On Stage: Unique background drives Lacey’s comedy

By Denny Dyroff, Entertainment Editor, The Times

Shapel Lacey

Standup comedians follow different paths before arriving at their careers in comedy.

One popular current comic grew up as one of the few black teens in a poor white neighborhood in Arizona.

One spent time as a guitarist in a punk rock band prior to becoming a professional comic.

One attended college on a cheerleading scholarship.

One is a devoted fan of Oasis still waiting for a reunion by the Gallagher brothers.

Guess what?

All four of these descriptions fit Shapel Lacey, who is headlining at Helium Comedy Club (2031 Sansom Street, Philadelphia, philadelphia.heliumcomedy.com) from May 6-8.

“I grew up in Mesa, Arizona – born and raised there,” said Lacey, during a phone interview Wednesday morning from his home in Los Angeles.

“I’m a desert rat. The whole neighborhood – it was a poor neighborhood. It was a lot of fun. The whole town loved the ‘Jackass’ TV show. They were ‘Jackass” crazy.”

“Jackass” was reality comedy television series on MTV than ran three seasons on MTV starting on 2000 and featuring West Chester’s Bam Margera.

“I skateboarded – still do,” said Lacey. “When I was young, I worked at Wal-Mart. I lasted two weeks. I figured there had to be more to life than working at Wal-Mart.

“I was also a cheerleader. When I was younger, I taught myself backflips. I was into martial arts. I got into cheerleading in high school because I had a crush on this girl I went to school with. I was in a punk rock band and she was the drummer’s sister.”

Cheerleading provided Lacey with a path out of Arizona.

“I was at a cheerleading class in Dallas and that led to me going to Trinity Valley Community College in East Texas. From there, I got a full ride to be a cheerleader at the University of Louisville. That was 11 years ago.

“Then, I dropped out of college and got in comedy in Louisville. My friends just dared me to do it. After that show, people said – you’re a funny dude. I got on stage and here I am today.”

Music was Lacey’s entertainment of choice prior to comedy.

“I listened to a lot of music when I was young,” said Lacey. “My mom was really into music – old school classic R&B. I was always intrigued by it. I’d go down and listen to music at night when everyone was sleeping.

“One night, I switched stations and heard ‘Mississippi Queen’ by Mountain and that led me to punk rock. I liked the loudness – and it had a soulfulness to it. The first punk rock band I got into was Black Flag in the Henry Rollins era.

“I just loved the motion behind it. You get that young angst, and you feel it. I played guitar in punk bands. I always tell people – punk is in my blood. I just let it rip. I love bands like G.B.H. and Black Flag. Punk helps you understand your own individuality.”

Lacey’s most preferred band doesn’t fit his predilection for punk rock.

“My favorite band is Oasis,” said Lacey. “I wish the brothers would get back together. That’s what I really want to see happen.”

After his start in comedy, Lacey put his comic career on hold.

“I had stopped doing comedy for two years,” said Lacey. “I was depressed. After a while, a friend said – I’m putting you up for a big comedy show. It was a sold-out show at the Tempe Improv. It was the first time I ever felt real onstage.

“I worked in Arizona for a while – but there was a ceiling. So, I moved to California. I kinda said – I’m just going. I moved to East Hollywood. My first apartment was so small the bed took up the entire space. Now, I live near Hancock Park not far from Koreatown.

“I liked it. It was a fresh start. Making it there is a testament to your work ethic. I was just starting a square one. I started doing open mics. Moving up happened for me quicker than most. No-one knew me but I knew I had good stuff.

“If it’s good enough, people will get to know. I had strong material and used it to move up. After about a year, people who were higher up wanted to give me a start. One of my first big shows was at The Comedy Store.”

Like everyone in the entertainment world, Lacey’s career was sidetracked by the COVID-19 shutdowns.

“Before the pandemic, I was performing a lot – shows every night,” said Lacey. “It was show after show. Now, it’s starting to trickle back – especially with outside shows.”

Lacey has developed his own style of comedy.

“I just talk about my life and my world and try to bring people into it,” said Lacey. “A lot of it is about me. When I jumped back on stage after a two-year break, I really felt it.

“It felt so natural. It was the first time I felt really good on stage. I can talk about my life and I’m comfortable doing it.

