I was born to do singing telegrams. And although I've had many unique, creative ideas over the years, some of my most memorable routines have been collaborations with my customers. Planning a hilarious surprise for recent recipient Nicole Isaacson is a great example.
Nicole was turning twenty-one and her parents wanted to embarrass her in front of her friends. Her mother knew that she liked EDM, so I suggested Daft Punk's celebratory “One More Time” as one of the songs I should definitely perform. Nicole's parents and I debated a bit about what costume would be best. Lady Gaga was suggested (Nicole is a big fan). Although I've assembled a killer Gaga ensemble before, several key costume pieces were borrowed from my friend Staza (and I wasn't sure I'd be able to procure them on such short notice). The Cop was brought up as a possibility. Nicole's dad was hesitant that the character would remind his daughter of a slightly jarring past experience involving a policeman, though. Then Nicole's mom had an idea: what if the Cop asked Nicole to relinquish her fake I.D.? Bingo.
Because I'd gotten the stink-eye from a security guard the last time I'd sung at the venue where Nicole was celebrating her twenty-first (I think he had assumed I was a street musician who'd wandered in to solicit tips from strangers), her mom called ahead to give someone a heads up. I checked in with the manager downstairs upon arrival. “You're looking for the girl in the green side cut out dress – it's very obvious she's not wearing any underwear,” explained the manager. “This is gonna be P.G., right?” One of the funniest aspects of being a singing cop is that people often worry I'm going to be a stripper. It can be fun to play with those expectations a little when it's appropriate. I assured the manager that my shtick was going to be P.G. Implying decency was especially important on this particular occasion, he replied, “Because the owner's upstairs having dinner with his family.”
Guitar slung over my police uniform, I ascended the stairs to the second floor. To the next level is exactly where I hoped this gig was headed. Nicole's friends were obviously expecting me – they pointed her out as soon as I rounded the corner. I strolled over to the birthday girl. “Nicole Isaacson?” I asked. She was taken aback. Her friends were on the edge of their seats. “This is your twenty-first birthday party, correct?” I inquired, setting up the coming punchline. The anticipation was palpable. “Would you like to relinquish your fake I.D.?” I asked smiling. “You won't be needing it anymore.”
My man in blue singing telegrams almost always kickoff with Inner Circle's “Bad Boys.” I launched into the theme song for the TV show Cops. Nicole was probably in shock, as is often the case with singing telegram recipients. Someone noticed the business card I had threaded through my guitar strings that implicated Nicole's parents as the pranksters responsible and pointed it out to her. Understanding who was behind the hilarious surprise probably didn't make it any less shocking. A birthday rap called “Birthday Party” by Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five was next up in my medley. I drummed on the strings of the guitar, utilizing it as a percussion instrument of sorts. There are certainly many more talented rappers out there, but singing telegram spectators are generally impressed by my verbal flow. Nicole's friends were entertained.
The moment had come for Daft Punk's “One More Time.” Hearing EDM played on an acoustic guitar generally throws people for a loop. Putting a familiar tune and lyrics in a new context is fun, though. I wrapped up a short version of “One More Time” and her friends kept egging me on. “One more song,” some of them piped up. So I played the first verse and chorus of Lady Gaga's “Born This Way.” Then I led the group in a traditional version of “Happy Birthday.” When I was finally finished singing, Nicole got out of her chair to come over and pose for a photo with her singing cop.
Surprising the birthday girl was a hoot. But that's not the end of the story. I descended the stairs, where I found the manager I'd encountered upon my arrival ten minutes or so earlier. “My performance was more P.G. than the birthday's girl's outfit,” I joked. “You know what's funny?” he replied. “After we touched base, I radioed up to the owner to let him know that a singing telegram was on his way up but that you'd promised to keep it P.G. The owner said if you didn't abide by that promise, he would literally tackle you. It turns out the chef overheard this exchange via his own walkie talkie in the kitchen. During the performance, said chef got on the walkie and said 'The pants are off!' The owner immediately started sprinting toward the table where you were performing.”
“See? It's fun for all involved,” I said, smiling.