Performer Projects Cover Band Philosophy Into Stand-up Comedy
While his band "Blonde on Blondie" is cheered, lauded and paid handsomely for recreating the songs of 80's bands like Tommy Tutone, the Talking Heads and Blondie, lead singer and part-time comedian Paul Curtchie's success in paying tribute to the work of comedians of old has, so far, been limited.
The multi-talented performer got the idea to cover the material of other comedians, in lieu of penning all original monologues, after finding that his former band, "The Shower Curtain Kids", were a bigger hit as a cover band than they were as songwriters.
"Some of our [original] songs were inaccessible and obtuse, so to draw a big audience we changed our gig and went the cover band route, and that's when the money and chicks really started rolling in," said Curtchie. "I thought our originals were pretty good, but the audience always seems to have something else in mind, which was also the case with the material I used to write for open-mic comedy nights at the Improv."
Curtchie said that the reason his material didn’t "fly" wasn’t because of inferior comedic quality, but because he could only get gigs in front of audiences who wanted to hear the same old jokes that they'd heard on the TV and radio millions of times.
"The effect that repetitive corporate radio has had on peoples' listening tastes is obviously extending into other mediums, including comedy," conjectured the performer. "If audiences were encouraged to embrace new talent, I'd have had them rolling in the aisles, but no -- all they want to hear is [Andrew] Dice Clay and his routine, 'Little Boy Blew, he needed the money -- oh!'"
Not an impersonator, Curtchie says he is paying homage to greats like Richard Pryor, Woody Allen and Don Rickles. Though primarily a cover-comedian, he is proud that he continues to pioneer his own unique style by peppering original material into soliloquies, jokes and punchlines from famous comedians.
"I went to Zimbabwe...I know how white people feel in America now: relaxed!" jibed the white Curtchie, who has never been to Zimbabwe. "Because when I heard the police car, I knew they weren't coming after me!"
Curtchie says that today's comedians like Dave Chappelle and Dane Cook blatantly rip off their influences, which is much more dishonest than his gig, "because I always give credit where credit's due," he says.
"I'm just using the work of past geniuses as a platform to launch my own stuff," said the tribute comedian. "A lot of bands -- the Beatles, for example -- started out as cover bands, and look how far they got. All I'm doing is giving the people what they want, and in time, they will come to accept who I am and what I have to offer in my own right."
Curtchie's signature twist on comedy has been starting a routine with his own material and, in the tradition of bands like the Grateful Dead and Phish, will segue it into a "cover" punch line from another comedian.
Donna Eaton, a fan of Curtchie, remembers one of the first times he employed the technique: "He was going on about something like the one-legged hooker, or cheating on his girlfriend -- I can't remember -- but somehow he took that and took it seamlessly into one of Steven Wright's lines, 'A clear conscience is usually the sign of a bad memory.' What a way to breathe new life into tired old jokes like that!"
Curtchie himself recalls one of his classics fondly, a combination Don Rickles-George Burns -Abbott-and-Costello joke that goes, "Eddie Fisher married to Elizabeth Taylor is like me not being able to die, because I'd lose too much money. Who's on first."
Going only back only as far as the Mike Meyers-Dana Carvey days of Saturday Night Live, Curtchie isn't afraid of being behind the times, but is instead updating others' material for a more modern audience. His favorite example comes from the night in which he covered "Eddie Murphy Raw" in its entirety.
"Sure, some comedians might take a joke or two out of Bill Cosby's bag of tricks, or pay homage to the physical humor of Gallagher or old Jim Carrey," explained the tribute comedian, "but I don't know of anyone who has done an entire comedy movie start to finish and in chronological order. I don't know if even Phish covering 'The White Album' was as progressive as what I've done."
Curtchie likened the impact of his performance of "Raw" to Andy Kaufman's complete recitation of "The Great Gatsby", which is a show he says he would like to cover some day.