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CategoryThe Roots of the Rock and Comedy Connection August 21st, 2007 by Scharpling & Wurster

Tom and Jon,

The “rock and comedy” thing has gotten so out of hand it seems I can’t open an issue of Spin, Fader or Bass Player without seeing an op-ed piece by Patton Oswalt, David Cross, Eugene Mirman or one of the guys from that sketch show I don’t like.

Now, I know rock and comedy have cross-pollinated for years: Albert Brooks, Martin Mull, Richard Lewis, Richard Belzer and others honed their comedy chops touring as opening acts for rock groups. Heck, Eddie Murphy had a rock band –the Bus Boys–open for him back in the ‘80s!

My question is: Has there ever been a rock star who threw his or her hat into the stand-up comedy ring? (And please don’t bring up Fred Armisen -nobody ever heard of Trenchfoot, or whatever they were called, until he got famous.)

keep it clean,

Kim Dithers

Lawrenceville, KS

Dear Kim,

While there have been many funny rock stars over the years (Keith Moon, John Lennon, David Lee Roth, etc), we know of only one who actually performed live, stand-up comedy: Journey lead guitarist Neal Schon.

A Bay Area guitar prodigy –he joined Santana at age seventeen before forming Journey in 1973– Schon initially had no interest in comedy whatsover. “I don’t think I ever really saw Neal laugh,” says Bill Miller, Journey’s long-time lighting director. “We’d be watching Saturday Night Live and Neal would be like, ‘What’s so funny about a guy wanting a cheeseburger? So that Spanish dude thinks Barbara Bach looks marvelous, why are you guys laughing so hard?’ Neal was a great guy, but humor just wasn’t his thing.”

Schon’s improbable entree into the world of stand-up comedy occurred at a Journey concert in San Jose, CA on December 16, 1986. During a break between songs, the guitarist looked out into the audience and noticed an obese man holding hands with a rail-thin woman. Schon stepped up to his vocal mic, pointed at the couple and remarked, “I think I know how those two get it on…VERY CAREFULLY.”

Though the joke elicited only a small chorus of chortles (thanks in part to drummer Mike Baird’s rimshot), it was a defining moment for Schon. “It was like a switch was turned on inside Neal’s head,” says Miller. “We had the next two days off and nobody could find Neal. Turns out he was locked in his hotel room writing jokes –hundreds of ’em. The last two weeks of the tour were insane –Neal spewing out one-liners 24/7. Most of ’em didn’t really make sense and they were 95% guitar-related. The other 5% were just incredibly filthy.”

The day the tour ended Schon placed a call to the Punchline, San Francisco’s most popular comedy club and asked for a show. Incredibly, the Punchline booked Schon as a headliner for five nights the following February!

Opening night was packed and Schon took the stage to thunderous applause (half of the audience was comprised of Journey die-hards). Unfortunately, Schon came out with an incredibly hard-to-follow routine about the difference between an MXR Phase 90 effects pedal and a Marshall JTM 45 amplifier (we’d print the punchline, but there doesn’t seem to have been one). The audience sat in confused silence.

Schon’s next bit (“Ever wonder what would happen if Eric Clapton played a Les Paul Gold Top instead of a Fender Strat? I think it might go something like this…”) fell even flatter. Panicked, the guitarist dove head first into his raunchiest material. Pulling his shirt tightly over his head, Schon began jumping up and down, exclaiming that he was “Dickman –the superhero with balls.” Lucky for him he couldn’t see the audience filing out.

A jaw-droppingly offensive routine about Mother Teresa entering an all-you-can-eat fish contest at a Lake Titicaca nudist camp was all Punchline management needed to bring the curtain down on Schon’s set. The rest of the dates were cancelled.

Amazingly, this was not the end of Schon’s comedy career. Though he never performed stand-up again, Schon did write several episodes (“Operation Fun Run,” “Infant-ry” and “Learning To Drive”) for the second season of the military-themed comedy series Major Dad.

Flyer courtesy of the Christopher Moses Rock ‘n’ Roll Archive