Floyd Vivino — you know him as Uncle Floyd — can’t wait to bring his saucy songs, kooky comedy, and vivacious vaudeville to the Stanhope House on Valentine’s Day.
“I love the Stanhope House,” he said. “There just aren’t places like this anymore. A real roadhouse.”
Vincent Ventriglia of Flying V Productions, the company who recruits and markets performers for the Stanhope House, is a huge Uncle Floyd fan.
“He’s just a true professional,” he said. “He’s good at what he does and has run this tradition of performing at the Stanhope House on Valentine’s Day for almost a decade. He’s always a pleasure to have here.”
Over the years, Uncle Floyd has been called a “rebel.” Radio stations have fired him for his outside-the-box thinking and skits mocking the guys in suits. But the millions who know and love Uncle Floyd, who lives in Totowa, see him for who he is: the genuine article. He tells it like it is. Millions love his act, his attitude, and his wit, and pronounce him a true Jersey treasure.
He’s made the Guinness Book of World Records for nonstop piano playing. In 1999, the family of a little neighborhood boy with cystic fibrosis asked if he could do a show to raise some money for their medical bills. “I knew a regular show wouldn’t bring in near the amount of money that they needed,” Floyd said, “so the local police let me use their PBA, and I played the piano for 24 hours and 15 minutes doing 700 songs.”
In an uncanny twist, the show coincided with Hurricane Floyd. “People didn’t care,” Floyd said. “They parked their cars where they could and waded their way to the show. We raised forty three thousand dollars. It was so much money that the family could pay off all of the bills.”
He gave away the plaque he received for nabbing the world record. “I just wanted to do something nice for a family that needed it,” he said.
A star is born
Uncle Floyd was born in Paterson, but his roots strike deeper. “I come from a couple of hundred years of show people going back to Italy,” he said. “It was our thing, and it ran in the family. Just like farmers had farmers, and cops had cops, me and my brothers did the same things as our family, and that was show business. We loved it, and that’s what we knew. We never thought about doing anything else.”
In high school, he was in charge of the auditorium. “We’d do all sorts of shows and skits, even making fun of the teachers,” he said. “It was great fun.”
From there he moved into burlesque and vaudeville, and then spawned his own show. “The Uncle Floyd Show” aired in New Jersey from 1974 to 1998, first on cable for many years before moving to NBC.
“We paid to be on NBC,” Floyd said. “I paid the station over two million dollars but owed quite a bit more. It was a business. We sold advertisers on NBC. It was non-union, and we went on to pay off the debt. I had the likes of Tom Carvel, Frank Perdue, and Sy Syms on the show. I figured that nobody had ever seen Frank Perdue dance or sing, so why not? The network thought I was out of my mind, but we did it. God knows what they made off those advertisers or the show. Our show had no rehearsals, and now they’re still selling them still on the internet for five dollars.”
“The Uncle Floyd Show” aired on NBC from 1982 to 1986, and from there moved to the New Jersey Network, where they didn’t have to pay for time but had to raise money through pledge-a-thons.
“They fired me for various reasons,” Floyd said. “I’m going to write a book about it and how I was the most hated entertainer in New Jersey. We were rebels. That’s why bands like the Ramones and David Bowie liked us and came on the show many times.”
Bowie even wrote a song, “Slip Away,” about Uncle Floyd.
The show moved to CTM Cable Television Network of New Jersey but there were not enough workers to sustain it. “We paid to stay on the air,” he said. “We loved it, but it fizzled.”
Contrary to what a whole lot of news articles say, that Uncle Floyd was on public access TV was a whole lot of propaganda.
“I hate when the press says I was on public access,” he said. “I was strictly a business person. I paid stations for the time, I paid my cast and crew, and I took the rest. No one could question that. God forbid I go on public access. I would die before I did that. On public access, anyone could do or say whatever they wanted on the air. I always operated a clean set. We never drank or smoked pot. We did a good show and sold some souvenirs.”
Uncle Floyd was also the first show in New Jersey to have women holding the camera. “When we started, in 1974, the equipment was much heavier,” he said. But in 1980, he was asked about having two women as part of the camera crew. “I said ‘I don’t care that they’re women, but they’re coming into hell’s nest,’” he said. “The guys swear and change on set.’”
