In his last month as a Cambridge resident and fixture on the local comedy scene, Zach Sherwin’s appearances have become victory laps for himself and valedictories by those who will miss him.
“It’s so sad, so sad that Boston has to lose such a super talent to let him reach the breadth of success he deserves,” Mehran Keghani said amid penis jokes at Tuesday’s Rob Crean Show, followed by Lucas Lewis’ memories of the time in Detroit when, at the factory where they worked, the lunch truck pulled up and Sherwin had to engage in a rap battle with Xzibit.
Crean reminded Lewis that was a scene from “8 Mile.”
But, hey, it’s an easy mistake to make. Sherwin also goes by the name MC Mr. Napkins and is Cambridge’s premier, if only, funny white rapper. (To help distinguish Sherwin from Eminem, Mehran refers to him as “a great man with an afro.”) He’s hardworking, skilled, relentlessly cheerful and high-energy even faced with the most lackluster of audiences and extremely affable — probably the nicest man on the local comedy scene.
And at the end of the month he’s moving to Los Angeles.
Stardom may or may not be there. All that awaits him is an apartment offer in Highland Park, a network of fellow New England comedian émigrés he calls a “Cambridgesque underbelly” and the management team who recruited him in July after a performance at the Montreal Just for Laughs comedy festival.
“I’m not going out there for a girlfriend, I’m not going out there for family, I’m moving out there because I’m excited to be working with these guys,” he said Tuesday before taking the stage. “All I’m leaving behind in Boston is a great comedy scene and fantastic friends. But I’m a little restless and want to see what these guys can do.”
It’s possible they can do quite a bit; also on the New Wave Entertainment talent roster is Dane Cook and dozens of other top-flight comics, actors, directors and producers — good signs for Sherwin’s quest to get some television credits and market his new album.
Produced with Lynn’s Dan Fox, between 10 and 16 tracks will be recorded before the move and, with lengthy legal negotiation settled, ready for release next year. Tracks should include four of Sherwin’s top five favorite songs — “Sphygmomanometer,” “Street Cred,” “Aggressive Bee” and “Irrevocability” (also known as “Spelling Bee”) — while a remaining favorite, “Plush Pig,” retains a visual element impossible to capture on an mp3. (Namely a look at the eponymous benippled plush pig, Sherwin’s strangest childhood toy.)
Sherwin, a Cleveland native and Springfield, Mo., resident who “fled to the coast as soon as it was possible,” had been writing raps since 1999 without comedy in mind, although “even my serious raps were never so serious. I don’t rap about serious topics. I did fall back on the default move of hip-hop, which is talking about how great you are as a rapper, always with a slight wink.”
But no one raps about what MC Mr. Napkins raps about. The work is astonishingly clever, matching the wordplay of the best traditional rappers and incorporating the exuberance of Weird Al and precision of Tom Lehrer. But it’s a pretty sure bet there aren’t other comedians or rappers with such topics, researching “State Mottoes” or drilling down quite so deep into the specifics of the “Sphygmomanometer”:
So if you want to measure / your blood pressure / everybody knows what tool you use / it’s that thing with the cuff for your arm and the bulb on the end that’s attached with a tube / But what do call it, a blood-pressure cuff? / Turns out that name wasn’t long enough / The technical term for one of those blood-pressure monitors / is a Sphygmomanometer / … It’s a big ol’ moniker / for the Sphygmomanometer / So drop that needle like a conifer / for the Sphygmomanometer / Check it — for a hip-hop jam to be complete you need a rap and you need a beat / so the fact that you wrap that cuff around the arm / plus the beat of your heart / means party people move your feet!
Sherwin was touring colleges with a troupe of fellow Brandeis-graduate comics when a show ran a little short. Sherwin stepped in with a rap. In 2007, when Myq Kaplan, Josh Gondelman and Dan Hirshon — astonishingly, fellow Brandeis-graduate comics who were not in the troupe — guested with the troupe, Kaplan saw the rap and suggested Sherwin follow it up with more of the same at an open mic.
“They are ingenious, in, genius, hilarious ill arias,” Kaplan said Wednesday from New York. “He’s brilliant and super funny, and deserving of everything that he deserves to get — and is on his way to getting, in my estimation.”
Sherwin was soon splitting time between living in Northampton and comedy gigs in Cambridge. It was in June 2008 that he finally moved to Central Square, making it easier to rack up serious hours as a comic, as a regular on the Rob Crean Show, at the Comedy Sleepover in Central Square and as a host Thursdays at the Comedy Studio in Harvard Square.
Well, not so finally, obviously. He has 11 performances left on the East Coast before moving, including tonight’s set (meaning time) at the Naked Comedy Showcase at Oberon, 2 Arrow St., Harvard Square, at 10:30 p.m., and a full hour at Club Passim, also in Harvard Square, on Dec. 26.
“I love Cambridge, but I sort of want to strike while the iron is hot with the new managers,” Sherwin said. “And I have a general affinity for shaking things up when I’m feeling too settled.”