Stand-up comic and song parodist Heywood Banks is a study in contrasts. He wears a plum sports coat, safety glasses, and a crazed mop of graying hair with matching goatee. If he himself is aware of how silly he looks, he doesn’t let on. He’s as relaxed as if he were standing in his own kitchen rather than onstage in front of an all-ages, sold-out Thanksgiving weekend audience. One good way of defining this veteran comic would be by what he is not. He is not vulgar or arrogant, racist, sexist, or obnoxious. He is neither well dressed nor self conscious. And he is not an amateur musician. His songs draw on a wide range of styles, carefully sculpting covert yet brilliant relationships between the lyric and its music. For instance, “Smoking” is set to a cool jazz riff, as cool as ever backed any satin-draped lounge singer:

I’m thinking ’bout taking up smoking
looking pretty good to me
All the guys look so hip with a cigarette lip
and the chicks seem to agree.

His quick little hook-laden ditties immediately pierce your cerebrum, remaining there on quick retrieve for those times when we need to process both the inane and the infuriating aspects of life. He laments having forgotten to replace his car’s wiper blades to a groovy, Latin-feeling tune that contrasts sharply with the memory of the arrival of winter and “all the ice and snow” that overwhelmed his decrepit wipers. And he also sometimes worships the glories of existence, as in his ode to toast — “Yeah, toast!” — for which he actually accompanies himself on a toaster.

Banks’s act is definitely family friendly; you could bring your grandmother or child with you. I took my boy Sammy, and we both “laughed our butts off” (as Sam put it). I can’t think of anyone who would be offended by this material — except perhaps Britney Spears. In his sweeping orchestral piece “Not I,” Banks assails the media’s (and presumably the public’s) obsession with celebrities. I see I’m not the only one who stands in line looking at the tabloids, dumbfounded:

In the paper I read the news flash:

Oprah Winfrey likes taking hot baths;

Catherine Zeta-Jones likes being pregnant;

Britney Spears admires Madonna,

The metric system, and blunt force trauma,

And they say Wayne Newton is finally eating solid foods.

Who gives a rat’s lower digestive tract?

Who gives a purple possum duodenum?

Who gives a swollen rodent colon?

Not I. Not I. Not I, my friend, not I.

Heywood Banks conducts his annual Thanksgiving weekend residency at the Ann Arbor Comedy Showcase Friday through Sunday, November 25-27.

[Review published November 2005]