Heywood Banks to play at Collingwood Arts Center.Written by Jeff McGinnis | | firstname.lastname@example.org
When Heywood Banks — the alter ego of comedian/songwriter Stuart Mitchell — takes the stage, he looks not unlike a visitor from another planet who isn’t quite sure how fashion works.
Guitar slung over his shoulder, Banks usually can be found wearing the loudest of loud sportcoats, a tie that clashes, thickly rimmed spectacles and a long-haired combover which even Dr. Emmett Brown would find excessive. It’s a look, Banks said in an interview with Toledo Free Press Star, that has evolved over time.
“When I first started, I always wore safety glasses,” Heywood said, noting how odd they looked astride his “giant nose.” “And I always parted my hair on the side, because I always thought the combover was a funny look, too. Especially if you didn’t need the combover, you just liked the look of the combover.
“Now, I’ve kinda morphed into Gandalf or something, I dunno.”
One thing that’s remained consistent, however, is the level of Banks’ comedy. The self-described (with tongue firmly in cheek) “comedian, musician, songwriter, cultural icon” has been keeping fans rolling in the aisles for years, including during numerous stops in Toledo. He returns to the Glass City on Sept. 24 for a show at the Collingwood Arts Center at 8 p.m.
“Toledo’s always been great — great crowds. I’ve always had a lot of fun playing in Toledo for years, back when I played the Ohio Theatre, or at the Funny Bone, or Connxtions Comedy Club, it’s always been a great crowd,” Heywood said.
Of course, it isn’t really “Heywood” who has all these fond memories of Toledo — it’s “Stuart,” right? Or is it? Banks himself said it can be hard to define the difference between the two.
“It’s actually pretty blurred,” Banks said. “Everything I do, every comedic business thing, is always as the ‘Heywood Banks’ name. I’ll call a club and say, ‘Hey, is so-and-so there?’ And they’ll say no. I’ll tell them my name, and they’ll go, ‘Oh, no, he’s not here.’ And I’ll say, ‘OK, tell them that Heywood called.’ And they’ll go, ‘Oh, just a minute!’”
He said the inspiration for the character rose from the simple need to stand out onstage. “Basically, there were a lot of comics around, you just have to do something different. I was doing weird jokes, and people didn’t really buy it as much until I became a character. And then people were like, ‘Yeah, I can see that happening. I can see your mom with a plastic dog collar around her neck, or a dog bone. You know, these kinda things probably could happen,’” Banks said.
At least, they could happen in the world that Heywood occupies. His off-kilter sense of humor runs solidly through all of his work, including such memorable tunes as “Toast,” his tribute to the food played by pounding on a toaster with forks; “18 Wheels (on a Big Rig),” an odd tribute to truckin’ songs which obsessively counts the number of wheels; and, of course, his self-explanatory ode, “Trauma to the Groin.”
Asked what the advantages and drawbacks are to being a musical comic, Banks said, “I don’t think there are really any drawbacks, as long as the songs are funny, that’s the main thing.
“The good thing about it, if you have the songs, and people know the songs — like, a joke, if you hear it two or three times, it becomes information. But a song, you can hear the same joke over and over again, and it’s still a song. So it’s a lot different deal.”
One song Ohioans have a special pull toward is “Big Butter Jesus,” a musical send-up of a famous statue of Christ near Monroe, Ohio. The song has remained a staple of Banks’ act since he first encountered the gigantic likeness a few years ago — even now, after a 2010 lightning strike caused it to burn down.
“The first time I drove by, I saw the thing, I’m like, ‘Oh my gosh, what is that?’ And I was onstage that night and I said to the crowd, ‘Man, what is that big Jesus statue?’ And everybody laughed,” Banks said. “So I said, ‘It looks like it was one of those carved-out-of-butter statues,’ and they all laughed. And so I just sang, ‘Big Butter Jesus,’ and everybody applauded. And I was like, ‘Oh, I think I have a song here!’”
In the end, Banks said his goals on stage are simple. “It’s fun to make people laugh. And it’s fun to make — I’m not especially making them laugh from a shock or something, I’m making ‘em laugh because I’m having fun, that’s the main thing. I just like to have fun with a crowd, and a lot of people need some fun.”
Tickets for the Sept. 24 Heywood Banks show cost $22. The Collingwood Arts Center is located at 2413 Collingwood Blvd.