Country or Comedy? Wheeler Walker Jr. Bridges the Divide

wheeler-walker-jr

Wheeler Walker Jr. sneaks an impressive country performance into a club comedy act

 

It’s easy to forget that Wheeler Walker Jr. is a comedy act. Not that his music avoids it, Walker’s brand of country satire—as subtle as a sledgehammer—was on full display during a Monday night stop in Bloomington, Indiana. But it’s clear that Ben Hoffman, who created the Wheeler Walker Jr. character after his 2013 series The Ben Show on Comedy Central, also likes to rock. And the small, but rowdy crowd that gathered at The Bluebird Nightclub was right there with him throughout his set.

The five-piece band brilliantly played through a myriad of country music styles oddly and often amusingly juxtaposed against filthy lyrics. It was like watching Waylon Jennings cover Dave Attell. Even Hoffman works as front man, an adequate singer behind his Wheeler Walker Jr. character. The satire of Wheeler Walker Jr. goes for easy laughs over social commentary, but Hoffman and Co. earn an audience by backing its redneck character with a group of serious music professionals.

Hoffman has had no lack of talent rooting on his creation of Wheeler Walker Jr. It was alt-country singer Sturgill Simpson who encouraged him to cut a record as Walker Jr. with Grammy-award winning producer Dave Cobb (who recently worked with Jason Isbell and Chris Stapleton, along with Simpson), with the caveat that he must go “full Kauffman” in character commitment.

Walker Jr. on stage doesn’t resemble anything close to an Andy Kauffman character, though. Not for lack of commitment—Hoffman is masterful at inhabiting the X-rated redneck rockstar. But he is much more interested in drawing cheers than boos, unlike Kauffman’s turn as a professional wrestling heel. He unites his audience in its distaste for popular country music—Florida Georgia Line is a favorite target—instead of enticing the crowd to turn on him.

Beyond a few attempts at Hoosier blasphemy (he claimed he could kick Axl Rose and John Mellencamp’s asses, and said “he rode around Bloomington” that day looking for the latter for such a challenge), Wheeler Walker Jr. embraced his status as a welcomed guest. The Lexington, Kentucky, native even went as far as to reluctantly congratulate Indiana University basketball on its recent tournament win over his hometown Kentucky Wildcats, which drew one the biggest cheers of the night.

The performance and Walker Jr. as a character are not a deconstruction of popular music as much as they are a pile driver—plowing into the core of the bro country id and exposing its more explicit nature to let everyone in on the laugh. If you can stomach the intentionally outrageous material, it’s a good time. And for Monday night show in a college town with classes out of session, Walker Jr. gave a performance worthy of a small, dedicated crowd that was partying like it was the weekend.

by Brock Benefiel

kiel_hauckBrock Benefiel is a writer from Indianapolis. In addition to his rap nerdom, he is currently writing a spec script for a “Love Monkey” reboot. You can follow him on Twitter.

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