Caustic comedian Ralphie May looking for laughs in Neenah

ralphie-mayRalphie May has been looking forward to getting some laughs in America’s Dairyland. The boisterous baby-faced comedian played to large crowds in Milwaukee and Madison last weekend. He’s spending this weekend at Comedy Quarter in Neenah.

“I have tons of friends who love Wisconsin,” May said. “I can’t wait.”

Club owner Rich Wickesberg is also looking forward to having a comic of Ralphie’s caliber in town for a special event this weekend. You can see the often racy but usually loveable comedian at one of his five shows tonight through Saturday.

“He’s playing mostly all theaters,” Wickesberg said. “He’s down at the Pabst Theater … then he’s in Madison, which all hold 1,600-plus people, and then he’s coming to Neenah to come play our club. We’re excited about it.”

While May started performing comedy as a teenager in the late ’80s, America didn’t get its first big dose of Ralphie May until 2003. That’s when he appeared on the first season of NBC’s “Last Comic Standing.” May fell just short of the title, losing to Dat Phan in the show’s finale. Many thought May was robbed of the win, but he’s far from bitter about the experience.

“We were like kids, we had a blast,” May said. “We had no idea when we were making that show that 150 million people would watch it over the course of the year. We had no idea it would be Emmy nominated. We just wanted to make an entertaining show.” The exposure helped bring May’s scathing comedy to a much wider audience.

“It propelled me to a whole new place,” he said.

Since then, May’s list of accomplishments has included recording three one-hour specials for Comedy Central, becoming a regular on ABC’s “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” and recently landing a role in an upcoming movie starring Neil Patrick Harris and Amy Sedaris. The film, “The Best and the Brightest,” is about a suburban couple that moves to New York City and tries to get their daughter into an exclusive kindergarten.

“I play a security guard at a school that they’re touring,” May said. “It’s just a little scene, but it’s a funny scene.”

Long before any of his recent success, May got his first big break from one of the most prolific comics of the ’80s. He was 17 years old and taking college classes at the University of Arkansas while still attending high school. Friends in a study group, which met at a Shakey’s Pizza, encouraged him to try out for a stand-up comedy contest at the restaurant.

After winning several rounds, May eventually won the grand prize — a chance to open for the legendary Sam Kinison at a big comedy concert in the area.

A former Pentecostal preacher known for his controversial material, ear-piercing screams and a reputation for partying hard, Kinison was a true rock star comedian. His untimely death in a 1992 car crash shocked the comedy world. May remembers driving to the gig with the fiery comic and talking some shop.

“He goes, ‘Kid, are you nervous?’ I said no. He said, ‘Kid, there are going to be 3,000 people there and no one is paying to see you.'”

Kinison told the young comic that the audience would love him if he yelled and cursed at them during his set. Ralphie took the tongue-in-cheek advice seriously.

“A couple of jokes bombed and I remembered what Sam said so I started yelling,” May said. “Thirty-five-hundred people in unison start to boo me.”

When Kinison came on stage he acted just as angry as the rest of the audience, telling the crowd Ralphie May would never work in comedy again.

“At that time he was the most powerful person in standup comedy, and he says I’m never going to do it again,” May said. He remembers being nearly in tears while talking to his mom on a pay phone. That’s when Kinison’s brother came up to him and assured the novice comedian that everything was OK. Sam Kinison never thought Ralphie would actually follow his advice, but found the whole thing to be hilarious.

May was invited to a party after the show, which he describes as “no place for a kid to be.”

“Me, I’m drinking half a beer and pouring the other half out,” May said with a laugh. He left that night with a stamp of approval from Kinison, and the confidence to continue telling jokes to crowds.

“Eight months later I left Arkansas never to move back, and moved to Houston to pursue comedy,” he said.

May’s life has been full of comedy ever since. He even married fellow comic Lahna Turner. She’ll be appearing at Comedy Quarter April 7 through 11, and comes with a reputation for having a sense of humor even more twisted than her husband’s.

Rich Wickesberg at Comedy Quarter says tickets for the shows this weekend are going fast and some performances are close to selling out.

Beatlemania is back with BritBeat at Waverly Beach

beatles tribute blog post - kasey steinbrinck

Written for The Post-Crescent/Fox Cities Hub January 18, 2010

2010 marks 40 years since The Beatles announced their break-up to the world.

The milestone comes along with last year’s resurgence of Beatlemania. Thanks to The Beatles: RockBand video game and the release of digitally remastered albums, new generations are discovering the Fab Four while longtime fans can hear the band in a whole new way.

You can relive Beatlemania through a tribute show featuring Chicago-based band BritBeat this Saturday (Jan. 23) at Waverly Beach in Menasha.

The four members of BritBeat are definitely a dedicated tribute band. The show consists of three acts, each focusing on a different era of Beatles history. It begins with “The Ed Sullivan Show” era complete with mop-tops and black suits, moves to the psychedelic Sgt. Pepper era, and wraps up with the Abbey Road recording sessions. This will be the band’s third visit to Waverly Beach.

“We’re really excited to be at Waverly Beach again, the crowds there have been wonderful,” says 28 year-old Chris Getsla who started the band and portrays Paul McCartney in the show.

Getsla discovered the Beatles in junior high school when his parents suggested he use the tune “A Hard Day’s Night” for a school project. The song struck a chord with the young teenager, and he quickly became a die-hard Beatles fan.

In high school, Getsla teamed up with his friend Danny Leavitt, who plays George Harrison, to perform as The Beatles in a school variety show. The performance was a hit, and that was the start of BritBeat.

“We actually rode the bus together to school,” says Getsla of his partner and pal Leavitt. “That was the same way that the real Paul and George met.” Other current members of BritBeat include James Lynch as John Lennon, and Dave Robinson as Ringo Starr.

