Deck the halls with Kling and Kramer

  • Article by: GRAYDON ROYCE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 17, 2011 - 11:51 AM

Two crazy guys get together to celebrate the holidays with "Mirth and Mischief."

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Steve Kramer, left, and Kevin Kling team up for “Mirth and Mischief” this weekend at the Fitzgerald Theater in St. Paul.

Photo: Tom Wallace, Star Tribune

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Steve Kramer was a few minutes late for an interview last week at the Fitzgerald Theatre, but once he arrived, the former Wallets frontman made his presence immediately known with a nonstop monologue.

Kramer's giddy and effusive demeanor perfectly fit the reason we were all assembled: to talk about "Mirth and Mischief." On Friday, Kramer will be onstage playing music for the first time in 19 years. He created "Mirth and Mischief" with Kevin Kling, who quickly became Kramer's foil as visitors gathered on the Fitzgerald stage.

"I have two comments and a question," Kramer announced.

What's the question?

"Is it pronounced poinsett-a or poinsett-ia? I've always wondered that. You know what they say about poinsett-ias. They're the Robert Goulet of the flower world because they're so ubiquitous at Christmas."

Kramer then pulled a butterscotch candy from his pocket and unwrapped it.

"These things are the greatest," he said with the profound conviction of a salesman. "They're like an entire meal."

He popped the candy into his mouth and darted around the stage to find something mirthful and mischievous to wear for a photo shoot.

"Kevin, do I look hot with this beard on?" Kramer asked, pulling a long ZZ Top-style wisp of stressed cotton onto his chin.

When a snowman costume was brought forth, Kramer climbed in and held up two twigs through the armholes.

"You take too many pictures," he said as a photographer snapped away.

Then he went on random shuffle, commenting on the faux cardboard chandeliers hanging onstage, recalling a Woody Allen movie and asking if anyone knew anything about mantis shrimp.

"The thing about these butterscotches is they make you kind of sick," he said while he and Kling posed in a box seat. "It's a good thing I have lots of puking space inside this snowman costume."

As he returned to the stage, Kramer expressed curiosity over the rope holding up the fire curtain.

"Do you have any matches?" he asked Kling.

Conversation interruptus

Finally, the two collaborators sat down to talk about their show.

"Oh, sorry, I'll be right back," Kramer said, running off to the lobby.

Kling grinned.

"This is what rehearsal has been like," he said.

Kling and Kramer have been trying to get together on a project for many years. Kling is a big, expansive personality who tells offbeat stories with amazing heart. Kramer is a larger-than-life personality who presided over an offbeat musical group that worried more about invention than commerce. For whatever reason, they were never able to get something finished.

"We would end up laughing our heads off and nothing ever happened," Kramer said.

This time, director Peter Rothstein brought his galvanizing presence to the party, and "Mirth and Mischief" took form.

"He's the string holding the two kites together," said Kling. "He's the voice of reason."

"When you have the two of us out there on the strong side of psychotic-A-D-D, it's good to have him there," added Kramer.

Back onstage

For nine years, Kramer fronted the Wallets, who were named one of the 10 best live Minnesota rock acts in a 1997 Star Tribune article. The group was, in the estimation of one critic, the most likely act to "turn any given gig into a grand, transcendent spectacle ... and leader Steve Kramer's wild-eyed sense of showmanship was off the map."

But the band -- which Kramer called "a dictatorship with a big, crabby baby at the center: me" -- was tired artistically by 1989.

"It wasn't really sustainable," he said. "We weren't a pop band and we lucked out with 'Totally Nude' but for radio airplay, there wasn't much singing, just me grunting."

It seems unbelievable that Kramer hasn't performed publicly in 20 years.

"I know!" he shouted. "But I'm always onstage with my friends. Nothing has really sparked me until this show."

Kramer did one gig a few years after the Wallets broke up, but otherwise he's been having a grand time in the music-production business -- composing commercial jingles and music for movie trailers.

"That's helped me get to the point fast," he said of the tunes he wrote for this show -- which are available for free download at the Minnesota Public Radio site. "When Kevin showed me the stories, the songs tumbled out effortlessly."

So is the show, "Mirth and Mischief," about anything other than two guys having fun onstage?

"Yes," said both men quickly.

"The subtitle is 'The Making of a Fool,'" said Kling, "and the idea is you can survive anything with a sense of humor and a sense of self."

For Kling and Kramer, the Fool is an important figure, a kind of shaman with wisdom that is often disregarded for being too unconventional.

"A fool has a foot in two worlds," Kling said. "A clown has two feet in one world. You'd never take counsel from a clown, but you would from a fool."

Fear factor

Kramer is a little scared about getting back onstage, but the chemistry he shares with Kling makes one wonder if fear will consume them, or they will consume the emotion.

"When you're scared, you're doing something important," Kling said. "If it's past, it's regret and if it's future, it's anxiety, but fear is white hot in the moment."

As the interview was winding down, Kramer was asked about the two comments.

"What?" he said.

When you first came up onstage, you said you had two comments and a question. The question was about the poinsettia. What were the comments?

"I was wondering that, too," Kling said.

Kramer was speechless.

  • related content

  • More mirth than mischief

    Saturday December 17, 2011

    REVIEW: The talents of Kevin Kling and Steve Kramer are delightful, but this new show feels just a bit tame.

  • MIRTH AND MISCHIEF

    What: By Kevin Kling and Steve Kramer. Directed by Peter Rothstein.

    When: 8 p.m. Fri.-Sat. 2 p.m. Sun. Excerpts broadcast at noon Dec. 23 on MPR, 91.1 FM, and 9 p.m. Dec. 25, the Current, 89.3 FM.

    Where: Fitzgerald Theater, 10 E. Exchange St., St. Paul.

    Tickets: $20-$49, 651-290-1200.

    Sound bite: Download original music by Steve Kramer free at MPR.org/Mirth

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