Unreal recently had the opportunity to get jiggy with Elvis Presley's former chief of security, the one and only Sonny West. After sixteen years with the King, dude's got stories, lots of 'em, which he'll relate here this Friday, April 18, at a concert by the Tom Christopher Band, an eleven-piece Elvis tribute group that calls St. Charles home. West was invited as a master of ceremonies for the show at Florissant Elks Lodge #2316. A friend of Unreal, a self-described recovering Memphian, helped us warm up West by supplying some queries for our Q&A:
Unreal: You were with Elvis when he visited the president in 1970 in order to get an honorary badge from the drug enforcement agency—
Sonny West: Yes, but it wasn't an honorary deal; he wanted the real thing.
Wasn't there something, I don't know, ironic, about Elvis wanting to be named a federal drug agent?
Yes, but his thing was for prescription medicines. As an agent he was after people doing heroin and cocaine.
What did Elvis and your so-called Memphis Mafia like to imbibe?
We took amphetamines in the early '60s when he was staying up late at night and going out to make movies at six in the morning. And then we took sleeping pills to counteract the speed. I never took pain pills for kicks. That was Elvis' weakness.
Guess Elvis was a trend setter in more ways than one.
A lot of recent reports suggest that Elvis eventually lost interest in both sex and performing live. Was he diagnosed with a "performance" problem?
No, uh, he was not. It was the medications; pain pills work on the nervous system. When he was younger, though, boy were the girls lined up for him. We spoke in code; we'd tell different girls, "Elvis is just TCB — takin' care of business."
Do you often go on the road with Elvis tribute bands?
I was just in Basel, Switzerland, with one.
Doesn't that mess with your head?
Not really. I try to give people an insight into what Elvis was all about. You take away his addiction and you got a warm, wonderful human being. Just 'cause you're hooked on drugs doesn't make you dumb. You've got some brilliant people — look at Rush Limbaugh — who get hooked.
Ever seen a mini-Elvis?
I might have heard of one in Czechoslovakia. I thought it was interesting. [Laughs] Jumpsuits wouldn't be very expensive.
The ROFL Truth
Standup comedy has never been known as a great source of collegiate rivalry. This has long puzzled Unreal. Wouldn't it be more satisfying to say, "My school is funnier than your school," rather than, "The big guys at my school are better at carrying around a piece of hoghide than the big guys at your school"?
RooftopComedy, an Internet comedy channel, is trying to remedy this sad situation by staging a national collegiate comedy competition. Two weeks ago, on April Fools' Day, SLU and Mizzou faced off in the Missouri regional semifinal at the Funny Bone in Maryland Heights.
Mizzou won. (Make of that what you will.)
Turns out the schism between Mizzou and SLU runs much deeper than public versus private or secular versus Jesuit. "The SLU guys told more stories," SLU junior Kevin Dwyer tells Unreal, "while the Mizzou guys told more jokes with punch lines."
(Dwyer specializes in impressions. He got his start doing Flower, the skunk from Bambi, and then moved on to Donald Duck. He did a few quacks at Unreal's request, but wasn't offended when we admitted we couldn't understand what he was quacking about. "When you get your wisdom teeth," he says, "it screws you up. When I quack, I have to focus on my right cheek.")
We also visited with Mizzou junior Chris Nester, whom the judges deemed the funniest college student in Missouri.
Nester's jokes are based on observations of daily life. After we promise in advance that we will laugh, he agrees to share one with us: "Did you know that AT&T is targeting alcoholics and frat guys? They're advertising more bars in more places."
Nester is quick to add that this was not one of his better efforts.
You can be the judge: RooftopComedy has posted videos of all the regional semifinalists online. Visitors to www.rooftopcomedy.com/events/college can vote for which they like best through April 30. The winners move on to the national finals in Aspen at the end of May.
When Unreal heard that Improv Everywhere, the international group that instigates controlled mayhem in public places, was starting Show Me Scenes, a St. Louis chapter, we treated ourselves to a celebratory shot of Patrón. Rumors of an opening-day "mission" at Busch Stadium had us on the phone to Show Me organizer "Agent JMizz" quicker than you can say "rainout."
We should have gotten a clue when JMizz, an ex-Marine, told us that plan had been scotched in favor of a stunt April 6 at Westfield West County. He would not give us any details, except that it involved bananas. Shot glass-half-full soul that we are, we report for duty at the appointed hour, only to find that JMizz and his top SMS henchmen have bagged that plan as well.
So there we are at the gazebo in Des Peres City Hall Park, carrying our banana. As it turns out, Unreal wasn't the only SMSer out of the loop. That's why we find ourselves, led by Agents Bryan Bartnik and Jim Foley, students at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville and Lafayette High School, respectively, embarking upon a bastardized game of Marco Polo in the mall food court. The idea: One person will yell "Marco!" and the rest will respond "Polo!"
Agent Kyle Kratky gets to be Marco on grounds that he has a loud voice and because the caper was his idea.
Unreal was never really that into Marco Polo. It's a stupid game. Evidently west-county shoppers share our feelings. The vast majority ignore us, though a few half-heartedly join in the chorus of "Polo"s. After a scintillating half-hour, Kratky leads us out of the food court and we Marco Polo our way from JC Penney to Macy's. High point: Three small boys hanging over the railing from the second floor outside Abercrombie & Fitch shout "Marco!" and giggle delightedly when we Polo 'em back.
Other mallgoers are less delighted. "What's going on?" one puzzled man asks his wife. "I don't know," she replies, "but it's fucking annoying."
Later, back at the gazebo, eating our bananas, the Show Me Scenesters declare these exchanges a sign of success: They were not completely ignored!
"For being thrown together in fifteen minutes," says Bartnik, "this was amazing."
Not the word Unreal would have chosen, but yes, we must admit it was something.