I intended to just hang out, hearing a buzz for the show since it was launched in August 2014 (originated in the Bay by Krista Fatka and Jonah Th’Mole before landing at the Make Out Room (and beyond))***. I’m for singing in public, but it’s not my moon and stars. It’s more like my comet, fun every once in a while.
I was ill prepared even as a spectator. Wheel of Karaoke is a hybrid game-variety-comedy show that, in all its silliness, takes itself seriously. I assumed I’d enjoy myself and the night exceeded expectations.
In a way, it was the perfect way to experience people singing at a bar. Karaoke is intimidating in the City: so many lifers who actually know their key range, know their favorite KJ by their non-KJ name, have their standards on slips before they even order their first Dark and Stormy. Then there are birthday parties—or large groups of people in general—that inevitably become roadblocks of whooping obnoxiousness. Or it’s a dead night and you end up having to make friends with an old dude with a B+ Frank Sinatra. In other words, the social element is very overwhelming if, like me, you’re an introvert that’s just trying to get their “Train In Vain” on.
Host and organizer Brandon Gardner fully embraced the monster he created, subverting tradition and skirting formalities. Remarkably, by gaming a gauntlet of gimmicks, Garner made karaoke more fun, while maintaining its form. It’s still karaoke. Yeah, you may need to twerk the entire time you sing, or intermittently jazz scat, but it’s still a prompter and a microphone and a Muzak instrumental track. After the performance three comedian panelists, composed that night of Richard Toomer, Sam DiSalvo and Mikey Walz, gave arbitrary post-performance “scores”, functioning more a platform for jokes or ribbing than serious critique. At the end of the night, weighing the overall feeling sentiment of the crowd, the judges and the hosts, a winner is selected. It’s very chaotic and convoluted, but a triumph of endearment.
I appreciated that WOK embraced the atypical: no waiting-hours-to-finally-sing-so you-can-finally-leave, no favoritism, no bribes*. You place your name in the container, get called up (or not), tip karaoke maestro Amanda Rocks, state your intended song selection, spin the wheel and accept your fate.
Eve-6 Guy got his track jacked, forced to sing “Hit Me Baby One More Time” to rappy, off-key perfection. Josh Holub declined to phone his sleeping mom but called on the power of George Michael before being incinerated by a dig from Mikey Walz. Clay Newman fucking WENT FOR IT!
I wanted to sing Rick James’ “Give It To Me Baby”, but the wheel gave me “Do it Dirty”, meaning I had to sing an incredibly explicit version of “Dock of the Baby” (i.e. “Cock of the Day”). I think the song was about dating a bored prostitute, and I may have stroked the microphone stand to emphasize the lyrics. I dunno. It was a blur!
There’s no way to fully evoke the darkly inappropriate, devious fellowship we shared without betraying its context or ruining someone’s internet presence. There were words you shouldn’t say, songs you shouldn’t butcher, chants you should recant. Such irreverence should be protected. You’ll have to be there to be there.
Oh, after being deemed “winner”—we all were—I got to sing Rick James as a victory lap. I used the refrain to rap-sing my lament that my girlfriend who, much like the woman described in “Give it to Me Baby”, hates which I wake her up by coming home late, being loud, drunk and horny. Guess who was annoyed later that night!?**
* Allison Mick jumped the line by tipping KJ Amanda Rocks more than anybody else, a secret menu item called “Capitalist Scum”. She sang Alicia Keys’ “If I Ain’t Got You”, with a BPM-shifting handicap that oscillated between drum-n-bass and chopped+screwed.
** My girlfriend.
***Update: Article now credits the show’s original producers Krista Fatka and Jonah Th’Mole.