Cover Story • Heywood Banks


Cover Story • Heywood Banks
------------------------------Cover Story • Heywood Banks------------------------------
A Man of Many Faces
By Mark Hunter
Most of the time Heywood Banks is Stuart
Mitchell. Or is it the other way around? When
Stuart Mitchell is being Stuart Mitchell, Heywood Banks is looking over Stuart Mitchell’s
shoulder trying to see if what Stuart Mitchell
is reading or eating or watching or not watching is in any way useful for Heywood Banks.
Heywood Banks, the character Stuart Mitchell
created, the prism through which Stuart Mitchell views the world, is never far away.
“It’s the good life,” Mitchell said when we
spoke. Banks would agree.
In what has become something of a Three
Rivers Festival week tradition, Heywood Banks
returns to Snickerz Comedy Bar for three nights
– July 12, 13 and 14 – when he will play his hit
songs “Toast,” “Big Butter Jesus” and “Wiper
Blades” and try out some new ones as well.
“I just wrote a song about the semi-annual
flood of the century festival,” he said while
driving from his home in Michigan to Indianapolis where he was to appear on “The Bob &
Tom Show” for the umpteenth time.
A conversation with Mitchell moves like a
pinball. He’s all over the place, making lights
go on and off, ringing buzzers and bells and
racking up a thousand laughs a minute.
“Isn’t it weird that people live in flood
plains? Even if it hasn’t been flooded a lot of
the time, it does happen. I remember being in
Indianapolis and seeing this sign for a vacant lot
for sale and the sign was halfway under water.
People, if you live on a fault line next to a nuclear power plant in tornado alley under some
high-tension power lines, you have to expect
something to happen.
“I remember when all those hurricanes hit
Florida there were actually air force jets that got
damaged. They’re jets! Fly them out!”
Heywood Banks is a musical comedian. His
songs are original, often bizarre, always humorous compositions that skewer the stupid and elevate the banal.
Stuart Mitchell began his performing career
as a serious folk musician. Mitchell recently
collaborated with his wife on a CD of folk tunes
about Calamity Jane called Dear Calamity
Jane. Shirley Mitchell wrote the lyrics, Stuart
wrote the music and David Mosher produced
it. Shirley Mitchell has also written a musical
called Swamp Opera which has been performed
by theater groups throughout the Midwest.
“Its’ not a funny CD,” Mitchell said of Dear
Calamity Jane. “It is a folk CD. I was a folksinger before I was Heywood.”
Stuart Mitchell as Heywood Banks recently emceed the Ann Arbor Folk Festival which
featured such luminaries as Nanci Griffith,
Glen Campbell, Ryan Adams and many others.
Banks does a yearly Thanksgiving show in Ann
Arbor, so he is well-known in the town, if not
Thursday, July 12 • 7:30 p.m.
Friday & Saturday, July 13-14
7:30 & 9:45 p.m.
Snickerz Comedy Bar
5535 St. Joe Rd., Fort Wayne
Tix: $16.50 thru Snickerz box
office, 260-486-0216
by the musicians at the festival. “There were a
lot of well-known folk singers who mostly had
never heard me before,” he said. “But they got
the joke. I was thinking ‘Why haven’t these
people come to see me?’”
Banks can write a song about anything, it
seems. “Toast” is an ode to, well, toast. “Big
Butter Jesus” is about the Solid Rock Church
along Interstate 75 north of Cincinnati and
the 65-foot tall fiberglass statue of Jesus that
grabbed the attention of passersby until it got
struck by lightning two years ago and burned
“They’re building a new one,” Mitchell
said. “At least they were going to. The preacher
who was at Solid Rock at the time got rid of
the old metal frame and said they were going to
build it out of fire-resistant material so it can get
hit by lightning. But he had a heart attack and
died [Actually the pastor at Solid Rock, Lawrence Bishop, had a stroke in October of 2011
and died.] It was like God saying ‘I don’t know
if you got my first memo. What part of getting
hit by lightning do you not understand?’”
Though irreverent at times. Banks can be
downright mushy, given the proper subject matter. Take his song “Never Trust a Puppet,” for
instance. The song grew out of an experience
his wife had when she was little. A professional
photographer, attempting to get the young girl
to mug for the camera, had a puppet sitting on
a stool nearby. Little Shirley didn’t care for the
puppet. “She said ‘I didn’t trust that puppet.’”
Banks sings the song in a high-pitched voice, an
effort to mimic the young Shirley. “She doesn’t
sound like that. I had a hard time trying to figure out if it would translate. It’s just a very odd
With so many songs to his credit (he has released seven CDs) it seems like he would have
a favorite. But the challenge of writing a good
funny song keeps his mind focused on the present. “My personal favorite is always the one I’m
working on. I’m playing the guitar all the time
and working on the lyrics. I can’t have a song
that’s too complicated or too beautiful. That
gets in the way of the joke. I don’t ever think
about what I’ve accomplished, what I’ve done.
I think about what’s the next song I’m going to
write. It’s often a surprise.”
In order to keep the surprises coming,
Mitchell consumes a lot of media – radio, television, newspapers and magazines. And Banks
is always close by.
“I have my antenna up all the time,” he said.
“Once I was passing these two women on the
street and one said, ‘And they had to taser her
again.’ I turned around and said ‘thank you.’
That’s what a songwriter does. I read the papers
and magazines and listen to NPR and have satellite radio. I just listen to know what’s going on
in the world. Ninety-nine percent of it I won’t
use. Sometimes things just strike me as funny. I
had a baby grand piano in my living room. I had
no idea my upright was pregnant.”
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