I do karaoke in the Boston area a lot, so I pick up on the little differences between joints. For instance: Charles Playhouse Bar, the bar beneath the theater that hosts Boston’s long-running Blue Man Group and Shear Madness, hosts karaoke every Friday. DJ Jimmy boasts a selection that rivals Paul B. over at Asgard – tens of thousands of tracks indexed on computer. Since the low-ceilinged basement bar is built for performers, hosting stand-up comedy on other nights of the week, the sound system has some bite to it. And the bar’s hard enough to find that nobody stumbles in off the street. You have to know someone to get here.
Plus they have a mic stand. Most karaoke DJs work several gigs, providing their own display screen, mixer and wireless mic. But at Charles Playhouse you’re looped into the bar’s sound, meaning you use the house mic. And ask anyone who performs on stage: there’s a substantial difference between performing with a mic stand and without. Most comedians I know find it comforting. It gives you something to do with your free hand. It gives you something to lean on if you’re drunk. If you’re singing, it gives you the opportunity to use both hands (simulated air guitar, clapping over your head to exhort the audience, twitching like a British New Wave singer). At the very least it gives you a dancing partner. I suspect the crucial function of a mic stand is to act as a security blanket. If there’s a mic stand in front of you, you’re performing into the mic; if there’s nothing, you’re performing into the audience.
“I’m hanging onto consciousness by my fingernails here,” I told the audience an hour before closing. I would have stayed longer, but my friends had been buying me drinks all evening (birthday, etc) and I couldn’t even pretend to roll. But, after the DJ couldn’t load my first three song choices (“read error? what the fuck does that mean?”), I settled on a little Violent Femmes to close out the evening. Gano’s lyrics were meant to be sung while tottering, so overcome with the bitterness of adolescence that you need to anchor yourself to the ground or else explode in a hail of fists. And I clung to that mic stand like it was keeping me alive.