TV fame will lure the crowds to the a capella sensation from Scrubs, but they’re cooler – and more dangerous – in the flesh, writes Kate Copstick
THERE are four Blanks. There is Famous Blank – Sam Lloyd, the one who plays Ted the lawyer in Scrubs, and has the tired, lean, unshaven hunch of an old rocker, somewhere between Arthur Smith and Keith Richards. He wears wrap shades for added mystery and drinks soy latte because he likes it – which is even more mysterious.
There is Vaguely Villainous Blank – Paul F Perry, who looks like the German baddie in Raiders Of The Lost Ark (“the one who melts”) and comes dressed as Inspector Gadget, carrying a ukulele. He has perfect pitch and an Emmy Award for one of the songs he wrote for the musical episode of Scrubs.
There is Strictly Ballroom Blank – George Miserlis, who has teeth like a sunlit, snow-capped mountain range, a tan just past TOWIE on the colour chart and exuberant hair that looks as though each lock has been lovingly moulded from warm tar.
And there is Baldy Blank – Philip McNiven, a phrenologist’s dream, whose pate has a sheen like a well buffed mirror and who claims to be Canadian although he was born in Philadelphia.
I should warn any of you planning on going to the show, that an evening with The Blanks is not without its dangers. During their first visit to Scotland (a tour of university campuses) the attrition rate was worrying. During one show the crowd was so densely packed and so intent on getting close to the stage that one young lady, overcome no doubt with excitement, found it impossible to get out and make her way to the toilets. She weed herself in the middle of the crowd.
The boys, feeling sorry for her, got her up on stage when she came to their next show and she, overcome with even more excitement, weed herself there too. Such is the Blank Effect, ladies. “We had beer thrown over us in Glasgow,” they add. “We were told that was a token of the greatest esteem there.”
Of course, The Blanks existed before Scrubs. Famous, Villainous and Ballroom went to university together – Famous and Ballroom were music theatre majors and Villainous studied film but had to take drama classes and the three met up. Baldy didn’t go to university. “We found him by the side of the street, singing,” says Ballroom. “He’s our Eliza Doolittle,” says Famous, “Our token charity case.”
Villainous and Famous first worked together as part of a very successful Beatles tribute band (and still play with them). “Back when we had hair, we actually dressed up like them,” says Famous. “We just play the music now.”
“Sam actually does play leftie bass,” says Ballroom admiringly, alluding to the fact that Famous is the band’s Sir Paul McCartney. Ballroom himself spent ten years as part of the original cast of Forever Plaid and they all met up again improvising at Second City in Chicago. Then…
“We decided that we had to get a life,” says Baldy. Ballroom got a lead on a job on a cruise ship. “Our dream was to work on a cruise ship,” says Famous. They worked a capella because… “It was cheap”, says Baldy.
“George still had all the Forever Plaid music,” says Famous Blank, “and so he said…”
“Let’s rip off Forever Plaid!” chimes in Ballroom. “Of course we changed the names of the songs a little bit… it was Four Coins In The Fountain, that sort of thing.”
Then there was the problem of a name for the group.
“We tried The Four Micas,” says Famous.
“The Four Heads,” says Villainous.
“The Four Skins,” says Baldy.
They need not have worried. The audition was a disaster. “We totally screwed up,” says Ballroom.
“Two of the mics didn’t work so we were singing four- part harmony with two mikes,” says Villainous.
“We didn’t recover from that bad audition for about ten years,” sighs Famous.
They continued singing together at parties and for friends. And then…
“Our first professional show was at Philip’s grandmother’s 80th birthday party in Vegas…” begins Ballroom.
“How professional? We didn’t get paid,” says Villainous.
“OK, our first public appearance…” continues Ballroom.
“You guys didn’t get paid? Really? I got paid…” says Baldy in faux surprise.
Anyway, they went to Vegas to sing for Grandma (“an inveterate drinker and gambler,” says Baldy, helpfully) and, as it was Baldy’s granny, they gave him the lead in the title which became Phil ’n’ The Blanks. Clever stuff. Later on, they explain. “We took out the ‘Phil ’n’” says Famous. Again with the clever wordplay.
Then Famous got “this little gig” on Scrubs. He brought the guys along to sing at a Scrubs cast and crew Christmas party and they found themselves written into the show as Ted’s Band, despite the fact that Bill Lawrence, the show’s creator, actually took time to tell them that his worst nightmare would be to be trapped in an elevator with a barbershop quartet.
“Paul had written words to the John Williams’ Superman Theme – from beginning to end – and arranged it in four-part harmony. It makes fun of everyone who has ever played Superman,” says Famous.
“Except Christopher Reeve,” says Villainous. “You can’t make fun of Christopher Reeve.”
“It was a tour de force,” says Famous.
And nine seasons later they are still going strong. “We were taken to Vegas in the private jet,” says Ballroom.
“Not just us…” demurs Villainous.
“OK, OK, all the cast were taken to Vegas, and Bill took us aside and said: ‘You guys are my favourite joke in the whole show.’” They are still not sure if either of those statements was meant as a compliment, but they must be doing something right because Ted’s Band is popping up all over US TV. Here in Edinburgh, the show is more than just a capella. “In most countries an hour of a capella is considered worse than waterboarding,” says Baldy. “So we decided we would do something a little different… to make it so that people wouldn’t walk out,” explains Famous. “There are songs,” says Ballroom helpfully, “but there is other stuff, to pad it out.”
But no beatbox. “Anyone who does that is a dick, in our estimation. Or German.” Although Villainous does apparently create a little background sound effect during The Six Million Dollar Man.
Just as I start to think that I could not like these funny, witty, clever, cool guys any more, and their PR swoops in to take them away to talk to The Sun (“That’s like Page 3 girls ’n’ shit,” says Famous), Baldy utters the immortal words: “What about a shot?” We clink glasses of warm, black sambuca and drink to the success of the Blanks’ Big Break.
The Blanks, Gilded Balloon Teviot, until 27 August, theblankswebsite.com
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Weather for Edinburgh
Saturday 18 May 2013
Temperature: 9 C to 13 C
Wind Speed: 18 mph
Wind direction: North east
Temperature: 9 C to 18 C
Wind Speed: 8 mph
Wind direction: North east