Big Cheese

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

"Aside from a strategic defense missile going off every couple of hours," he says, "sounds idyllic!"

After that, he wants to run for president. Seriously.

But first, he must kill Richard Cheese.

Richard Cheese and Lounge Against the Machine
Positive Images/Steve Reed
Richard Cheese and Lounge Against the Machine
Davis obliges a fan: “Are they interested in Richard 
Cheese? Or are they interested in the creative person 
who created Richard Cheese?”
Steve Reed
Davis obliges a fan: “Are they interested in Richard Cheese? Or are they interested in the creative person who created Richard Cheese?”

Details

To listen to Richard Cheese's music, click here.

He's vowed this is his last year of touring, even though he already only plays a fraction of the live dates he did when he started working as Cheese back in 2000.

He'll keep doing CDs -- he's now talking with Surfdog Records about recording new tracks for a greatest-hits album to be released this fall. But after the five more public appearances he's got spread out from now 'til December, he's not doing Dick onstage anymore.

"Honestly, if anyone wants to take over as Richard Cheese, we can give 'em the tux, we can franchise it," he jokes between bites of his quesadilla (with Cheddar and Monterey Jack -- not processed American cheese) at Carlos O'Brien's.

"I'm just tired!" he says. "I finally understand why entertainers are paid so much. Because apparently, it's hard work!" Davis is quick to stress he's not become rich at this himself. While Richard Cheese boasts, "Ladies, do you want to ride in Dick's Mercedes?" in his riotous cover of "Baby Got Back," Davis drives a decidedly non-bling Toyota Prius hybrid and lives in an apartment in Studio City he describes as cluttered with "thousands of unsold CDs." Baby got debt.

"On top of that, I have to wear hair gel, 'cause I need to look like a lounge singer. I have to wear a tuxedo, I have to wear a tie. It's like going to Sunday school every show. I hate it!"

Mostly, though, Davis just wants to do more with his post-40 years than continue entertaining drunken frat boys and oversexed party girls who never stick around after the stage lights dim.

"Whenever I do this, I always feel like I'm wasting my time," he says. "I'm always asking myself, 'Is what I'm doing going to amount to anything beyond paltry CD sales and a footnote in comedy history?'"

His high school friend and former roommate David Lujan recently got elected as a representative for Phoenix's District 15, and Davis is seriously considering following him into politics. Lujan, for one, believes his wacky pal truly could have a future in public office.

"We talk politics whenever we're together, and I agree with him on a lot of issues," Lujan says. "I think he has some great ideas of where we should go as a country."

His mother insists her son's ultimate ambition is to become president of the United States. "Yes, Mark wants to run for president," she says. "But we keep telling him as long as he's got Richard Cheese in his background, he couldn't possibly. I don't think this country is ready to accept a thing like that."

Lujan is more optimistic. "The Richard Cheese thing won't help," he agrees, laughing. Still, if Arnold Schwarzenegger can go directly from baring his butt in Terminator 3 to a Republican governorship, there's hope for a former Dick.

"I think he definitely has a future in Democratic politics, if he wants it," Lujan says, adding that Davis is considering moving back to Phoenix if he goes for a House seat.

All this talk is bad news for Davis' band, a trio of young, in-demand jazz and swing cats who already feel their boss is not doing nearly the number of shows he could be doing.

"Personally, I think he's sitting on a gold mine," says keyboardist Noel Melanio, a.k.a. Bobby Ricotta, a schooled L.A. jazz player who's also responsible for the sophisticated horn arrangements on the last two Cheese records. "Every place we play, it's a sellout. But he doesn't play a quarter of the shows he could."

Melanio is taking a limo ride back to the Las Vegas airport the morning after the Sunset Station show. Back in early 2003, the Richard Cheese band was playing to a packed house in that room every Sunday night. This year, they won't play it again until Cheese's farewell show in December -- if Davis doesn't cancel that one.

"I shared a long limo ride with him once, and he started telling me about all these magnanimous things he wants to do," Melanio says. "And I finally had to tell him, even though it was bad for my career, 'If you want to do all those things, you can't keep doing Richard Cheese.'"


So why hasn't he yet cut the Cheese? Partly, Davis is determined to use his meal ticket as an instrument for, as he puts it, the greater good. He's encouraged by the new trend in hip-hop to address the destructive idiocy of rap-rival beefs, and thinks the screamo suicide-metal bands need to grow a sense of humor, too -- both things the sly comic jabs of Richard Cheese can help encourage.

Some of his sharper fans are already beholding the hidden power of Cheese. One record buyer posting his comments on Amazon praised the first Cheese album as a brilliant spoof of both alt-rock's self-seriousness and the lounge culture's disconnection from contemporary life, calling the CD "a stark portrayal of a society stuck between a horribly self-righteous discontent and a painfully self-conscious escapism."

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