Sledge Hammer: 'A Clockwork Hammer'"
This sitcom, a running parody of tough-guy cop shows, ran on ABC in the same years as Max's show. It used a punning title and parodic theme for each episode of its two-season run. One, almost inevitably, was based on the title character becoming Max-Max-Maxified.
  • "Carmen Sandiego"
The animated series featured Carmen's boss, seen only as a talking-head on TV.

Wikipedia References

Most of these popular culture references, taken from the Wikipedia entry, have not been verified. They will be deleted or added to the more complete listings above as time permits.

  • The season 4 episode of Farscape "John Quixote" featured the actor Ben Browder appearing as a Headroom-type version of his character, John Crichton.
  • In the 1987 film Spaceballs, a parody of Max Headroom appears as the character Vinnie, henchman of mobster Pizza the Hutt.
  • During the final season of the educational television series Square One Television, another parody of Max Headroom named FAX HEADFUL had his own segment.
  • Channel 8 of Sirius Radio, which features songs from the 1980s, will sometimes have a character called "Less Headroom" between songs. He is billed as Max's "younger, more sophisticated brother".
  • In the book Ready Player One by Ernest Cline, the main character uses Max Headroom as the avatar and personality representation of his personal assistant.
  • In the YouTube video series titled "Baby Cakes" by Neely Comics, Max Headroom is mentioned in Diary #4
  • In the late 1980s, activists in the Social Democratic Party re-cut a video interview with the Right Hon David Owen MP (now Lord Owen) in Max Headroom style.
  • In a Season 2 episode of Family Matters, Steve Urkel appears as a Max Headroom version of himself.