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BRIAN MCKIM has performed standup comedy in all 50 states. He earned a B.A. in Magazine Journalism from Temple University. Any resemblance to a living person is purely coincidental.


Brian McKim
Editor In Chief

"A Little Off The Top"

Standup comics do a lot of things backwards. This is not necessarily a bad thing. For instance, we're on the road so much that the last thing we want to do, when we're home, is shop. This is because the time we spend in our home or apartment is so precious, we don't want to waste it doing such mundane things as shopping for underwear or shoes or whatnot. The solution is to do these things when we're on the road. It makes perfect sense!

This might only be the veteran comic's way of doing things. When a comic first starts traveling, he tries to experience all that the road might have to offer. But, after visiting such places as Ft. Wayne, IN, for the fourth time, it's very likely that he's already gone through the Cutlery Museum or the Hall of Aquatic Greatness. And it's often just too cold to kill an afternoon at Six Flags Over Spokane or the Toledo Municipal Zoo. So practicality rules, and the road is seen as an opportunity to do all the things you don't relish doing while you're home.

It is for this very reason that I try to get my hair cut on the road. I don't go to the chains, though. That would be too easy. I seek out the barber shops.

I got stupid for a while back in the mid-70's and had my hair "styled" a few times. I eventually came to my senses, however, and vowed that I would never patronize any establishment that had the word "style," "coiffure" or "unisex" in the window. This leaves only the barber shop. The barber shop is an endangered beast. The hair revolution of the 70's all but killed them, especially near the big cities. They still exist. You just gotta know where to look.

I seek out the familiar rotating, striped barber pole and size up the shop from the outside. If it looks like a no-frills joint with two or three chairs and an assortment of manly magazines (nothing lewd, just manly) to peruse while waiting, I know I've got myself a live one.

The prices are usually low and they're often posted prominently on the wall. If you hit them on a weekday, there's usually little or no wait. There's almost always a clock radio playing music, news or talk. I don't like it when there's a television. Daytime television is annoying. Besides, who wants to have his hair cut by a barber who's distracted by something visual? Pay attention to the sharp objects poised just above my scalp, please!

I've gotten my hair cut in half the states in the union. Risky? You bet. But no less risky than getting your hair cut in South Jersey. And the unexpected benefits are legion. You just gotta know where to look.

I was in Mobile, AL, on one of my first lengthy road trips, working for the Punchlines. I pulled out the Yellow Pages and determined that there was a real barber shop close buy, within a 10- or 15-minute walk. I could tell it was a real barber shop because it didn't have a cute, inexplicable pun of a name like "Hair's To You," or "Hair A Dashery" or "Hare Design." (All three of which are actual beauty salon names in my local directory!) It is best to seek out only those barber shops that go by a simple first name. "Tony's" is good, "Joe's" is good also. I found "Floyd's." I am not making it up.

There was nothing remarkable about Floyd's and that's just the way I like it. Floyd was business-like and just as southern as the gobs of Spanish moss that hung from Mobile's oaks. He didn't ask too many questions. I noticed halfway through my cut that he kept his handgun in a leather holster just behind the clock radio. I could see it because the clock radio was just in front of the mirror. I think that was Floyd's way of hiding his piece without really hiding it, if you catch my drift.

I once landed in Minneapolis for a weeklong engagement sporting a haircut that was just about a week past due for a trim. While roaming around downtown, I wandered into the Grain Exchange building and gaped at the commodities traders for a little while. I noticed that there was a barber doing business in the ground floor, so I popped my head in and found a classic shop there, manned by one of the nicest fellows ever to wield a set of clippers. I didn't catch his name. He was a farmer most of the year. And a beekeeper.

Normally, the cutter asks all the questions and the cuttee has to reveal his life's story. But I couldn't resist. I had to know about bees! How often have you driven by those stacks of boxes out in the fields and wondered exactly how they work? I was full of questions and here was the man who would finally answer them all. I found out that some folks actually seal up their bees for the winter and send them south! (Consumer alert: Always try to watch your barber in the mirror as he tells you fantastic stories or interesting factoids. Try to determine if he's suppressing a giggle. Some barbers aren't above filling a naive customer with some of the most ridiculous falsehoods and sending him out into the world to make a fool of himself!)

I spotted a barber shop just off the town square of a small town in Massachusetts, not far from Boston. Just before taking my seat, I declared to the pair of barbers who owned the joint that, before the cutting was to begin, I had to use the men's room. They looked at each other, looked at me, then one of them directed me to a room in the rear that contained a sink. Just a sink. A giant, industrial-type sink. "Go ahead!" he says to me. "Where do you think we piss?!" Now you know why I didn't definitively identify the small town in Massachusetts. Not much of a men's room, but a great haircut!

I've gotten great cuts in Chicopee, MA, Pendleton, OR, Aberdeen, SD, Montreal (All the signs were in French and the barbers spoke only Italian!) and Ft. Lauderdale, FL. Travel is interesting if you hit all the tourist hot spots. It can also be rewarding if you merely behave like a local. And make sure you hit the road with too much hair. HOME Back to the Top