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T h e   V a n  G o g h - G o g h s'
Great Texas Adventure
Sidebar: Karaoke: 4 Perspectives


The scene: a nondescript upstairs bar somewhere on the main drag of Austin, just up the street from the pool hall/bar/pizza place where I spent a very hungovery evening the night before playing air hockey and Dead Kennedys songs.

The karaoke place was up a long flight of stairs, and the Van Gogh-Goghs were uncharacteristically sedate as we trudged up them. Perhaps several hours of remembrances of the glory days of improv--when Del Close was king and he lived in a world equipped with hot and cold running teens--had sapped our spirits. There also was a slash of nervousness about our upcoming show, residual fatigue from the trip, a well-founded dread of karaoke, and a buzz of irritation at the already annoying antics of our fellow comedy geeks.

I entered with a sigh, sure that this karaoke night would prove to be the low point of our trip. The room was dark and only about half-filled. The bar, which ran along one side of the rectangular room, was host to an uncommunicative barkeep who seemed slightly annoyed to see the bar filled with a whole passel of people who spent their whole high school lives removing wedgies from the cracks of their asses.

To be honest, I felt that I had to agree. As I sipped my Shiner Bock and surveyed the crowd, I was seized by a desire to be just about anywhere but there. This little shindig gave us a chance to network with other groups, but the way I was feeling, I wasn't entirely sure I wanted to talk to most of these people, much less network with them. I hung by the bar, talking to Rob for a bit, listening to the banal lip-wraggling of the MC, but finally the sheer force of the karaoke's badness knocked me backwards out the rear door.

Aaah. Now this was more like it. The back porch of the place was an oasis of cool in this karaoke Sahara. Not that it was in any way actually cool, mind you. It was one of those prefab-right-out-of-the-box-from-HQ pressure-treated pine jobbies you see protruding from the back of split-levels throughout suburbia. Still, when compared with the inside, it was a godsend.

The population of the deck seemed to be primarily of four classes: a couple of BSIIF presenters (who kept to themselves, preferring to discuss some secret improv stuff), some people from Mumblypeg, a couple of random other attendees, and most of the Van Gogh-Goghs. (Noticeably absent: T.Mike Childs. I didn't realize the significance of this until later.) So we lingered under the stars, watching Gale (aka "the chick from Mumblypeg") exert a Jupiter-like gravisexual pull on the other, non-Mumblypeg males on the porch.

(A note about comedians in general, improv people in specific, and these particular improv people in real specific: We're all losers. Male comedians' hearts go zoom if a woman looks at them, and one imagines that a large portion of male comics consider "first base" to mean "talking to a girl without having to a) place an order at the end of the conversation or b) pay $4.99 a minute [average call 10 minutes]. As a result, the mere presence of a woman at this festival who shared an interest in improv comedy was enough to guarantee that Gale had no shortage of pocky-faced mouth-breathing funnyboys to talk to.)

While outside, karaoke quickly dropped from mind. Every time I walked back inside and within the reach of the speakers, I was reminded again that I was outside for a reason. (One of the "highlights" was a two-man rendition of Young MC's "Bust a Move." Even after practicing it (honest), the guys managed to fuck up. Now THAT's comedy.) It was only later, when I overheard Galen ask T.Mike "when are you on?," that I discovered something was up.

"What are you on?" is a question commonly asked of Mr. Childs, usually within five minutes of meeting him. "When are you on?" is quite different. I decided to investigate.

"What's going on?" I asked, demonstrating the investigative skills that have netted me a grand total of no reporting awards through the years.

"T.Mike is going to do karaoke," I was told.

"Is this true?" I asked T.Mike, feeling like Mike Wallace cornering an unwilling interviewee.

"Yep," he said, distractedly.

"What are you going to do?"

"You'll see."

I felt a great wave of concern wash over me. T.Mike is not the kind of guy you want to hear say "you'll see." T.Mike is the kind of guy you want to hear say "I like puppies" or maybe "Math class is hard! Let's go shopping!" When T.Mike says "you'll see," it means he has something planned.

When the time was nigh, we headed inside, ready for something. I still wasn't sure what T.Mike was going to sing, but I was prepared; I had my beer in hand, a smirk on my face, and my running shoes on. The MC blathered something about something (life's too short to waste neurons on the likes of guys like him), and T.Mike was at center stage, mike in hand, looking more nervous than I expected. Still, I was ready for anything.

Well, almost anything. I must admit I was amazed to hear the opening strains of Sid Vicious's version of "My Way." Not that T.Mike had chosen this song--it was the only interesting tune in the karaoke book--but that it was in the book at all. My amazement at this turned to amusement as T.Mike transitioned from the calm, atonal first part to the frenzied, atonal second part.

"Come on," Charles said, grabbing me and starting some semblance of a mosh pit (as perceived by nerds). Above us, T.Mike screeched and screamed through the song--you could almost hear his throat shred.

As we bounced around in front of him, I kept an eye on the crowd. Several seemed nervous, sliding one another glances as if to say "we took this as a fun activity; this guy seems to be mocking the whole idea of karaoke." For comedians, a good number of them seemed to be hard-pressed to take a joke. To their credit, a couple of others joined in on the dancing, and a few seemed to be quite amused by the whole scene.

