The Clodhopper Speaks
a Q&A with writer/performer Michael Perry on his all-new double-disc album of live comedy
Michael Perry is famous for his books (Population 485, Truck: A Love Story, and Coop), but he’s first and foremost a storyteller. Whether he’s playing with his band Mike Perry & the Long Beds, doing a book tour, or releasing a humor CD, strong storytelling and engaging a crowd is at the core. With the release of his third comedy album and an upcoming new memoir, we decided to give Mike a call and he graciously took time away from a book deadline to answer some burning questions.
What can we expect from Clodhopper Monologues?
Michael Perry: Well over the years I’ve done a lot of speaking and performing and it’s sort of evolved from doing poetry readings and book readings into something closer to humorous monologues. Last winter, we decided to rent a couple of old refurbished opera houses and just send me out there with a microphone and these stories. Some of them are stories that I’ve been telling at book readings, some are drawn right from my books, and some are material or stories that don’t necessarily work on the page but will work from the stage.
And this was recorded live, correct?
MP: Yes. Our own Jaime Hansen came along, and we recorded three different shows and we ended up using the show from Stoughton, Wisconsin, which has an amazing opera house down there. Just a glorious building in a small town. We used that recording because a lot of things came together for us. It was a sold-out crowd, the sound was good … We really did our best to keep it cinema verité, if you will. In this day and age when you can tweak and polish everything – we did go through and cut a few extraneous noises, but what you hear me saying is what it was. For instance, one of my favorite lines, I mess it up. I remember at the time being very disappointed because it’s a good joke about my brother eating cereal, so we went it and looked at the other shows where I did it well to pull the flub out and replace it. But at the end of the day I just decided it would be better to leave one flub in there to let people feel as if they’re really listening to the real deal: one show from beginning to end.
We’re assuming a lot of these are anecdotes like those in your books and stage banter at music shows.
MP: Yeah. What I learned early on in writing and tours is you have to find a way to take three to four stories from your longer-form book and present them in such a way that it conveys the essence of the book. But also keep folks entertained and interested and hope they want to read more. So some of it comes from that experience and some of it is going off and rambling a little bit. I don’t have it scripted, but I know where I’m headed and where I need to get to.
How do your book gigs, music gigs, and the Clodhopper Monologues compare as a performer?
MP:One thing I try to do is never ever lose track of the fact that, if I don’t sit down every day and pay attention to the writing and do the best I can, nothing else follows. There are just rafts of musicians out there who are far more talented than I am, and we’re at an epicenter where musicianship is thriving and I know my limits. And the same with humor, I know my limits. I enjoy telling stories and that people get a chuckle out of them, but I also know I’m not a red-hot stand-up comic, either. I’m just a guy telling stories. So I come at it knowing it starts with the writing. But what I enjoy is that the music and one-man shows are a way to expand the application of the material. They’re also a way to get terrific real-time feedback, and nothing can replace that. And, invariably, I love writing books and hope I get to do that forever ... but the one negative about writing is you never get to look someone in the face and thank them for reading your stuff. With live, you actually get to thank people face-to-face.