Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The Masked Drinker's Guide to Karaoke

There are a lot of things you know about me already. You now that I wear a mask. You know that I drink. It can even be inferred that you know I’m completely fucking awesome. But there is something that you may not have known about me that is a subset of my overall awesomenity. What I now refer to is my status as a Main Guy of Karaoke. Underneath this writerly exterior lies a wailing behemoth of rock, and from time to time it gets out.

But karaoke is no amateur’s game; it is not to be approached willy-nilly. There are certain tips and guidelines I’d like to share with you that I’ve garnered over my years of belting out tunes in establishments built up by Asian immigrants.

First, perhaps most obviously, drink. Now, you’re probably thinking, “Extremely handsome masked guy, why for you tellin’ me such obviousness?” Well have you ever seen the people who karaoke sober? Let’s put it this way: you know when you’re not wearing shoes and you stub your toe; and you don’t just stub it but you bend a toenail back; and there’s that rush of painful air on your tender, exposed, stubbed skin? That sucks. But sober karaokeers suck worse than that. They take this shit way serious.

That’s the crux of a lot of these tips. Don’t take it too seriously. To that end, avoid singing songs that have emotional value to you. This isn’t a recital, nor a serenade on a first date. This is having some funtimes and blurting out some funsongs. If you have a wedding song or a song your dad had played at his funeral or a graduation song and for some reason you actually like thinking of high school, do not sing these songs. You will ruin them, and then you will feel bad.

Have some go-to songs, too. They should be fun, light, and recognizable. I recommend having at least one solo go-to and a couple duets. Duets are automatically better than solos, as you’re having fun with a friend (or a stranger that maybe you make out with later), and no single person must carry the burden of hitting every note in the song. One of my solo go-tos is the theme from “Cheers.” Getting the bartenders on your side is a nice step in karaoke rockage.

If you’re going to rap, be sure that you really, really, really know the song. I dialed up “Intergalactic” by the Beastie Boys once, because I love that song. Well it turns out I knew about 60 percent of the lyrics and thus 40% of the time gawped and looked an even bigger fool than usual. That shit is fast and difficult, and after a few drinks, the tongue doesn’t want to work like that. But I’ll say this: in the rare event someone does pull it off? MINDS ARE BLOWN.

You know those songs that you assume you’re going to hear when you go to karaoke? Like “New York, New York” or “Crazy” or “Piano Man”? Well, you are going to hear them. So don’t sing them. Nobody wants to hear the same song, no matter how good it is, over and over and over again all night. Put a little variety into the evening. Something you loved growing up, but don’t hear all that often. And if you know it, never fear a little old country. Even in Downtown Manhattan you’re going to be surrounded with more fans of David Allen Coe than you would have ever guessed.

Speaking of the people around you, show them some love. The best karaoke is public karaoke. I’m not so down with the private rooms with just you and your palsies. Do that a few times and you can predict what everyone’s gonna do. And it gets boring. One of the pleasures of karaoke is interacting semi-artistically with total strangers. So when somebody goes up and gives it their all, you goddam well better applaud! Especially if they’re into it. (Not taking it seriously, into it. Very different. Serious-takers have pained faces and sing important tunes with vibrato and heartfelt emotion. They make you want to leave, die, or both. Into-its are totally rocking out and having funtimes.) Cheer, high five, spread the love. It’ll come back to you. Don’t be one of those shitty groups that only listen to their own friends and never have fun with anyone else. They are like stepping in dog poo, except at karaoke and with singing.

Speaking of Into-Its, totally be one. Rock out with your best moves. Nobody expects David Lee Roth, but do what you can. A little dancing and rock posing goes a long way. Which is not to say do only the barest minimum amount. Let the rock flow through you like electric fuck. A lot of rock stars are neither hot nor that good at singing. It’s all about that electric fuck juice. Drink heartily of it.

The most important thing is just to let loose and have fun. Bring some friends who are ready to party, meet some new folks, and rock it out. The second most important thing is not to sing “Bohemian Rhapsody.” You can’t sing it, it takes forever, and everyone else in the room will hate you. If you MUST sing it, wait until right before closing time. Then people will be drunk enough to form a chorus with you instead of resenting your sorry ass.

portrait by girl the Masked Drinker wishes he remembered. And, yes, that's open mic and not karaoke but it's the best I had. Shut the fuck up. Other picture stolen from internet and written on using photoshop in its basest form by the Masked Drinker.


  1. Reading this, I can see that at times, doing karaoke with me must have been punishment for you.


  2. Another common problem with the 'rap' karaoke stems from the censored versions of the songs appearing, instead of the profanity laden version that the karaoke performer (and audience) knows and loves. These radio friendly edits often have changes that go far beyond 'bleeping out' the bad words.

  3. Ladyboy has a reoccurring knee injury from "funtimes" at karaoke.

  4. Is "Jessie's Girl" by Rick Springfield a good bet?

  5. I maintain that "Just a Friend" by Biz Markie is the best karaoke song of all time. It lets me embrace my awfulness.