“This will be my first time to do a show in Philadelphia. I’m really looking forward to it.”

Video link for Shapel Lacey — https://youtu.be/GOg9Au_5Qr0.

The shows at the Helium Comedy Club will start at 8 p.m. on March 6 and 7:15 and 9:30 p.m. on March 7 and 8.

Tickets, which are not sold individually because of capacity restrictions and social distancing, start at $36 for a two-person table or $72 for a four-person table.

Other shows this month at the Helium Comedy Club are Jeff Dye from May 13-15, Lindsay Boling on May 16, Todd Glass from May 20-22, Rich Vos on May 26 and Darren Brand from May 27-30.

Dan May

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, some people virtually became hermits. Singer/songwriter Dan May literally became a hermit.

“I stopped going out for any reason,” said May, during a phone interview Monday afternoon from his home in Drexel Hill. “

“I was really sequestered. I had everything delivered.

”The only times I went out were for a Soundbooth Session at the Sellersville Theater and two Livestream performances from Morningstar Studio.

“Now, I’ve gotten both vaccine shots. In another week, I’ll be able to go out and about.”

Actually, May will be going out a little sooner – to Bucks County to headline a show on May 7 at the Sellersville Theater (24 West Temple Avenue, Sellersville, 215-257-5808, www.st94.com).

“The Soundbooth Session was only with my piano player,” said May. “The two at Morningstar were just solo shows. This weekend’s show will be the first show with a live audience in the same room for more than a year.”

May took a circuitous route to his current place as a singer/songwriter.

He has worked as a gravedigger, television cameraman, short order cook, nuclear missile security guard, gas station attendant, ice cream truck driver, delivery man, amusement park worker and greenhouse laborer.
While studying music composition in college, he inadvertently stumbled upon an international opera career that forced him to leave a promising future as a songwriter behind.

“I grew up in Sandusky, Ohio,” said May. “I went to Bowling Green University and studied journalism. Then, I was writing for daily newspaper.

“My wife wanted to go to Ohio State University, so we moved to Columbus. I went to Ohio State as a composition major. Somebody said I should sing opera, so I decided to try it.

“I studied opera at the Academy of Vocals Arts for four years. That’s what brought us to this area, and we’ve been here ever since. I was a bass/baritone and sang professionally for 12 years.”

Then, his path took another unexpected turn.

“I had surgery on my vocal cords,” said May. “They had become paralyzed. In the surgery, they injected fat into my vocal cords. I can sing with a full range, but my voice can’t meet the demands of singing opera – especially the volume needed.

“I switched to being a singer/songwriter in 2005 and I’ve released six records since then. I also did two CDs with Elise Dadourian.”

May’s sextet of LPs includes “Once Was Red,” “Fate Said Nevermind,” “The Long Road Home,” “Heartland,” “Dying Breed” and “Beacon.” The albums with Dadourian are “Gold Brick Road” and “Simple Truth.”

“When the pandemic hit, I was into song six on my new record,” said May. “We put it on hold for six months. The songs are written but not recorded. I’ve been recording at Morningstar and hope to have the new record out by the end of the year.

“I’ve used the time to do more writing. I write on a daily basis. Then, I go over 100 ideas and come up with 15 songs for an album. After that, I try to come up with a cohesive theme.

“Even though these days, people just buy songs not albums in the internet, I still think in album mode – keep things in order.”

On March 14, May posted this message on his Facebook page:

“FOUR HUNDRED EIGHTEEN – That’s how many days it’s been since I’ve performed in front of a live, in-person audience. That’s a long time. Longest stretch ever for me. But the good news is, that’s about to come to an end.


“May 7th, I’m scheduled for my first show with a living, breathing audience in the same room with me. And it’ll take place at what is probably my favorite place to perform, the Sellersville Theater. By May 7th, that streak will have climbed to 475 days. But come join me and we’ll put that number to rest. End the streak. Together.

“I’ve greatly enjoyed my virtual concerts over the past year. The audience came out in record numbers and the response overwhelmed me. And the good news is, you folks outside the range of Sellersville and from across the country can join us too. Streaming tickets will also be available. And that’s pretty cool. The best of both worlds.”

