Big Cheese

Valley export Mark Davis plots to kill his lounge-pimp alter ego, Richard Cheese

Davis, who today is appearing in his natural form -- floppy, un-gelled hair, simple black tee shirt and baggy khakis -- chooses to keep his real name buried in the CD credits and on his suitably cheesy Web site, iloverichardcheese.com, mainly to keep it simple for the fans.

"Whatever I'm doing with this, I want to keep it really clear," he says. "Like NASA, when they launch the space shuttle, they're not also selling ice cream. We're basically launching a space shuttle."

Still, each night after the Dick shuttle comes back down to Earth and the dizzied fans stagger off to their respective lives, the actor behind the comical cad every luscious lady loves to tease is often left to wonder, where is the love?

Boys in the band: “I think he’s sitting on a gold mine,” 
says keyboardist Noel Melanio, second from left.
Arden Ash
Boys in the band: “I think he’s sitting on a gold mine,” says keyboardist Noel Melanio, second from left.
On NBC’s Last Call With Carson Daly, from left, Daly, Davis, Dennis Rodman and Val Kilmer. “TV is just not what it’s cracked up to be.”
courtesy of NBC
On NBC’s Last Call With Carson Daly, from left, Daly, Davis, Dennis Rodman and Val Kilmer. “TV is just not what it’s cracked up to be.”

"I don't think the groupie knowledge I have is accurate," says Davis, still single at 39 -- a fact that, lately, seems to be weighing on his mind.

"We're a joke band, so we don't get what you'd call fully operating groupies. I get girls who say they are big fans, but then once they realize that the tuxedo is gonna be removed, well . . . they don't necessarily want to see what's really behind the tuxedo."

For a moment, Davis falls uncharacteristically silent, and the scene feels like one of those TBS "Real life: not funny" promos that the cable station always follows with a parallel "very funny" sitcom clip from Friends or Sex and the City.

He regrets ordering the Coke -- he usually sticks to bottled water -- and worries whether the quesadilla was a smart choice, even with the guacamole on the side.

While a stout frame suits Richard Cheese's hedonistic, larger-than-life image, Davis himself is noticeably self-conscious about his weight, dodging studio photo sessions and asking to be photographed onstage only from a distance. His latest album cover, a play on Guns N' Roses' Appetite for Destruction art, features only a skeleton in Cheese's familiar tiger tux. Apparently, he'd rather be caught like that than looking pudgy.

Or maybe the skeleton image is really foreshadowing what Davis has planned for his lounge-pimp alter ego. Davis has already proclaimed this as Richard Cheese's last year of touring. "There's so many more things that I'd rather be doing now," he's said.

He's also been haunted by images of his own death onstage -- mostly from watching The World According to Garp one too many times. "Remember at the end of that movie, where the childhood friend who's been stalking him all his life ends up killing him? It would be the ultimate irony for this thing to end that way."

Richard Cheese does get his borderline stalkers, fans who show up at every Vegas and California concert and just seem a little too obsessed with the whole lounge lifestyle of which they believe Cheese is their tiki god. "Even though it's 2005, there are people who'll put on the bowling shirt, decorate their homes with tikis and mix a martini every day after work," Davis says. Naturally, he faces his adoring public with the same warm thought before each performance. "I'm always wondering, 'Which person in the audience is ultimately gonna kill me?'"

Clearly, he doesn't want to go out in the tiger stripes. Richard Cheese will have to die first. But if Cheese goes, will the women who do come on to him still be around? Davis is uncertain.

"I mean, are they interested in Richard Cheese? Or are they interested in the creative person who created Richard Cheese?" he says. "I don't want to go out with them if they think I'm going to be singing all the time or wearing the tuxedo."

Another pause -- or, this time, a comic beat. "I mean, I will if she's hot!" he adds, summoning up his Cheese persona, graciously lightening the mood. "But I don't want that to be the only thing."


Mark Davis never set out to be a big cheese onstage. He did dabble in drama while at Washington High School in west Phoenix, landing the lead in the school's production of You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown.

But his first love was radio, specifically, the wacky kind of personality-driven radio Jonathon Brandmeier was putting out in the early '80s on Phoenix Top 40 powerhouse KZZP. Brandmeier, who later went on to bigger fame in Chicago and, most recently, L.A., made his mark by goofing around with phone callers on the air, and quickly attracted a group of regular callers he dubbed his "Loons."

Davis was a standout Loon, calling in whacked-out impersonations of Floyd the barber from The Andy Griffith Show and singing parody lyrics over the day's pop hits (REO Speedwagon was an early target). After a semester working at the campus radio station at Arizona State University (he soon switched to studying broadcasting at the community colleges -- first Phoenix, then Glendale -- but never completed a degree), Davis finagled himself into a series of bottom-rung jobs at KZZP, eventually leading up to a job as assistant producer on the morning show with Bruce Kelly (now host of XM Satellite Radio's "The '80s" channel).

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