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Spinal Tap lives on in the Unwigged & Unplugged Tour

By SEAN DALY and STEVE SPEARS

Times Staff Writers

Twenty-five years ago, the number 11 — so humble, so prime — became comedy gold.

Eleven, as in, "These go to . . ."

Yep, 1984's This Is Spinal Tap, the rockumockumentary that spawned a thousand catchphrases, is celebrating a big b-day. To honor that milestone of heavy metal yuks and wee Stonehenges, Tap writers and stars Michael McKean, Christopher Guest and Harry Shearer have launched the "Unwigged & Unplugged Tour," which comes to the Mahaffey Theater in downtown St. Petersburg on Friday.

McKean, whose work with Guest and Shearer include Waiting for Guffman and A Mighty Wind, recently called the Stuck in the '80s studios to talk sex farms, the cult of Tap and, yes, that zany number 11. Here's an excerpt from the chat with David St. Hubbins' alter ego:

You guys are calling the new tour "Unwigged & Unplugged." I guess that means no mullets, no fiendish ax solos?

I gotta say that the "unplugged" part is kind of a lie. You gotta plug in these days a little bit. But it's not going to be in the "11" area. It's gonna be more like "eight-and-a-half."

Ha! You beat us to the first 11 gag!

I'll try to disarm all these jokes before you get to them.

Is that the down side to being in a cult classic? The doughy white dudes constantly reciting lines to you?

Gee, I don't know if there's a really, really down part. Everyone is very nice about it. I don't encounter any fans that are of the stalker variety, mainly because they know that Spinal Tap doesn't really exist, the Folksmen are a figment of a very old imagination and that Corky didn't write all those songs in Waiting for Guffman. Our fans are very smart.

For the most part on this tour, you guys will be wielding acoustic guitars. Are there any Tap songs that are too tough to do acoustically?

Yeah, we had to back off a couple. There's this song called America. Without all the volume, that one doesn't work. Same thing with Rock 'n' Roll Creation. . . . We try to find a middle ground. We do an item called Funky Sex Farm, which is our Sex Farm song done as an acoustic trio of older white gentlemen with a nice element of rap as well. That's pretty embarrassing — in the best possible way.

We've always heard rumors, but how much of This Is Spinal Tap was improvised?

Almost 100 percent. There were two lines in the film that were written: Patrick Macnee's toast — "Tap into America" — and I think one of the intros, the guy who says, "Live, direct from hell, Spinal Tap!". . . We just hired people we knew could do (improv), like Howard Hesseman and Paul Benedict, and hired people brand new to us like Fran Drescher and Dana Carvey, people who went on to some success, you could say. A lot of happy accidents really.

The movie wasn't much of a financial success at first.

We didn't do quite as well as Ghostbusters or Splash. Those were the big comedies that year, and they were both very good. Then the home video thing really started to explode for us. It's always been one of the top 1 percent rentals in any outlet.

You've lampooned heavy metal in Tap and folk in A Mighty Wind. The Shmenge Brothers on SCTV took on polka, and the Blues Brothers tackled the blues. Is there any genre of music above satire?

I think it can all be done. I don't know. What do you do? Western swing? Big band? Emo? How do you parody emo? Music that takes itself too seriously is already a parody enough.

To hear the entire Stuck in the '80s podcast interview with Michael McKean, go to entertainment.tampabay.com.

>> PREVIEW

Unwigged & Unplugged

An evening with Christopher Guest, Michael McKean and Harry Shearer is at

8 p.m. Friday at the Mahaffey Theater, 400 First St. S, St. Petersburg. $36.50-$49.50. (727) 892-5767.

Spinal Tap lives on in the Unwigged & Unplugged Tour 05/06/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, May 6, 2009 4:30am]

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