In 2002, the Chicago Convention and Tourism Bureau chose BritBeat to play in a concert welcoming Paul McCartney to the city during McCartney’s Driving USA tour.

In 2005, BritBeat had the opportunity to play with original Beatle’s drummer Pete Best to mark the 40th anniversary of the band’s 1965 concert at Comiskey Park.

Getsla says all the recent attention to his favorite band comes as no surprise.

“In fact from year to year it’s been an increase in interest in The Beatles,” he says. “It doesn’t seem to be waning, it seems to be increasing.”

Getsla claims BritBeat’s show is one of the most authentic tributes you’ll find. If you’ve seen them perform in the past, he says new songs and new lighting effects have been added.

There is a $10 cover charge for this Saturday’s show at Waverly Beach. Tickets may also be purchased in advance. The concert starts at 8 p.m.

Check out the YouTube video of BritBeat below: You can also visit http://www.britbeat.com for more on the band including information about an upcoming Mexican cruise.

Fox Valley events give charities a boost

Rock 4 Wishes concert - Kasey Steinbrinck post-crescent article
Rock for Wishes

Written for The Post-Crescent March 25, 2010

A trio of entertainment events taking place this weekend will allow you to have fun and feel good about yourself at the same time. If you want to rock, tempt your taste buds or laugh the day away, you can do it while supporting important local causes.

Rock for Wishes

The Make-a-Wish Foundation will get a helping hand from seven local bands playing a benefit concert at The Wave Ballroom in Grand Chute this Saturday.

Rock for Wishes got its start three years ago when members of the band Hindsight approached Brad Christenson about helping to organize an event that would allow local musicians to give back to the community.

“Make-a-Wish was kind of skeptical that first year,” Christenson admits. But Rock for Wishes has been successful. The event raised more than $8,000 last year, and there are high hopes for 2010.

“We think we’re going to have an even better year than last year,” Christenson said.

Those who arrange and perform in the fundraiser each year found out how their hard work has made a difference. Money raised in 2009 helped build a gazebo for a boy with a rare skin condition who was unable to leave his home.

“It still felt like he was going outside but he was able to protect himself from the sun and wind,” Christenson said.

Christenson thinks Rock for Wishes has a solid musical lineup this year with Wavelength opening things up at 4:40 p.m. and the bands Verona Grove, Lesson Learned and Half Empty taking the stage between 10 p.m. and 1:40 a.m. Since it is an all-ages show, there will be games and entertainment for children starting at 1 p.m. Tickets are available at The Wave and are $5 in advance, $7 at the door. Visit http://www.rockforwishes.org for more information.

Flanagan’s Beer and Wine Festival

This Saturday marks the 20th year that Appleton business owner Pat Flanagan has hosted a beer and wine tasting in the Fox Valley. With more than 100 brews and dozens of wines to sample, the event is sure to present even the most sophisticated palette with something new to savor.

“You walk in the door and it’s like a kid in a candy store for beer and wine lovers,” Flanagan said.

The festival started after Flanagan’s father passed away in 1990. Jim Flanagan used to hold a St. Patrick’s Day parade around this time every year. Instead, Pat decided to hold a beer and wine festival each spring to honor his father.

In the past, Flanagan chose a few charities to help. Now he distributes funds raised at the festival throughout the year because of the number of requests for assistance he receives.

A few of the charities the event has benefited include March of Dimes, United Way and Habitat for Humanity. The festival’s Web site indicates more than $800,000 has been distributed to 37 non-profit organizations over the past 20 years.

Flanagan says if you want to learn more about beer and wine, there’s no method more effective than tasting it for yourself. As owner of Flanagan’s Wine Review and Flanagan’s Stop and Shop liquor store on College Avenue in Appleton, he knows a thing or two about the products.

“I learned more from tasting the wine in two months than I did in two years reading beer and wine magazines,” Flanagan said.

There will be brewery and winery representatives available to answer questions along with people from area cheese factories. You can find out what cheese pairs best with certain beers and wines. New at the festival this year is a gourmet soda section with designated drivers in mind.

Flanagan’s Beer and Wine Festival takes place at Grand Meridian, 2621 N. Oneida St., Appleton, from 5 to 9 p.m. Saturday. Tickets are $30 in advance and $35 at the door. Visit http://www.flanagansbeerfest.com for more information.

28-Hour Marathon of Comedy

Starting Friday at 7:30 p.m., the folks at ComedyCity in De Pere will try to keep the laughs going for more than an entire day. It’s all to benefit The Angel Fund and Families of Children with Cancer.

ComedyCity co-operations manager John Egan said some members of the improv troupe take shifts while others try to last the event’s full 28 hours.

“It’s just a constant adrenaline rush; you don’t realize it,” Egan said. “It comes kind of natural to most of us.”

Last year the event raised more than $5,000. “But our overall goal is a million dollars,” Egan joked.

Some members of ComedyCity will collect pledges for every hour they can continue to perform. Money also will be raised through a raffle that includes Milwaukee Brewers and Wisconsin Timber Rattlers tickets as well as autographed Green Bay Packers items.

“Actually, we’ve got a Brett Favre jersey this year. We’ll see how that one goes,” Egan said.

You can purchase raffle tickets by visiting http://www.comedycityonline.com or buy them at the event. ComedyCity will hold its usual 7:30 and 9:30 p.m. shows as part of the 28-hour Comedy Marathon. It all takes place inside their new home at The Sports Corner, 500 Grant St., De Pere. Tickets are $10 for adults and $8 for students. Egan said these performances will actually be theme shows. Look for ComedyCity’s version of March Madness, “Survivor” and “The Apprentice.”

Admission is free if you stop by any other time during the marathon, but you are asked to make a donation or purchase raffle tickets.