For most people, dining on horse meat is not a particularly appetizing concept, but it can be downright funny when filtered through the peculiar prism of Heywood Banks' mind.
Think not? Consider the opening lines of a bizarre Banks song called - what else? - "Horse Meat," from his latest CD:
These days people are perplexed about upon which meat to dine.
With Mad Cow and Hoof & Mouth affecting cows and sheep and swine.
A hungry man starts to look around for a way to super-size.
And his thoughts turn to Mr. Ed with ketchup and fries.
Banks, a veteran comedian and musician from Howell, Mich., has dozens, maybe even hundreds of such silly songs in his repertoire, and he's been using them for years to entertain legions of fans around the country during live performances, television shows, and appearances on radio programs like The Bob & Tom Show, a nationally syndicated morning show heard locally on WIOT-FM (104.7).
He'll be appearing tonight-Sunday in Connxtions Comedy Club on Heatherdowns Boulevard.
Banks, whose real name is Stuart Mitchell, started out as a folk singer but switched to comedy and adopted the stage character of Heywood Banks about 15 years ago. His live show consists of equal parts stories, skits, audience interaction, and goofball songs, but it's the songs that have become his trademark and garnered the most attention over the years, leading to a series of CDs, both on his own and in concert with the people behind The Bob & Tom Show.
Some of the songs have become classics, such as "Toast," in which he accompanies himself not with his usual guitar but by tapping out a frenzied cadence with a pair of forks on a toaster that's strapped around his neck.
Another longtime favorite with Banks' audiences is a song called "18 Wheels on a Big Rig," which consists largely of him counting off the number of wheels on a semitrailer:
Ooohh, there's 1, 2, 3, 4 wheels on a big rig.
After inviting his audience to sing along with him, he'll suddenly switch his counting to Roman numerals, which he pronounces as letters:
Ooohh, there's eye, eye-eye, eye-eye-eye, eye-vee, vee, vee-eye wheels on a big rig.
In addition to being witty, Banks is also known for performing G-rated shows, refreshingly free of innuendo or offensive language, a relative rarity in the world of stand-up comedy. In a telephone interview, he explains that his "clean" style has always come naturally to him.
"I'm an old guy - I'm 54 - so the people I grew up watching, there was never any swearing," he said. "You know, with Jack Benny or the Smothers Brothers or Victor Borge, people like that, so it never occurred to me that that's what you did on stage."
Working clean has helped to broaden his potential audience immensely, he added.
"It's been great for me, because I can play virtually anywhere and people can bring their kids - I always say it's important to start warping them early.
"I play just tons of corporate things, too, because the junior executive who hires me doesn't get the evil eye from the boss halfway through the show and the 'See me in my office on Monday' line."
Banks performs in Toledo annually, and his performances don't change much from year to year. He says that's partly because fans like hearing favorite bits, and partly because he makes little effort to incorporate topical events into his material.
"I've found that if you do that, jokes can become dated after a while," he explained. Then he laughed.
"Actually, I think I'm just too lazy to do it," he said.
Another of Banks' most popular songs is "Fly's Eyes," which led to an illustrated children's book of the same name. The lyrics to that one are typical Heywood:
Well, I get up in the morning, when the dew is on the doo.
And I date a little maggot named Mary Lou.
Some day we'll get married and we won't think twice,
When our kids all look like dancing rice.
Comedian Heywood Banks will appear this weekend in Connxtions Comedy Club, 5319 Heatherdowns Blvd. Showtimes are 8 and 10:30 tonight and tomorrow night, and 6 p.m. Sunday for an "all ages" show. Tickets for all shows are $17.50. Information: 419-867-9041.
Contact Mike Kelly at: firstname.lastname@example.org