It's 10 o'clock on a Friday night in Las Vegas -- actually, in nearby Henderson, Nevada, in a sprawling, mall-size casino called Sunset Station (home of, says Fortune, the happiest employees in Greater Sin City) -- and Richard Cheese, an ultra-smarmy nightclub crooner with Sinatra's style, Howard Stern's musical taste, and -- though he's battling it -- Jon Lovitz's profile, has just finished wowing the sold-out crowd in the Club Madrid room with his patented lounge-lizard-meets-modern-rock routine.
For two solid 45-minute sets, Cheese, who, over the course of three independently released CDs, has become an unlikely favorite of the college rock crowd, belts out "swankified" versions of rap's raunchiest and alt-rock's angriest hits.
It's high-concept lowbrow. Kicking off with a jazzy overture of Nirvana's watershed anthem "Smells Like Teen Spirit" played by Cheese's crack jazz trio -- the cleverly titled Lounge Against the Machine -- Cheese strolls onstage crooning, "Here we are now, entertain us," in a style that slyly epitomizes the very show-biz schmaltz Kurt Cobain's original railed against. Cheese follows that with the opening song off his brand-new fourth album, Aperitif for Destruction, to be released May 24: a finger-snapping take on 2 Live Crew's "Me So Horny," the wildly explicit 1989 rap hit famous for launching the Parental Advisory label.
As in all the tunes he covers, Cheese doesn't change any of the words, just edits the song down to its most memorable lines -- in this case, that happens to be a graphic suggestion involving lips and an exterior anal sphincter. But when Cheese applies an even coat of Robert Goulet polish to the lyrics, even that comes off sounding like an exotic French phrase the singer simply likes the sound of. (To drive the point home, he later delivers Ludacris' slightly less raunchy "Stand Up" over a melody that samples "Danke Schoen.")
Along the way, Dick Cheese shakes and stirs the most twisted songs on the current hit parade with a hilarious Homer Simpson cluelessness until it all sounds, well, swingin'. The defining moment comes in the middle of his percolating cover of The Offspring's "Come Out and Play," when Cheese becomes distracted by a female fan in the middle of belting out the dark, Columbine-themed lyrics. In one fell swoop, he manages to water down 15 years of alt-rock angst and rap misogyny. "Are those real?" he asks the busty admirer. Then, right on the beat, back to the lyric: "Do me a favor: Keep 'em separated."
It's only fitting, then, that after nearly two hours of reducing the extreme sex and violence of today's Top 40 into pee-in-your-pants-funny Looney Tunes, the entertainer is greeted at the autograph-signing table outside Club Madrid by the almost cartoonishly sexy blonde with the bared behind.
Cheese watches admiringly as the tight jeans are lowered to half-mast in his honor and graciously signs, around the pulled-up pink thong that bears the same Dick-loving slogan as the girl's skimpy black tee shirt, "Thx, RC." To prolong the experience, he adds several exclamation points.
"Thank you," he says, in the same ingratiating voice he uses onstage at the end of nearly every number, as the girl zips up her jeans and vanishes into the blinking maze of quarter slot machines.
None of the uniformly hot young women who offer Cheese their butt cheeks, breasts or -- his favorite -- a newly purchased CD, tee shirt or poster to autograph seems particularly concerned about extending the womanizing crooner their companionship for the evening. After all, weren't there enough names on that "People Who Want to Have Sex With Richard Cheese" sign-up sheet that Cheese began circulating midway through the concert?
But about a half-hour after the procession of dressed-to-kill girls and their frat-party boyfriends finally thins out, a man who looks an awful lot like Richard Cheese, sans the tiger-striped tuxedo, sits alone at a table for eight in the casino's cafe, waiting for the three musicians from Lounge Against the Machine to join him for a late-night dinner before retiring to his hotel room.
"There may be some others joining us," the man tells the waitress after the trio arrives. Alas, none of the shapely derrières Cheese autographed ever fills the extra seats.
Mark Davis is a pro at staying in character. Sometimes he wonders if anyone in his audience even knows his real name, and considers whether he should do a curtain call, like the stage performers do on Broadway. Mark Davis as Richard Cheese, ladies and gentlemen!