David Liebe Hart was first introduced to audiences in “Salamé,” a 2007 episode of Adult Swim’s late-night alt-comedy series Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! Hart was accompanied by a puppet named Jason, an orange, catlike creature with an exaggerated Southern accent (provided by Hart) and an enthusiasm for singing about the Corinians, a race of alien “critters” who greet each other with the word “Salamé!” and want to share a transcendental message that includes “knowledge is power, it grows just like a flower.”
Like many of Awesome Show’s non-celebrity guest stars, Hart was fascinating because it was never clear if his bizarre performances were earnest or ironic; they were just pitch perfect for a series that often parodied low-budget, local access programming and D.I.Y., off-kilter creativity. But Hart’s output since “Salamé” — including several albums and EPs, a touring stand-up act and numerous Adult Swim appearances — seems to indicate that his rambling, good-natured public persona is genuine. So, too, does a conversation with Hart, which becomes a freewheeling, almost one-sided narration of whatever’s on his mind at the time.
Unprompted, he begins by describing at length his disappointment in “a girl from the South,” who he says pretended to be romantically interested in him so he could secure her a job at Adult Swim. “She didn’t tell me she had a boyfriend when she first came to my concert in Georgia,” he says, before pivoting to “another tragedy” in his life: a falling out with the man who repaired his model train collection. “I don’t think that one wants to work with me anymore, the way he’s treated me,” Hart says. “He told me to shut up on the phone.”
There are few relationships in his life by which the 60-year-old Hart has not been wounded, it seems: old bandmates who no longer return his calls, puppet repairmen who never show up to appointments, numerous failed romances. “I just want what every man wants,” he says. “A good woman in my corner that’s sincere, that’s going to love me and care about me. I want to start a new family, because the people in my family have all passed on and moved on. The ones that are living just don’t want to be bothered, so I’m learning, like Jesus says, to just shake the dust off my feet and keep on walking.”
Hart’s optimism in the face of constant loneliness and adversity might be one reason for his enduring cult appeal. There’s a certain inspirational aspect to his story; less than 10 years ago, Hart was a Los Angeles street performer whose greatest exposure had arguably come from a mean-spirited segment on a pre-Jon Stewart Daily Show. (“As a child, I had an irrational fear of puppets,” concluded correspondent Stacey Grenrock. “Now, thanks to David, I have a rational one.”) Post-Awesome Show, though, Hart has built a small but dedicated fan base nationwide; the YouTube version of that Daily Show clip features a number of recent, supportive comments toward Hart. “His personal story is very sad, and he does seem like a very gentle, sincere person,” reads one.
At the same time, though, it’s hard to argue that Hart’s popularity isn’t more indebted to the deeply strange nature of his act — and, perhaps, his lack of awareness of how strange it really is. Awesome Show creators Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim cast him after seeing his puppet-driven public access series The Junior Christian Science Bible Lesson Show (the title of which was later changed to the Junior Christian Teaching Bible Lesson Program, Hart says, “because the Christian Science church I belonged to didn’t want me to use their name because they felt it was a trademark”), and when the duo appeared on the show in 2014, they hijacked it in favor of meandering, absurdist musical numbers. Hart and two of his puppets gamely attempted to play along, though it became clear that he wasn’t quite sure what the joke was.
There’s also the fact that Hart maintains that all of his lyrics — even his most fantastical ones — are autobiographical. A song from his upcoming album about living in a haunted house, he says, was based on childhood experiences. “When my parents moved to Forest Park, Illinois, I had a fish tank,” he says. “I went fishing with my dad for a month and did not feed the frog that was in my fish tank, and he died and came back as a ghost and haunted me. He’d look at me when I was doing my homework, so I wrote a song about it.”
Even “Salamé,” the alien-focused song that served as his Awesome Show debut, is based on what Hart claims was a real experience. “I was selling my portraits at La Brea Tar Pits [in Los Angeles], and a woman came to me and told me she was an extraterrestrial woman,” he says. “Her name was Jezebel Bordious. She promised to marry me and take me to live with her at Star Corindor, but I faced problems with jealous Corinians. She looked like Bettie Page, she looked like Lynda Carter — beautiful woman. I saw her go up in her spaceship, and she was just beautiful.”
That story, though, ends in a way that’s similar to many others Hart tells about his relationships: with disappointing loneliness and the resolve to move on. “I wanted to marry her [but] I got threatening phone calls that [the Corinians] didn’t want any interracial marriages between a Corinian and African American human,” he says. “So anyway, it’s one of those things where I’ve got to stay positive and stay focused that there’s a right person for me.”
In the meantime, Hart is hard at work on his career. He’s filmed appearances for upcoming episodes of Check It Out! With Dr. Steve Brule, an Awesome Show spinoff starring Oscar-nominated actor John C. Reilly, and will appear in upcoming episodes of Heidecker’s web series Decker, a parody of 24. He’s also hoping to audition for a role in Baskets, a new FX series by Awesome Show contributor Zach Galifianakis about a rodeo clown who takes his craft very seriously despite the fact that no one else respects or appreciates him.
Hart, for one, seems resolute about continuing to move forward. “Even Jesus, the greatest man who trotted the globe, had relationship problems with people who didn’t understand him,” he says. “People slandered him and called him Satan because he healed through the power of God. People just didn’t understand him, and I’ve run across people that just don’t understand me.
“I’m just going to stay focused and stay positive and know that the best is yet to come.”
David Liebe Hart will perform at Desert Island Supply Company on Saturday, March 12. Ancestor and nnAnn will open. The show will begin at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $15. For more information, visit facebook.com/DesertIslandSupplyCo.