Tony Clifton

One Eyed Jacks

June 10, 2008


As I walked into One Eyed Jacks Tuesday night, I was greeted by a lightbulb-strewn Tony Clifton sign hung above the entranceway to the performance room. It's the same sign Jim Henson created for Tony's appearance on the Fabulous Miss Piggy Show(you can find it on youtube). The OEJ show had already started, but that was OK, considering Clifton would play two full sets. This was Clifton and his Katrina, Kiss My Ass Orchestra(ten musicians from the Gulf South, including Sam Price)'s dress rehearsal for their upcoming U.S. tour, which coincides with the 25th anniversary of Andy Kaufman's departure.

Kaufman created the Tony Clifton character to be a send-up of every bad lounge singer, which I think there were more of back in the '70's. Kaufman would have Clifton open his show, and even the show biz professionals in the crowd didn't realize the two were one in the same. Of course, people started to catch on, but that didn't stop Tony's rise, as he always put down Kaufman as someone who was trying to use his name to prosper. Talent buyers who wanted Kaufman started to book the cheaper Clifton, but Kaufman turned a card when friend and later Comic Relief creator Bob Zmuda performed as Clifton and Kaufman went onstage during his act. It's hard to believe Clifton was playing Harrah's on his own at one point.

Anyway, Tony was back Tuesday night with impeccable sound, lights, musicians, and back-up dancers(a few of which were Fleur de Tease girls dressed in some jaw-dropping outfits) and singers. Maybe because it was a dress rehearsal, Clifton was less inflammatory than what his legend states, but he still managed to get in his orchestra's face now and again, say some pretty aw(some)ful pedophile jokes(a non-pedophile one to give you an idea: "What sound did the baby make when it was being chopped up in a blender? I don't know, I was too busy masturbating") in between songs, and call an audience member gay. Clifton brought the man onstage to choose between his dancing girls and soon after, Clifton started touting his penis size for some reason. Before I knew it, Clifton asked him to show his dick, clearly not believing he would. Well, he did, and he was escorted out, Clifton apologizing profusely to the girls onstage and deriding the guy.

The funny continued with the songs, which were horribly over-sung and inflicted in the worst possible ways. It's easy to forget how hard it is to sing and perform well until you see someone like Clifton hack up songs like no one has ever done before. Of course, with every step, Clifton believed he was killing it, and that was the best part about it. He really put his heart and soul into his disastrous performances. My favorites were Tom Petty's "Don't Do Me Like That" and Matchbox 20's "3 a.m." I was really hoping I'd never have to hear that song again. But like that? From Clifton? Very hard to take.

I expected to see Zmuda walking around after the show, but he stayed in character, hanging out at the front bar. A sound engineer friend told me he arrived and left in character.

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