Terrified of Buttons – Kim Komando Infomercial (1990s)

Can you believe that there was a time when computers weren’t just not in our pockets, they weren’t even in our houses? Around the late 1980s these CRT behemoths, previously relegated to those eggheads on their college campuses, started making their way into homes across America – a transition which delighted children and befuddled adults with disposable income.  Thankfully, the Infomercial Age was in full swing and Kim Komando was there to take that disposable income in exchange for her VHS computer curriculum.

Kim’s a little bit different from many infomercial hosts and pitchmen in that she’s actually focused on one area of expertise – the tech industry – and she’s actually legit at it with impressive credits spanning a decades-long career. That doesn’t change the fact that this 1990s infomercial for “The Komputor Tutor” is ridiculous at best and terrible at worst.

This infomercial takes the guise of a talk show called “Ask Mike!”, a show based seemingly around the titular Mike giving advice to audience members. That doesn’t really happen this time around, as it’s Mike himself who’s confounded by all of this new computer technology. He seems particularly flummoxed by the presence of manuals, a thing I’m pretty sure existed before computers came around.

Kim comes along and sort of shouts her pitch at him.  It’s understandable that she shouts, because Mike is also shouting. Their voices stay at this volume for the entire half hour. It’s worth taking this opportunity to point out the production value of this whole thing; it’s a Martin-level production. The set is reasonably well-lit for the ’90s, the camera work and blocking is reasonably involved, and there’s a studio audience there that seems to be playing along like it’s a talk show that they’re familiar with. It plays out like a bad sitcom – the overscripted lines are shouted into an echo-y room and there’s a Talk Soup vibe as every joke is met with five to six voices in the audience flat-out guffawing.  Still, it’s livelier than most infomercials. And there’s props, as showcased by Mike’s claim that his old-school filing cabinet is better than a computer’s hard drive – a claim that results in him pulling random things out of said filing cabinet. Even old, moldy lunches!

*cue five to six voices in the audience flat-out guffawing*

Then there are the testimonials. The tales of these poor fools and the intimidating technology that has been forced upon their lives is like something out of a Terminator pre-prequel that never happened. Some choice soundbytes that make as much sense out of context as they do in it.

“(I’m) terrified of anything that goes on and off – I’m even afraid of an iron”

“I’m really good at selling audiobooks, but I didn’t know a thing about computers”

“After my first lesson, I typed my own resume”

There’s more here: a sampling of people figuratively chained to computers for the duration of the show, watching the VHS’s and proving their computer knowledge as some sort of realtime proof that Komputer Tutor works, as a security guard named Chuck makes sure they receive no outside help…

…a commercial within the longer commercial featuring a plaid-shirted everyman in a computer store with a huckster who was also the Micro Machine guy trying to gouge him for expensive computer software…

…before realizing he could get the same knowledge watching Komputer Tutor on a couch in the same outfit with an enormous bowl of popcorn all to himself…

…to a feature on how to use Prodigy. Specifically, Prodigy.

It’s terrible and wonderful and I bet it made a mountain of money and here it is.

-ds