This boy will make
By ADAM TANOUS
Express Arts Editor
Do you remember the first time you came to the Wood River
Valley? Whether it was 15 years ago or this year, chances are you saw Mike
Murphy on stage. And if you were at all with it, you laughed, because the
man is exceptionally funny.
of a comedian as a young man. Photo by Mrs. Murphy
Every ski season for the past 24 years, Wednesday through
Saturday for two hours every night, Murphy has been in the Ram and, more
recently, the Boiler Room at Sun Valley making people laugh from the gut.
Saturday will be his last show for the year.
I saw Mike Murphy 15 years ago and can remember not the
jokes but the atmosphere of the evening. What struck me then was the way
he made the audience feel good and special, as if that particular night of
comedy and songs and fun was conceived, written and rehearsed just for
them. And long after all of us had returned home from vacation that sense
of fun lingered in our minds.
I saw Mike Murphy again last night. And after thousands of
performances, audiences, tequila shots and songs, he once again gave the
audience every bit of himself just so they might laugh. The people there
had that same look in their eyes—this was an evening they would remember
long after they left this place.
It is a two-hour show and as Murphy said in an interview,
"It is tightly structured, and it’s got to flow. I change the
strings on my two guitars every day, because if I were to break a string
it would kill the whole tempo."
On any given night Murphy will talk about politics,
grandparents, kids, wives, current events, just about everything one can
imagine. And from year to year he changes about 60 percent of his act,
enough so that people can see his show more than once and still feel as if
they are seeing an entirely new act.
Murphy reads four newspapers every morning, jotting down
ideas for his show. In turn, he demands a lot of his audience. "I
enjoy pushing people’s buttons—not being dirty—but approaching
subjects from a different angle. I like to catch people a little off
guard," he said. And it is true that his humor is on the intellectual
side, much like that of Dennis Miller, one of the comedians Murphy
"When you get an audience that is with it, the show
flies by. When you get an audience that just stares at you, two hours
seems like four," Murphy offered.
And he knows what four hours on stage is like. When Murphy
started out in comedy in Orange County and then at Tar and Feathers in San
Francisco, he routinely did four-hour shows without a break. The longest
show he ever did was ostensibly for five hours in a Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.,
club. It turned out, much to Murphy’s surprise, to be the Saturday night
that the clocks were turned back. So Murphy was on stage singing,
drinking, and making people laugh for six solid hours. He said he couldn’t
talk the next day.
Much of Murphy’s lifestyle has changed since then. He
used to travel 250 days a year doing shows. Now he has a full-time job
selling real estate in the valley. He is married and has two daughters. He
does some corporate functions out of town, but tries to stay close to home
for both family and business reasons.
Still, he considers his comedy work very much a job. He
said he tries to keep a very regimented routine so he feels the same every
night. He will run for about a half hour before the show. "Running
really improves my wind and relaxes me," he said. Once he fine tunes
the act, he tries to stick to it. Speaking to that point, he told me a
story about an audience a week or two ago being the worst he has had in 24
"The easiest thing in the world would have been to
adjust on the fly, but sometimes, at my age, I just refuse to. I probably
could have back-pedaled and told old jokes, but I’m getting ornerier.
Something made me want to force it down their throats," he said
laughing at himself. He thought about it for a moment longer then said,
"I don’t want to be the audience’s best friend. I just want to
And finally there is the Stagecoach, a nine-minute routine
he has been doing for 30 years now. Murphy told me about this past New
Year’s Eve when he was five minutes into it and "knew I shouldn’t
have started it. People had heard it so much it was boring." So he
took it out of his routine right then. Of course, just about every show
after that people have chanted for it at the end of his act. He said by
the second chant, though, he’s moving by the bar with his guitars, and,
by the third, he’s on his way home to his family.
Whether it was because he was feeling good last night or
if it was just a nostalgic whim, I don’t know, but at 7:21 he launched
into what he vowed not to do anymore. And for anyone who has not seen
Murphy do the Stagecoach, it really can’t be described adequately.
Suffice to say it was talent in its purest form. With nothing more than
his imagination, voice, hands, body language and a sense of timing Murphy
created an entire comic universe in nine minutes.
And at 7:31, with the audience still in stitches and
cheering, he was gone.