Kenny Moore was doing all right as a stand-up comedian in the late Eighties when he became famous for an unfunny act involving a 12-string acoustic guitar.
Moore was at a club performing his routine, a combination of jokes and musical comedy, when a heckling couple near the stage started to get the better of him. The comedian kept his cool as the man and woman needled him, until he finally couldn’t take any more.
Slipping the guitar off his shoulder, the former Vietnam vet raised it high above his head while he egged the man on. As the crowd whooped and hollered, Moore smashed the instrument over the heckler’s head, El Kabong style, tearing off the guitar’s back in the process.
The crowd, shocked into near silence, quickly turned on him. “That wasn’t necessary,” said one woman. Moore searched the room for approval and found none. “Okay, show’s over,” he said, looking like he got the wind kicked out of him.
The episode was caught on VHS tape, although the actual guitar smashing occurred just beyond the camera’s view. For years, dubbed copies of the tape circulated throughout the comedy community, serving as an example of how to deal with a heckler (or maybe how not to?). With the arrival of YouTube, the video (shown below) became much easier to find.
By then, Moore had disappeared.
WGN-TV in Chicago recently hunted him down and got the story behind the now 25-year-old episode. As they found out, the incident was difficult for Moore, but also transformative.
“The guy wasn’t really a traditional heckler,” Moore tells the WGN crew. “They usually yell out stuff in the spaces between the bits. But this guy, he was kinda quiet, and he was steppin’ on my lines.”
“I just kept gettin’ madder and madder.”
Moore recalls the date as January of 1989 or 1990. Unfortunately, the anchors don’t ask him where the incident occurred. Though his comments on the tape suggest the show was in Oklahoma, some online commentators place it at Jodie’s Comedy Shop in Bossier City, Louisiana.
After the altercation, Moore was arrested and spent the weekend in jail. “When the smoke cleared, I was down about five thousand bucks,” he tells WGN. “So, a massive case of anger mismanagement.”
Moore says the incident served notice on him to do something about the stress from his military service. “I did a tour in the Rangers in Vietnam, so I had some problems,” he says. “And that was kind of a wake-up call for me. It wasn’t long after that that I checked into my local VA clinic. I urge all the veterans out there that are having anger issues to do the same.”
These days, Moore spends his time off the road. “I’m doing some writing,” he says. “Got a little cabin out in the country. Gettin’ along.”
He also used his time on WGN to make amends.
“I’d like to publicly apologize to the guy,” he said. “Thank you for the opportunity.”
Now if someone can just find the heckler.
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Christopher Scapelliti is editor-in-chief of Guitar Player magazine, the world’s longest-running guitar magazine, founded in 1967. In his extensive career, he has authored in-depth interviews with such guitarists as Pete Townshend, Slash, Billy Corgan, Jack White, Elvis Costello and Todd Rundgren, and audio professionals including Beatles engineers Geoff Emerick and Ken Scott. He is the co-author of Guitar Aficionado: The Collections: The Most Famous, Rare, and Valuable Guitars in the World, a founding editor of Guitar Aficionado magazine, and a former editor with Guitar World, Guitar for the Practicing Musician and Maximum Guitar. Apart from guitars, he maintains a collection of more than 30 vintage analog synthesizers.