The one image I will take from this forever is the sight of T.Mike popping the mic into his mouth during a guitar solo and shaking his head back and forth, screaming. That and the look on the MC's face when T.Mike slammed the mike on the ground (after screaming that "we are here to mess with Texas") and stalked off stage to a smattering of shocked applause and hoots from the Van Gogh-Goghs. Something great happened there, and only a handful of people realized it; T.Mike had killed karaoke.
just a line

The Van Gogh-Goghs enter the karaoke bar and instantly the music stops. That's because the last song had stopped... what timing! Then the emcee immediately starts another pasty-white, role-playing, baton-juggling, fake-British-accent-used-among-friends, Del-Close-respecting, painfully tedious knight whose says "Ni!" down the path of monotoned melodial madness. So we get drinks and talk to people. Some dork on stage is doing his "tribute to Frankie" by singing "The Lady is a Tramp", complete with cocktail and cigarette. Loser.

In the corner of my eye, I see T. Mike. He is holding a copy of the song list and waving me over. As I get there, he shows me an entry that has him giggling: MY WAY VICIOUS, SID "Are you gonna do it?" I ask him. The maniacal giggles continue as he nods his head and runs to the emcee. He is next. The emcee says some drivel about who-knows-what and the music begins. T. Mike is warbling off-key to the beginning of the song, and with the first "I did it my way..." part, he gets a smattering of hoots and cheers from the audience. Then the floor opens up. Fire shoots from every corner of the room. Evil flying nightmares, screaming like the unholiest of banshees, fly low over the heads of the shocked patrons. Drinks begin to boil, flesh is being peeled off the faces of all who attend, and chaos reigns supreme. T. Mike's sheer will has encased the whole bar.

With the first shrill sounds of "Regrets!", the place erupts. I knew he was crazy... Hell, all of us knew he as crazy... but Austin didn't. Now they know. He screams and gestures and stomps and yells. He thrashes and burns and seethes with hatred. And the audience loves every minute of it. A mosh pit forms in front of this Devil Messiah that T. Mike has become. Heads are banging. Every one of us are now locked inside Mr. Childs' Wild Ride, and there will be no escape until the ride is through. I turn to my left. Next to me, a figure stands, dressed all in red, with a goatee, a long mane of hair, and horns. He looks at me and smiles his evil grin and, pointing his thumb with the long, curved nail towards the ever-maddening T. Mike, says, "Can you believe this guy?" Then I notice the juggling pins, realize it's one of those juggling dorks from Nashville, and move from him to the stage. Glad I do.

The end is near. The walls pulsate with rage, the moshers twist and gyrate even more frenetically, almost to the point of combustion. The emcee remains in his corner, cowering from the bastard out of Carolina. T. Mike, taunting the crowd to show him what they're made of, places the microphone in his mouth and gives his head a mighty shake. Then, with the last breath he could muster, he screams the finale of the song and warns the crowd that the Van Gogh-Goghs have arrived: "I DID IT... MY WAY!! HELLO, AUSTIN... WE'VE COME... TO MESS... WITH TEXAS!!!" T. Mike slams the mic to the stage and walks off. The legions of Hell and the participants of the Big Stinkin' International Improv Festival join together in saluting their Satanic Majesty. Never before has a karaoke crowd erupted into such violence, mayhem and enjoyment. Odds are, it will never happen again. But if it does, rest assured that sitting in a throne of pure evil, high atop the frenzied mob, will be the unholy soul of T. Michael Childs, screaming that that fucking asshole is stealing his bit.
just a line

I could tell by the way she said "please" when she said "will you PLEASE get away from me" that she was very interested in me. Very interested. She was this bare- midriffed hotula with a remarkably taut pair of buttocks who worked at the bar they were holding the Improv Festival's first night party. I think they had music, or a band there, too.

Anyway, as I followed her through the crowd, she balancing her tray of drinks, me shoving improv dorks out of the way, I managed, through a clever placement of chairs and fat guys in my wake, to corner her by the front of the bar. As she realized there was no easy escape, I charmed her by informing her that if she were to sit down upon both my outstretched hands and writhe around, I could guess her weight to the ounce. The ounce. I remember things getting a bit louder around me as she began to regale me with a string of epithets so abusive, they could only have been masking her intense passion. Then, suddenly, she stopped, and got a shocked look on her face.

"Isn't that one of the guys in your stupid group?" she said, pointing behind me to the stage.

"No, baby, I'm not with these goons. I told you, I work in a ginseng mine." I said, acting as suave as possible, wondering just how my well-meaning pals were going to ruin my chances with a very willing young vixen yet again. I took a long swig out of the umbrella-rimmed hollow coconut I carry with me to pour my beer in, and then tried to casually crane my neck around to see what she was pointing at.

What I saw shocked me so much that a pencil-girthed column of urine shot out of my pants, completely ruining my chances with the woman once and for all. I looked, transfixed, as I saw someone that resembled T.Mike, onstage, shrieking like a banshee with a microphone wedged in his mouth, held a foot aloft the stage by a jet of blue flame shooting out of his ass. The shock had barely subsided when, the waitress, taking advantage of my lethargic state, jacked me across the mouth with a full can of Pabst Blue Ribbon. As my body swung around past the mirror behind the bar, my face was so contorted with pain that I didn't even recognize its reflection, but I knew it was me, for the same reason. Damn you T.Mike, I thought as I hit the floor.
just a line

As I stood in a karaoke bar, staring at the maniac on stage, I thought to myself, "Gary Oldman Lives!"

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© copyright 1996; 1999 The Van Gogh-Goghs