Turns out, the addition of the women, Diane and Doreen, worked out great, and they became like sisters to the crew. They made a little place for Diane’s little girls “and made them feel really important and part of the set.”
’We were an embarrassment’
Cablevision, in the 1990s, was the show’s last incarnation. “They had visions of sending us all over,” said Floyd. “But turns out we were an embarrassment to them. We put on the show and we made money where other shows couldn’t do that.”
Uncle Floyd is not a fan of the man in the business suit. “If you look at the Uncle Floyd costume, it debunks the suit man, the big hogwash business man,” he said. “I never stood for the ‘man in the suit.’ They were not welcome on my set. I was always genuine.”
His look? A checkered sports coat, oversized bow tie, and porkpie hat that viciously (and intentionally) clashes with aforementioned sports coat. Especially back in the ‘70s and ‘80s, this was a far cry from standard office attire. (P.S.: His fans loved it.)
Of show business, Uncle Floyd said, “It’s a dictatorship, not a democracy.”
“Whatever the boss says goes,” he said. “We’re show people and we are very committed to this principle.”
From 2001 to 2003, Uncle Floyd had a club – called ‘Uncle Floyd’s – in a Holiday Inn on Route 46 in Wayne, where he performed several nights a week.
“My cousins were lawyers, and they put the money up,” he said. “In this business, you are married to the business, and if you don’t work on Friday and Saturday nights, you’re done.”
The club eventually closed. Let’s just say lawyers and entertainers have different philosophies.
Fans of Floyd
Local entrepreneur and Floyd fan Kenneth Freedman, of West Milford, saw his performance with a good friend in 1982 in Newark.
“The Uncle Floyd Show had a segment called ‘Ridiculous but Real’ during which he called up members of the audience,” he said. “My buddy got called up by Floyd, and Uncle Floyd asked him where he was from. My friend replied ‘Lake Parsippany.’ Uncle Floyd went on to ask him, ‘What’s the difference between Parsippany and Lake Parsippany?’ My friend answered, ‘It’s a lot wetter.’” Floyd started laughing hysterically.
“I can’t believe there are people out there that don’t like him. Floyd is just the best. If you think about it, he was the founder of the ‘dad jokes,’ and plays one heck of a piano. He can do anything from ragtime to...well...whatever.”
John Arbo, a bassist from Warwick, N.Y., originally from North Jersey, performed on “The Uncle Floyd Show” in the days when it followed “Speed Racer” on UHF channel 21. “So when we’d do live shows at The Bottom Line and joints like that, they would play the outro theme to ‘Speed Racer’ over the PA, and everyone in the place would go nuts,” he said. “Then we’d start to play his TV show theme, which is a very old tune called ‘Swingin’ Down the Lane.’ Floyd is a complete scientist/archivist of that old vaudeville, honky-tonk, Tin Pan Alley stuff.”
Future of Floyd
Uncle Floyd now hosts a long-running weekly radio show that, according to its website, offers “a strange, eclectic mix of music” featuring “rare records rescued from trash heaps, thrift shops and garage sales.”
Tune in to WFDU 89.1 FM on Sunday mornings at 9 a.m. Eastern Standard Time. You can also listen live on the Uncle Floyd website. When he’s not doing his radio show, Uncle Floyd is out and about spreading joy and laughter.
Uncle Floyd now performs at all kinds of venues. “Before this Covid thing, I played everything from church auditoriums to piano bars,” he said.
The 70-year-old Uncle Floyd is moving forward.
“Everybody says I should retire,” he said. “I don’t believe in that. I want to die taking a bow.”
For information about how to book an Uncle Floyd show, hear his radio show — or even how to receive a birthday phone call from the man, the myth, the legend, the Jersey gem himself — visit unclefloyd.net
“They fired me for various reasons. I’m going to write a book about it and how I was the most hated entertainer in New Jersey. We were rebels. That’s why bands like the Ramones and David Bowie liked us and came on the show many times.” Uncle Floyd