Tag Archive | the Encyclopedia Britannica Kid

ABL (Always Be Learnin’)

Despite four years of college and employment as an Editor at both the College Board and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (then just Harcourt), I didn’t learn the difference between hyphens and em dashes until Crawdaddy! hired me as a blogger last year. Don’t ask why—you’re talking to the same fool who still has to consult Google to figure out the time difference between New York and California every time he has to call Los Angeles or San Francisco. Some knowledge just slips through the cracks, or simply can’t be retained.

The evidence of my sad hyphen/em dash ignorance is all over JG2Land. While I firmly believe language is a thing to be teased and played with and that rules in general were made to be broken, when I go back and see that I was using hyphens in place of em dashes…well, at this juncture, it just bothers me. It screams something false. I gotta go back and fix all that baloney, especially if places like Slate are going to insist on linking to pieces from the Pre Em Dash Knowledge Era (I have of course corrected the post in question, “Seven Ridiculous-Ass Sequels Hollywood Almost Foisted Upon Us,” lest Slate’s readership think I some sort of buffoon).

Side note: It’s a really nice feeling to be cited. Thanks, Slate. I feel validated. I am a reliable source when it comes to never-produced Back to the Future prequels, not to mention never-fulfilled Mickey Rooney Jaws cameos.

Another thing Crawdaddy! taught me: Words (like that one!) should be capitalized after colons. I’m not as dumbstruck by that grammatical revelation—I actually kinda disagree with it—but it still proves you can always be learnin’ no matter how accomplished you perceive yourself to be in your respective field. To think, I interviewed the Encyclopedia Britannica Kid for Geek Monthly, and I had no idea what was going on with hyphens, em dashes, or capitalization after colons. How was I not drummed out the door like so much fast food refuse?

The Encyclopedia Britannica Kid’s New Agenda: Taking Rain Back From The Hippies


Photo by Sara Ross-Samko

Here’s an interview I conducted with Donavan Freberg, a true pop culture icon, for Geek Monthly circa 2009. Without a doubt the funniest, friendliest, and most interesting interview subject I’ve ever heard imitate a chicken.

Dutiful late ‘80s couch potatoes no doubt remember him: the wise-cracking teen with the blond mullet who had a report due on space, a report he simply couldn’t have finished without his trusty reference book set. For years, he was simply the Encyclopedia Britannica Kid, that back-sassing commercial nerd who became a pop culture footnote once the Internet obliterated the need for home libraries. Little did anyone know that was Donavan Freberg, son of parody legend Stan Freberg. Donavan’s no one-trick pony: as a kid, he lent his voice to a few “Peanuts” characters, and post-Britannica he worked as a puppeteer for “Weird Al” Yankovic. Interesting side note: Donavan didn’t have a name until the age of five. We’ll let him tell you about that in the following interview.

JG2: How did that whole not-having-a-name thing work? Were your parents just like, “Hey, kid!”? What did they call you?

DONAVAN FREBERG: I was named Baby until I was five. See, I was kind of an accident. My mother didn’t think she could get pregnant again. Then when it happened, my parents thought I was gonna be a girl—this was before ultra sound, I guess—and they had the name April picked out. So when I came out, Dad was stumped. We also had a dog, a Yorkshire Terrier, named Baby…so when my Mother would call, “Baby!”, we’d both come running.

JG2: How did your family arrive upon Donavan?

DF: Both my mother and sister are named Donna, so it’s an extension of that. Actually, my sister was hanging around David Cassidy a lot around that time, and he heard about me and got really annoyed at the Baby thing. He said, “I’m going to call him Damien.” But then my folks chose Donavan. I had a very Royal Tenenbaums-meets-“The Munsters” type of upbringing. So now, Baby is more than a pet name for me. I hear people use it, like, “Hey, baby,” and it feels weird. It takes me back somewhere in my mind.

JG2: What was it like at the height of your Encyclopedia Britannica fame? Were people constantly coming up and giving you the business?

DF: It was definitely very weird. I was recognized constantly. People would call out, “Hey, you’re that nerd!” or “You’re that dork! Hey, dork!” It was mostly razzing. People tend to feel like they have an intimate connection to you if you’ve been on television. I remember visiting a shopping mall in Austin, Texas—I was out there to see some family—and I was just mobbed instantly. That was more awe, celebrity worship, towards Middle America. In L.A., they were mostly razzing me. But I laughed all the way to bank with the $37 I made off those ads. [Laughs]

JG2: What exactly was the time span those Britannica ads ran?

DF: 1988 to 1992, 1993. I could have gone longer. I think I had another five years in me.

JG2: How did you end up working as Baby Boolie on “The Weird Al Show?”

DF: My dad had been hired to do puppeteer work on that. “Weird Al” loves my dad. He’s always cited my dad as his biggest influence. They were looking for another puppeteer, and my dad mentioned me. It wasn’t pure nepotism, though. “Weird Al”—who, by the way, is the nicest and most intelligent celebrity I think I’ve ever met—said, “Come in, put this puppet on arm, and just improv. Make me laugh.” So he’s sitting there as I go off with this puppet, and he’s barely laughing at first. So I’m thinking, “Oh God, I’m blowing it.” But then he very quietly said, “You got the part.”

JG2: Do you ever get together with Jeremy Miller, Jeremy Shoenberg, or any of the other people who have voiced Linus from “Peanuts” over the years to shoot the breeze and share war stories?

DF: No, I’ve never met any of those guys. I only voiced Linus and Charlie Brown in commercials and public service announcements. So, stuff like Met Life, the public library, Zinger Zapper, Dolly Madison, etc. I did get to meet Charles Shultz before he died, though, and that was amazing.

JG2: Are you still voice acting these days?

DF: Yeah, I do a little voice acting here and there. I just did a pilot for the “Rugrats” guys about a reporter chicken, but it didn’t get picked up. It was like a chicken news anchor, you know, [adopts wacky chicken voice] “This is Jack Cluckman for PNN, the Poultry News Network!” I’m also pursuing photography, but I’d like to get back into advertising. I’d like to try to be the spokesperson for Wikipedia. That would be funny. Actually, I’m really thinking about creating an ad agency for natural elements. You know, like the Sun.

JG2: Does the Sun need more publicity?

DF: Sure! And rain. I want to get rain and all those other earthy names back from the hippies.

JG2: What would your tag line be for rain?

DF: “Rain—nothing would be green without it.”

JG2: Not bad. I feel compelled to tell you the reason this interview came about is because John Hodgman mentioned you in his recent fake fact book, More Information You Require. I’m pretty sure you’re name is the only honest piece of information in it. How does that feel?

DF: Oh, I didn’t know that! That’s fantastic! But the truth is, how do you know John Hodgman and I aren’t really the same person?

JG2: Are you?

DF: I’ll put it this way: you’ll probably never see us both in the same place.

For more on Donavan, be sure to visit his blog, http://babyfreberg.blogspot.com.