Mojo with brains

the doo wops, Urban Apollo and host Laurie Elliott at the Rivoli (332 Queen West), tonight (Thursday, May 16) at.

the doo wops, Urban Apollo and host Laurie Elliott at the Rivoli (332 Queen West), tonight (Thursday, May 16) at 9 pm. $10, including CD $15. 416-596-1908. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNN

If, like me, you’re made slightly nauseous by the sight of a guitar on a comedy stage — Oh no, cute song alert! — the Doo Wops should erase any bad singing-comic memories. Italian Canadians John Catucci and Dave Mesiano cleverly mix song and satire to send up ethnic stereotypes, pop culture and the sexual divide. There’s no one else remotely like them.

Their recent headlining gig this past weekend at Tom Foolery’s was solid — a verdict confirmed by their debut CD, to be released tonight at a live Rivoli gig.

On the scene now for about four years — last year they won the Just for Laughs competition — the pair have polished their onstage personas carefully.

Catucci, the louder and bigger clown, prone to wide physical gestures, nicely complements Mesiano’s more compact but no less disciplined straight guy who strums the guitar.

It’s not just their ethnicity and musical chops (these guys can actually sing) that set them apart from other acts. Their material feels honest, sometimes painfully so.

Details about Italian life in Toronto — from car styles and favourite songs to fashions and dating habits — feel as fresh as a new Sopranos episode.

The pair often take on the personas of outsiders, whether it’s a stalker singing to his victim from a jail cell or a frustrated 14-year-old dealing with his raging hormones.

Their now classic fuck-you-for-dumping-me song, I Never Liked, is funny because the pain feels real, the details in the lyrics angrily specific and the bitterness sweetened by smooth, ironic harmonies.

This is guy’s guy humour, Mojo stuff, but it’s done with intelligence — look how cleverly the jokes are folded into the lyrics. And the material is never needlessly crude. Good Catholic boys, they’re as surprised as anyone else by the occasional blue line that comes out of their mouths.

Half their set — and half the CD — is devoted to their Latino alter egos Pepe Sanchez and Jose Louis Riviera, two native Argentinians who cover rock songs and lullabies with over-the-top Gipsy Kings embellishments.

Catucci especially shines as Pepe, hacking through every throaty Latino singer cliche, his voice cascading up and down.

The musical parodies and accents are dead on, and the clash of cultures with a bit of politics is clever. But these bits lack a proper set-up — surprising, because Catucci and Mesiano are fond of making up fake and funny stories to introduce songs.

Pepe and Jose come out of nowhere. All they need is a convincing back story to make them as good as the rest of the Doo Wops’ A-list material. glenns@nowtoronto.comcomedy review

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