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For the week of March 28 through April 3, 2001

This boy will make 
you laugh

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.

Portrait 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.

Mike MurphyMurphy 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 admires.

"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 years.

"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 entertain them."

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.


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Copyright © 2001 Express Publishing Inc. All Rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of Express Publishing Inc. is prohibited.