The Shmenge Brothers were a fictional polka duo….who along with their band The Happy Wanderers were featured on the SCTV television comedy program in 1982 – 1983. They were played by John Candy as clarinetist Yosh Shmenge and Eugene Levy as accordionist Stan Shmenge. The Shmenge Brothers and their audience are mostly Eastern European expatriates from the fictional country of Leutonia. John Candy based the characters on Czechoslovakian-born Edmonton-based polka cable show host Gaby Haas….and the program draws other humor from the culture surrounding The Lawrence Welk Show….which dominated traditional television entertainment in the 1960’s.
Much of the oblique humor from the brothers comes from the subtle but consistent disparity in the brothers’ pronunciation of “Shmenge.” ….where together they played polka for an aging eastern-European immigrant audience….who typically dined on cabbage rolls and coffee….which was provided by the fictional Mrs. Vilve Yachke.
Many of their songs were cover versions of popular songs in the tradition of “Weird Al” Yankovic….such as “Wishing (If I Had a Photograph of You” from A Flock of Seagulls and “Billie Jean” from Michael Jackson. The duo also performed original songs such as “There’s Rhythm In My Lederhosen,” and “Mama Cook Me Cabbage Rolls,” and “The Cabbage Rolls and Coffee Polka.”
The Happy Wanderers got their start in Leutonian vaudeville playing the gelkis….which is an instrument, like the glass harmonica, made of glass jars, but played by smashing rather than sliding a finger along the wet rim….and took up polka during wartime. The duo still celebrates the traditions of Leutonia….where Christmas is celebrated with a symbolic egg, a feast of “haloopniks” and the “exchanging of the socks”.
The Shmenge Brothers were the subjects of the 1984 mockumentary The Last Polka. To promote The Last Polka, on February 26, 1985 the Shmenges guested on Late Night with David Letterman where they performed “Cabbage Rolls and Coffee Polka”….which included a sing-along with the audience.
Their appearance in the 1986 Comic Relief….as seen in this video herewith….was their last performance…..which makes this video “pure gold” in our treasure chest of vintage memories here at ImaSportsphile.