May said, “At first, I was skeptical about Livestream. But, it’s been a good thing for me. I’ve established a 16-year fan base across the country, and this gives them a chance to see a live show. It’s expanded the opportunities.

“People can buy a Livestream ticket and see it live wherever they are. When I’m doing a Livestream show, I can feel a connection to the audience. I feel an energy.

Sellersville is doing it the right way – every other row, plexiglass. They’re taking all the necessary precautions to protect the audience and create a safe environment in which to enjoy live music. Sellersville is always my favorite place to play.”

Video link for Dan May — https://youtu.be/nkeTZzjzEGM.

The show at the Sellersville Theater on May 7, which will also be available via Livestream, will start at 8 p.m. Tickets are $25 for in person and $20 for Livestream.

Joe Louis Walker

Joe Louis Walker turned 71 on Christmas Day 2020 and is showing no signs of slowing down – other than having to wait for pandemic restrictions to ease up.

On May 8, Walker will headline a show at the Sellersville Theater (24 West Temple Avenue, Sellersville, 215-257-5808, www.st94.com).

“I’ve been working on a studio album,” said Walker, during a phone interview Monday afternoon from his home in New York’s Hudson Valley.

“We recorded the album at the NRS Studio in Catskill, New York. We worked with Scott Petito, who is a great engineer. We spent a lot of time in the studio. There were a lot of good musicians, and we had a lot of fun.

“My band is on this record. One cut is with the B.B. King Blues Band. We had Doyle Bramhall and Waddy Wachtel. I also had several outstanding young musicians play on it.

“The new album has blues music in a lot of different styles – including acoustic blues. I recognize my influences. It is a Joe Louis Walker record. I like all kinds of music, but my mother tongue is the blues.

“Just because I love all kinds of music, it doesn’t mean I listen to it all the time. In the past, bands had to tour and play live a lot as an opening act. All the big acts now were opening acts at some point. That’s how you learned how you do what you have to do.”

Walker, who grew up in San Francisco, began studying guitar when he was eight. By the time he was 16, he was performing publicly and starting to build a reputation as a top-flight blues artist.

“I was born in San Francisco,” said Walker. “I went to junior high a block away from the Fillmore — back when it was like the Apollo. I was here before the hippies came and I’m still here after they left.”

His parents were both from the South and they brought their love of blues with them when they headed west. Joe’s dad played blues piano, and his mom played B.B. King records. Walker was coming into his own as a guitarist at the same time San Francisco’s music scene was developing into a melting pot of blues, jazz and psychedelic rock.

As a 16-year-old, Walker was the house guitarist at San Francisco’s famed musical playground, The Matrix, where he played with or opened shows for everyone from Lightnin’ Hopkins to Jimi Hendrix to Thelonious Monk. He was also a regular at The Fillmore West.

“My first exposure to the blues was from my parents,” said Walker. “They brought the music with them from down South when they moved from Mississippi to San Francisco.

“I first started playing guitar when I was really young. I started performing at clubs in the Bay Area in the early 1960s and joined the musicians’ union in 1966. I went to school a half-block from the Fillmore. And I played the Fillmore long before Bill Graham got there.”

In the late 1960s, San Francisco became a haven for hippies and, for a while, was the music capital of the world.

“I played with a lot of those guys – Jerry Miller from Moby Grape, Jorma Kaukonen from Jefferson Airplane, Bobby Weir from the Grateful Dead, John Cippollina from Quicksilver Messenger Service,” said Walker.

“I was roommate with Mike Bloomfield for a while. Everybody knew each other back in those days. Mike was one the best guitarists ever. There was no-one who could play like him.

More than 50 years later, many of the musicians from the “Summer of Love” era are either dead or retired but Walker is still going strong.

Over the last half-century, Walker not only has found great success playing his music in America, but he has also become an international ambassador of the blues and has played in venues all over Europe, South America and Asia.

Walker definitely understands — and represents — the real essence of the music genre known as the blues.

“Blues is like the comfort of an old friend,” said Walker. “It’s a rite of passage. If you find yourself in a room with a lot of guitar players of all styles, when they want to play something together, it will be a blues song first and then a Chuck Berry rock-and-roll song second.”

Walker is one of the greatest bluesmen of his generation. He is a four-time Blues Music Award winner and 2013 Blues Hall of Fame inductee who has appeared on multiple Grammy-winning albums. He is known worldwide as one of the genre’s top musical trailblazers—a mesmerizing guitarist and soul-testifying vocalist.

