Okay, if the New York Times is reporting it, I’m probably safe on this one: Ken Ober, the wry comedian who gained fame on cable television in the 1980s as the host of MTV’s premiere game show “Remote Control,” died this weekend in his Santa Monica, CA, home of unspecified causes. He was 52.
Born Ken Oberding in Brookline, Massachusetts, Ken Ober’s TV credits included stints behind the camera producing such programs as “Tough Crowd with Colin Quinn” and “The New Adventures of Old Christine.” However, Ober is probably best remembered for his four years helming “Remote Control,” MTV’s television trivia game show that subjected Laz-E-Boy-seated contestants to wacky categories like “Brady Physics” and “Dead or Canadian.” “Remote Control,” which aired between 1987 and 1990, attracted a rabid college following and helped launch the careers of such notable talents as Adam Sandler, Denis Leary, and the aforementioned Quinn.
Anchoring the general craziness of “Control” (which ranged from Sandler’s recurring “Stud Boy” character to the humiliating “Off The Air” siren/breakaway wall that eliminated low scoring contestants after the second round) was Ober, whose smooth, slightly sarcastic “every dude” persona endeared him to scores of TV junkies across the nation. “Remote Control” was absolutely my favorite television program for the four years that it aired, and a large part of my obsession had to do with “Business Casual” Ken’s affable job emceeing. He was like Bill Murray sans the venom, disgust, and self-loathing. Ober was exactly the kind of figure MTV needed at that time to counteract the rise of such unbearably cartoonish veejay figures as “Downtown” Julie Brown and Pauly Shore.
I was pleased as punch to see Ken turn up again in 1997 as the podium jockey for Comedy Central’s “Make Me Laugh” redux. Alas, the giggles didn’t last, and after just one season Ober faded back behind the scenes. I was always hoping he’d reemerge one last time for a triumphant game show victory lap, charming America all over again with his non-threatening looks and partially defeated delivery. I’m devastated to know that can’t happen now.
Thanks for all the yuks and good times, Ken. You brightened my afternoons every time you popped up.