No rising ukulele-playing comedian can say he’s collected cracker wrappers, Nutter Butter cookies and a Red Cross tote bag in a tip jar. Except Ben Lerman.
He gathered these after soliciting for money in a goodwill-sorta canister, which he passed around following a god-awful show at a stop on his current 16-city tour.
“I wanted to run,” ‘fesses Lerman, who will perform on Dec. 13 in Ann Arbor. “I just wanted to get the hell out of there.”
Not that Lerman’s potty-mouthed musical gig – see songs like “Pussy Pantry” – sucked; we’re sure it didn’t. And it wasn’t the lousy set-up. Wait, what set-up? Perched up on the bar, feet resting on a stool – yeah, that was pretty sucky, too.
What really irked him was the baffled, mostly-student crowd. They had no idea who he was. Or why he was there. Or why he was singing about beaver bins. “These people were mortified. The more I did it, the more fun I had with it, ’cause I figured this is awful for me, and it’s awful for them, and it should be awful for the coffee shop – so why not make this a memorable experience for the customers, so that they hate the coffee shop?”
He pauses, continuing facetiously: “But that’s wrong. That’s very childish.”
The New Yorker’s chatting to us on the road from god-knows-where. The reception blows, and whether he finds his next destination (a gay frat house) rests in the electronic noggin of his global-positioning buddy Garmin (which he’s nicknamed Precious), a second brain to those of us whom are direction-challenged. Like Lerman (“Am I even driving in the right direction?” he wonders mid-interview).
We remind him that driving while using the celly is, in Amy Winehouse’s words, a no-no-no. Especially after his headset went kapooey. But even when something flies from a nearby truck, slamming against his car’s hood – “Oh, shit!” he shouts – he ignores our warning.
“That would’ve probably freaked me out even more if I wasn’t talking to somebody,” he urges. Luckily, there’s his calming-uke, “Lenny” – his wooden boyfriend.
“At the end of the day, Lenny is just a ukulele and nothing will ever change the fact that we are in love, but he can’t give me everything that a real boy can. I mean, he’s just a ukulele. He’s got four strings, a short body and a large hole. And I’m looking for somebody with no strings.”
Lenny’s “cute-factor” captured Lerman before he realized what it could actually do: ooze some pretty rad sounds. His stringed-buddy isn’t like the all-too-common guitar or violin. Good thing! Lerman’s drawn to offbeat oddities. The two are the masterminds brewing satirical pieces on Lerman’s solo debut “Ukelear Winter,” like Britney Spears-parody “Not a Cub (Not Yet a Bear) and “The Big Gay Paradise Valley.”
The latter is a happy-go-lucky illustration of an ueber-gay land: “The banks have busy backrooms/And so do bodegas/You can fuck and screw and run errands too/And the whole wide world is in love with you.”
What’s garnering him the most buzz, though, is his non-album, Weird Al-like spin on Ace of Base’s “(I Saw) the Sign” – the karaoke-track satire “(I Saw) Vagine,” where he spills: Seeing a vagina turned him gay. For a sorta-bear who’s anti-hooha, a song about storing junk food in there doesn’t seem like a place he’d go. But he does.
“The thing about Fruit Roll-Ups is that they’re individually sealed, so they’re safe to keep in there. And it’s a hypothetical: If I had a vagine, I’d put things in it. What else would I do with it? It’s a lot of storage space that seems like it just gets wasted, and in New York City, every square-foot is important.”
Someone once questioned his imaginative space-saving concept: What about using ass for storage? “Well, I said that I would, but it’s currently being used as a tool shed.”
Lerman’s mom’s been mum about his dirty trap. She’s checked out his Web site http://www.benlerman.net, but how many ma’s will throw out kudos to their kid for a song about vagina vaults? She didn’t seem to have any issues, he recalls, when he was part of now-long-gone The Isotoners (think Lerman plus a perverted entourage) and the group performed non-Lerman-written “Sorry, I Shat on Your Dick.”
“I would not be able to say that in front of my parents, for sure. And I didn’t; my bandmates did,” he laughs, noting his parents are on tap to check him out in Three Oaks, Mich., since they live in neighboring Indiana.
She could crack up. She could lose her lunch, dinner – and breakfast. She might urge her son to put his recently-earned bachelor’s in television to better use.
Or she could learn that carrying a purse isn’t really necessary. Especially with a vagina.