Suvarna Garge (Editor)

The Nairobi Trio

Updated on
Share on FacebookTweet on TwitterShare on LinkedInShare on Reddit
The Nairobi Trio httpsuploadwikimediaorgwikipediaenthumb1
Portrayed by  Ernie Kovacs, Edie Adams, Jack Lemmon, Frank Sinatra, Bobby Lauher, Barbara Loden

Ernie kovacs the nairobi trio solfeggio abc television network videotaped version

The Nairobi Trio was a skit Ernie Kovacs performed several times for his TV shows. It combined many existing concepts and visuals in a novel and creative way.


People in gorilla suits have always been a comedy staple. The notion of well-known or predictable music pieces gone awry has long been practiced by artists as diverse as Stan Freberg, Spike Jones or P. D. Q. Bach. The "slow burn" of one character being annoyed by another, resulting in eventual retaliation, was not new. But the combination of all those ingredients, combined with impeccable timing, produced a unique and memorable result.


It was a live-action version of a child's animatronic wind-up music box, and performed to the tune "Solfeggio" by Robert Maxwell. According to an interview with Edie Adams contained in John Barbour's 1982 documentary Ernie Kovacs: Television's Original Genius, when Kovacs first heard a recording of the Maxwell's composition, he immediately came up with a mental image of what would become The Nairobi Trio: Barry Shear, Kovacs' director at DuMont Television Network, brought the tune to Kovacs' attention in 1954.

Cast members and skit scenarios

In the middle sat the "head gorilla," always played by Kovacs (with a cigar), conducting with a baton or (sometimes) a banana. To the viewer's left another gorilla stood, holding two oversized timpani mallets. The identity of this ape varied, but among Kovacs' celebrity friends both Jack Lemmon and Frank Sinatra are known to have performed in the skit. Seated at screen right at a piano was a female simian (variously played by Barbara Loden, Jolene Brand and Kovacs' wife, Edie Adams), robotically thumping up and down on the keys.

Nearly all skits operated in the same general fashion, involving the gorilla with the mallets, who repeatedly uses the center gorilla's (Kovacs') head as a drum at the end of every phrase, punctuating a sharp "ba-da-BUM" bongo riff. Every repeat brings a slightly changed and escalated response from the victim, as he tries to anticipate the mallet assault and outwit the perpetrator. Ultimately staring him down, he is eventually distracted by the third gorilla for one final blow, moving him to smash a prop vase over the percussionist's head. Edie Adams said later that the skits were simple enough for any one of Kovacs' friends and associates to step into without any rehearsal needed and that the gorilla masks provided anonymity.

The bit was repeated several times over the course of Kovacs' career. The definitive version is likely the last, performed for one of Ernie's 1960s ABC specials shortly before his untimely death. The combination of a bigger budget, videotape, and the luxury of retakes helped him to perfect the timing of the sketch. But the Nairobi Trio wasn't always confined to silence with "Solfeggio"; they went into outer space and also became safe crackers on a US Steel special, "Private Eye, Private Eye", aired on CBS March 8, 1961.


The Nairobi Trio Wikipedia