Click and Clack, the Tappet Brothers
Is Car Talk the most-listened-to program on National Public Radio? That was the word at the show’s 20th-anniversary party last Saturday in the courtyard of the Charles Hotel in Harvard Square, and it wasn’t hard to believe. Tom and Ray Magliozzi, Click and Clack, a/k/a the Tappet Brothers, have spent the past 20 years dispensing answers to what’s wrong with your car and serving up a weekly brain-twisting Puzzler, but what they’re really selling — okay, giving away — is unfailing good humor, Ray’s deadpan punch lines and Tommy’s uniquely infectious laugh.
One look at the inviting set-up at the Charles — a big tent with a bandstand for the Blue Suede Boppers, room for dancing, and goodies from the likes of Redbones, Stone Hearth Pizza, Dunkin’ Donuts, Nantucket Nectars, and Harpoon Brewery, plus an anniversary cake — and I surmised that the boys must have hired Sheila Rangit (sister to Rhea Rangit, Car Talk’s Feng Shui Consultant in Mumbai) as their Event Planner. The crows made a beeline for the pulled pork, but when Tom and Ray — described, not without reason, as “by far the two cutest guys in any media” — joined the Boppers on the bandstand, they had everybody’s full attention, Ray now looking a little like Danny DeVito, Tom more like Peter Yarrow of Peter Paul & Mary. “We give out a lot of wrong answers,” they explained. (Indeed, one guest sported a “Celebrating Ten Years of Bad Car Advice” T-shirt from 1997.) “But it’s not for lack of effort. It’s because . . . we’re stupid.” (Did I mention that they both went to MIT?) So, what’s the secret of their success? “They say you can fool some of the people all of the time. . . . You must be that group!” Actually, the crowd — well over a thousand, by the look of it — wasn’t that easily fooled: many, for example, knew that the gas tank on a ’56 Chevy was behind the left tail light. This pair of native East Cantabrigians did it by being as funny in person as they are on the air. “Did the Red Sox win today?” they asked. Yes, came the answer. “What did they win?”
The boys also sang: a specialty number called “The Mechanics Shrugged” (Ray shrugging throughout) and then, creditably, “Johnny B. Good.” The Blue Suede Boppers played the ’50s and ’60s hits you’d expect for a mostly boomer crowd: “Why Do Fools Fall in Love,” “Runaround Sue,” “Sea Cruise,” “At the Hop,” “Trickle Trickle,” “Don’t Be Cruel.” Tom and Ray didn’t even need to fox-trot out their three applicants — Walt Slightly, Lindy Hopper, and Bea Bopper — for the coveted post of Car Talk Dance Instructor; the boomers can still bop. When I left, the band were playing “Rock Around the Clock” and the crowd was doing just that.