Walker won the 2016 Blues Foundation Contemporary Blues Male Artist of the Year award at the Blues Foundation Awards ceremony in Memphis.  The Blues Music Awards are universally recognized as the highest accolade afforded blues music performers. His album, “Everybody Wants A Piece,” was Grammy nominated Contemporary Blues Album of the Year in 2017.

“I play blues music in a lot of different styles – including acoustic blues,” said Walker. “When I go on tour, I want to give people what they want.

“When I’m deciding what songs to play in a show, I see what people think. I ask my fans what they want to hear. Some of the choices are also based on what the band members like.”

“I’m always writing songs. I’m doing a little writing right now. I finished the record and have been fine-tuning it and mixing it. I’ve also played on other people’s records.

“Outside of that – like everybody else – I’m sitting in limbo. Now, it’s starting to pick up with shows – including the show Saturday in Sellersville. I love it up there. It’s got good vibes.”

Video link for Joe Louis Walker – https://youtu.be/oVCutwd1XxE.

The show at the Sellersville Theater on May 8, which will also be available via Livestream, will start at 8 p.m. Tickets are $25 for in person and $12.50 for Livestream.

Other upcoming shows at the Sellersville Theater are “KICK – The INXS Experience” on May 6 and Rachel Andie on May 11.

Shows at Punch Line Philly (33 East Laurel Street, Philadelphia, www.punchlinephilly.com) this week are Plastic Cup Boyz from May 6-9 and Brandon Leake on May 12.

Acts scheduled for Jamey’s House of Music (32 South Lansdowne Avenue, Lansdowne, jameyshouseofmusic.com) this month are Tom Craig Band on May 7, Roger Girke on May 8, James Dalton on May 14, Lisa Chavous and the Philadelphia Blues Messengers on May 15, Bobby Messano on May 21 and Jefferson Berry on May 22.

Bridgeport Rib House (1049 Ford Street, Bridgeport, www.ribhouse.net) will be hosting performances by Bill Hake and John McNutt on May 7 and Former Strangers on May 8. Matt Spitko has performances slated for May 8 and 9 followed by Brian Quinn & Danny Beissel on May 12.

While there are increasingly more options to see and hear live music around the area, there is still only one option to enjoy a live theatrical show and that’s at the Candlelight Theatre (2208 Millers Road, Arden, Delaware, www.candlelighttheatredelaware.org). The Candlelight’s production of “Clever Little Lies” will be presented every Friday, Saturday and Sunday through May 23 with an added matinee on May 19.

An expertly crafted situation comedy about marriage, infidelity, and the deceptions necessary to cover one’s tracks…until one by one they begin to unravel. Written by Joe DiPietro (winner of two Tony Awards for “Memphis”), “Clever Little Lies” is a hilarious exposé of the relationship between husbands and wives, parents and children and unintended consequences.

The play is a four-character show featuring Tom Hornung as Bill, Sue Hornung (his wife in real life) as Alice, Hallie Hargus as Jane and Max Redman as Billy.

“One of the most attractive things about this play is that there are no good guys and no bad guys,” said Hargus, a native of Lexington, Kentucky. “Everyone is a fully human person. You see their good sides and you see their flaws. It’s a comedy but it can be heavy at the flip of a switch. It deals with some heavy topics – love, fidelity, relationships.”

The show starts with the revelation that Billy is having with a hot, sexy affair with a 23-year-old personal trainer at his gym – a beautiful upbeat girl named Jasmine. It then gets more complicated and involves his dad and his mom as well as his wife.

Moving forward during the pandemic has forced the Candlelight to make many changes.

Masks covering the nose and mouth must be worn at all times except when you are eating or drinking, and everyone’s temperature will be taken with a contactless thermometer when they enter the building.

There are fewer tables than pre-pandemic and more widely spaced tables. Servers and staff will all wear a mask and gloves.

If you want to see a funny play presented well by a professional cast in an ultra-safe environment, consider a trip to the comfortable theater in Arden.

“Clever Little Lies” will run now through May 23. Tickets are $65.50 for adults and $33 for children (ages 4-12). All seats are reserved.

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