Sunday, March 05, 2000

He's funny far from home


West Chester comic's in demand on cruise ships, but is not so well-known here

BY JIM KNIPPENBERG
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Blair Shannon doesn't get it: “People here don't know who I am or what I do.” Like they should or something?

        Well, yeah. The 40-year-old West Chester singer/comedian is so in demand on cruise ships that he sets limits on them. And they accept them. He's so in demand on the casino circuit that he has standing dates in Vegas and Atlantic City.

        But here? His hometown? Sipping hot tea and slowly not quite recovered from the flu, he explains: “People come up to me and say, "What have you been doing lately? I haven't heard about you forever.'”

        What the 5-foot, 11-inch, more than 200-pound — “waaaay more than 200” — comedian has been doing lately is plenty.

        Once a month in the winter and twice a month in the summer he flies to the tropics, joins a Royal Caribbean ship mid-cruise and headlines a comedy show. Then, he remains on the ship as it cruises back to Miami, joins another cruise, does a show and flies home mid-week.

        Also once a month, he flies to either the Vegas or Atlantic City Tropicana and does two shows a night, seven days a week in the 400-seat Comedy Spot.

        On other weekends, there are occasional club dates. Mid-week, there are emcee duties at corporate events, somewhere in the Midwest but not as often in Cincinnati as he would like.

CATCH HIS ACT
  Want to catch Blair Shannon in action? For the second straight year, he'll emcee the Enquirer Cincinnati Area Pop Music Awards March 12 at Electra in Over-the-Rhine.
  Word is Mr. Shannon might even sing a little. Tickets are $12.50 at Ticketmaster, 562-4949.
  More details on the Cammys
        So what kind of show is this that keeps him in so many ports of call?

        It's a mix of comedy and music: A few jokes to get things going, a song or two (he's a former CCMer who belts out “Just a Gigolo,” “Unchained Melody,” “When I Fall in Love”) then more jokes, and so on for two 40- to 60-minute sets a night.

        Not bad for a guy who got into the profession on a whim in 1982. “I had seen (comedian) Bert Challis and thought, "I can do that.' So I went home and wrote five minutes of uproarious material that actually turned out to be two minutes of utter humiliation.

        “I made a tape that I still have, and every time I get to feeling too lofty, I play it.”

        Not that there's a lot of time for feeling lofty right now, what with balancing his career and his new life as a single parent.

        Single isn't a life he chose. Amy, his wife of nine years, died of leukemia two years ago, leaving Mr. Shannon in charge of then 6-year-old Chelsey.

        “That's been a challenge. And something that would be impossible without an incredible support system. Amy's and my families, aunts and grandmas, are always there. And I have the most incredible neighbors anywhere.

        “But it's still difficult to leave her behind. It's why I cut back from three weeks a month on cruise ships. In the summer, when I do two weeks, I usually take her along. When I can't, thank God e-mail and cell phones keep us in daily contact.

        “When something does come up, Royal Caribbean is great about rescheduling. Like next month, I'm canceling for her first communion. I promised Amy I'd raise Chelsey Catholic, even though I'm not. It's what she wanted.”

        Something else Amy probably would have wanted: Mr. Shannon has become increasingly involved in leukemia-related causes, including working at events for the local Leukemia Society and, come fall, starting a foundation in Amy's name.

        “It will be for children affected by leukemia — whose parents or siblings have it. I remember when Amy was in the hospital for five months, Chelsey couldn't go in most of the time, so she had to sit in this absolutely sterile waiting room with absolutely nothing to do.

        “What I want the foundation to do is outfit a waiting room with toys and books, a TV and VCR with a stack of movies.”

        The foundation isn't his only goal: “I would love to do another musical. I did some in college, but at 40, I feel my voice is so much better than at 20 — a certain richness. It's always been booming, but not always rich.

        “I've also just taken up trumpet. In fact, I have a lesson today. With the flu. Nice, huh?”

        One more goal: “I want people to leave my show saying, "He's the most talented guy I never heard of.'”

        Before that happens, let's fire a few questions at him.

        “Go.”

        One thing I'll never do on stage again ...

Drink. A loooong time ago, I drank heavily before going on. That nightthe room was full of hecklers and I wasn't sharp enough to deal with them. It never happened again. Or will.

        If Chelsey wanted to go in to this profession, the best advice I could give her ...

Would be to get an education first, then dedicate yourself completely to whatever you do. I could never discourage her from this profession, not after it has been so good to me.

        One thing I want to try but haven't ...

Roller coasters. I've never been on one. The combination of height and speed while strapped in a little car scares me to death. I keep thinking, I should pay you money to scare the hell out of me?

        Working cruise ships would be better if ...

I could go home when the show was over. If I do a show on, say, Wednesday, I have nothing to do until Saturday when it docks. It's not like jumping in your car and getting home 15 minutes later.

        The one thing I never expected to happen to me on stage ...

Was a belly dancer. Once for my birthday, my friends hired one to come up on stage. She did it in the middle of my act, and I didn't know what to do, so I just sat down and enjoyed it. But it didn't make me want to take lessons. Could you see that?

       



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