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The first show the band performed under the name They Might Be Giants. This is the legendary "23" show that the Johns have talked about. In an apparent string of coincidences, the number kept popping up. Here's what was said:

  • The show occurred on the 23rd of the month (also the 23rd day of the year).
  • John Linnell was 23 years old at the time.
  • The show was attended by 23 people.
  • They played 23 songs, although only 22 were planned.
  • John Flansburgh and John Linnell each earned $23.

John Linnell adds: "We’ve told that story a few times over the years and there have been some embellishments; we added some stuff to make it more insane, but most of that is true."[1]

John Flansburgh described the show in a 1996 interview with Pitchfork:

A couple of years after we moved [to New York], a friend of ours got us a gig at this crappy showcase club called Dr. B's which was in Soho. He booked it a couple of months in advance so we had a lot of time to get the show together. We wrote a lot of material for it and really rehearsed like tons before this show. We were so over-caffeinated at that point. I imagine that we seemed like just the most hyperactive people. It's kind of taken us a while to calm down and gain some composure, but that first show was pretty interesting.

At that first show, we were doing a lot of stuff that I thought was kind of creepy and I thought that people would react to the material in a creepy way. And I remember being very surprised at how light everyone took everything. We weren't presenting ourselves as sort of heavy, goth people, but we were fairly influenced by The Residents and Pere Ubu and a lot of post-punk art rock bands that had kind of a legit thing about them, even though they were kind of weird. We were a little bit taken aback at how... jolly the perception in the crowd was to our like, fucked-up kind of, "My arm... I can't feel my arm!" kind of songs. The songs were far weirder than the songs we do now. There was probably a lot less to smile about than there is now. I wouldn't have been surprised if people thought we were really self-involved and maybe even self-indulgent, but I wasn't expecting people to think that it was just so much... "fun."