Entry 792: Phony Funnies

I would like to take a moment to stop a new type of entertainment in its tracks. And, no, I’m not talking about harmonica playing on commuter trains.

First some background: We live in the suburbs. The area has dozens of venues at which we can see live music. They are smaller theaters that do not attract the biggest or trendiest performers, but, on the other hand, we get to see the musicians without the need of a Jumbotron in a place with acoustics that actually allow for the enjoyment of music rather than basketball games.

And while these venues may not get the major stars, you can still go there to hear the major stars’ music . . . as performed by tribute bands: ersatz Eagles, pseudo Stones, Deep Purple pretenders, Pink Floyd fakes, bogus Billy Joels, counterfeit Creedence Clearwater Revivals, artificial ABBAs, doubtful Doors, quasi Queens ( the only one we’ve ever actually seen, and about which I’ve written previously), and even make believe Miami Sound Machines.

These acts, which are of widely varying quality, roam the suburbs of American cities like the troubadours of old . . . if the troubadours of old had names like The Troubadorables. There are a ton of Led Zeppelin simulations, including one cleverly named Led Blimpie and an all-female one called Lez Zeppelin. And there are so many Beatles tribute bands that they’re running out of punny monikers: PreFab 4, Fab Faux, the Rubber Soldiers, Beatlejuice, Yellow Dubmarine and Beatlemaniax, to list just a few. Oh, and don’t forget Fab Forward, which only performs the solo hits of John, Paul, George and Ringo.

I don’t have a problem with any of those (except maybe a Simon and Garfunkel tribute act called The Sounds of Simon). After all, most of the performers they’re imitating are:

  • Still touring, but with only one or two original members, so that they have essentially become a tribute band to themselves.
  • Still touring, but unable to sing, so that the tribute bands actually sound better.
  • Still touring but only playing arenas where decent seats go for $500.
  • No longer touring.
  • Dead.

Now let me get back to the opening of this post, when I said that I wanted to stop a new type of entertainment in its tracks. I wasn’t talking about tribute bands.

I was talking about tribute comedians.

We get mailers and emails from most of the venues near us, and the latest one we received from The Ridgefield Playhouse contained, among its coming attractions, a description of just such an act. And not just any tribute comedian; somehow even more disturbingly, he’s a Robin Williams tribute comedian.

His name is Roger Kabler, and he bills himself as a master impressionist. The write-up says:

“This show goes to great lengths to respect Robin’s memory and celebrate his legacy. Hilarious and emotionally powerful at the same time. For everyone around the globe confused about Robin’s unexpected departure, this tribute offers a form of closure, and a chance to laugh with Robin one last time.”

Okay, well first, why is anyone confused about “Robin’s unexpected departure?” It’s not like he disappeared in the middle of a show and was never seen again. He had Parkinsons and he hung himself. Any questions?

Second, isn’t Kabler limiting his career as a Robin reproduction by offering closure? It means that, even if he’s brilliant, I’ll never want to see him again. After all, once I “laugh with Robin one last time,” I won’t want to laugh with Robin one more last time.

And third, what if Roger Kabler’s presentation of a mock Mork and other Williams’ characters becomes wildly popular, and then Kabler himself has an “unexpected departure?” Will someone come along to imitate Roger Kabler imitating Robin Williams?

Honestly, I’m not sure why I find a Robin Williams tribute act so much more troubling than, say, a sham The Band band.* I mean, sure Williams is dead, but so is Levon Helm of the real The Band. Both had debilitating diseases in the end, although Robin decided not to wait it out. Is it the relative recency that bothers me? (Helm died in 2012, Williams in 2014, although it doesn’t seem that long ago.)

I found a video of Kabler, and he does do a pretty good imitation of Williams’ voice and mannerisms. But it just seems so . . . creepy.

Maybe the difference is that, unlike with a tribute band, you can’t sing along.

See you soon.

P.S. I suspect Kabler has anticipated people having a kind of queasy reaction to his act, because he tries to alleviate it by saying that “a portion of the proceeds from this show will be donated to suicide prevention organizations.” Sorry, Roger, that doesn’t do it for me.

*There actually is an act called The The Band Band.

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1 Response to Entry 792: Phony Funnies

  1. Roger kabler says:

    Hiya . I got a lot out of reading your piece. And I apprciate your opinion.
    When people asked me to do a tribute to Robin, at first I said no. But then i felt , who am I to say no?Enough people wanted to see it. And after 2 years of touring America I have found overwhelming support for the show. And laughter. And healing. It is exhausting to do Robin for even 5 minutes- never mind a whole show.. But it is personal and healing for me too. Because I loved Robin since I was 17. Cindy Williams , a good friend of Robin’s saw my tribute, hugged me and said, “I feel Robin” And Robin Williams himself saw me do the impression of him on tv about 11 years ago. It got back to me through a mutual friend that he really liked it. I will be moving away from this tribute and doing just my own show eventually. And I am doing a movie called “BEING ROBIN” about how Robin’s work enriches one mans life. And I will keep people laughing and making them feel good , and I will keep donating shamelessly to Robin’s favorite causes like homelessness and to Childrens Hospital. In Robin’s name.

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