Two Sharp Morons
No, it is not an oxymoron to call The Moron Brothers of Jessamine County sharp. They are hilarious pitching old and original jokes simultaneously as they pick and cruise on a houseboat shanty
Two morons are getting ready to go to the library in Lexington.
It sounds like the set-up for a joke (“They asked me if I wanted a card and I said, ‘Fine, I’ll take the ace of spades.’”). But it’s just another Wednesday in Jessamine County for Mike Carr and Mike Hammonds, a.k.a. Lardo and Burley, The Moron Brothers, central Kentucky’s comic bluegrass duo, famous for such songs as If My Nose Was Running Money, Honey, I’ll Blow It All on You. On this particular day, they were taking a moment to talk on the telephone before heading to play in the Lexington public library’s new theater.
“Burley’s kind of excited,” says Lardo. “He ain’t never been in a library before.”
The two Jessamine County residents have been playing and joking together for 17 years, producing five albums and a DVD, and slowly rising in the bluegrass industry.
It ain’t no act
Dean Osborne—a bluegrass performer and director of the Kentucky School of Bluegrass and Traditional Music at Hazard Community and Technical College—booked their first gig and continues to work with them. He points to the many festivals the Morons play and says, “They have a connection with the audience that is beyond anything I’ve ever seen. They have a way of bringing everybody into their circle of humor.”
“We have a gimmick—we’re stupid,” says Burley, who plays guitar. “It ain’t no act. It just come natural. We can’t pick or sing that well, so we had to come up with something else to fill in the gap.”
He’s too modest about their instrumental ability (not to mention their intellects)—while they’re not the kind of blazing bluegrass whizzes who have audience members focusing on their fingers, they play with an easy-flowing confidence that makes an instrumental of theirs a shady spot to rest awhile. Carr’s wife, Jeannie, says there’s only one instrument her husband can’t play—the accordion.
But it is fair to say that it’s the humor that makes the act. One of their frequent bits is to claim that despite their different appearances, they are twins:
Lardo: The first time Daddy seen us laying there, little babies, he told Momma, he said, “You might oughta think about drowning that ugly one.” That’s how come he learned to swim ’fore I did.
Burley: I told him learnin’ to swim wasn’t too tough. Gettin’ out of that burlap bag was the trick.
Nothing they say is funnier than their apparent willingness to tell any joke, no matter how obvious or old. (Although many of their jokes could be freshly minted for all I know—they just sound old as the hills.)
Lardo is the talker, setting up the stories and running the show. He also plays banjo and harmonica. Burley is the secret weapon, coming in with impeccably slow, good-old boy timing—as he talks, you can almost see a hound dog snoozing underneath his chair.
In our phone interview, it’s much the same. The 59-year-old Carr (Lardo) forthrightly introduces himself as a retired Lexington firefighter who lives near the Kentucky River Palisades in the town of Brooklyn (not to be confused with the Brooklyn in Butler County). Hammonds (Burley), 61, gives his residence as “Jessamine County Jail” (it’s actually Nicholasville) and identifies himself as a “retired secret agent for the federal government.” I ask him if there’s any truth in that and he says “Some,” but cuts off Lardo from giving the actual details.
Two dopes and a boat
Lardo has a shanty boat on the Kentucky River that is a floating tar-paper-and-tin shack, which Carr says he built out of “a fell-down barn and used materials.” It’s got a couple of beds, a stove, and a self-contained “indoor outhouse.” It doesn’t have a motor—it moves on the water by being pushed by a motorboat “like a barge.” This slips it past licensing laws.
It’s so rough, you can imagine Huckleberry Finn’s Pap looking at it and saying, “Well, it’ll do until we can get a nicer place.”
But it just might be the Morons’ equivalent of Jed Clampett’s lucky oil-striking shot. KET’s Kentucky Afield filmed it for a 2005 show and put it on YouTube. It won two regional Emmys in 2006 for Tim Farmer in the Human Interest category and Scott Moore for Photography. As of this writing, it’s had upward of 973,000 views.
And it may have helped the Morons draw the attention of Fremantle Media, producer of such shows as American Idol, America’s Got Talent, and The Price Is Right. Carr and Hammonds signed a contract with Fremantle last fall to produce a reality show on The Moron Brothers, although production has yet to start.
The two of them met in 1994. Carr was working at Lexington Fire Station #5, located near the University of Kentucky campus at the corner of Maxwell Street and Woodland Avenue.
Carr, a banjo player, and some other firefighters started playing outside the station one night. Before long, “a mob of people” started showing up for jam sessions every third night (Carr’s schedule at the station).
A friend of Hammonds’ dragged him there. Carr was impressed with Hammonds’ Merle Travis-style guitar picking, and as they talked they learned that they’d both grown up in Nicholasville, attended Jessamine County High School a year apart, and had many of the same friends, yet they’d never met. But they liked playing together and appreciated the songs each other wrote.
Osborne heard them play and offered them a gig at a 1995 festival at Lexington’s Red Mile racetrack. After their set, they came offstage and sat in the audience next to their wives, and someone on the other side of the wives said, “Did you see them two morons that was up there a while ago?”
They’ve been Morons ever since.
YOU'RE INVITED TO MORONFEST
They are hosting their own The Moron Brothers’ Country Comedy Festival on September 1 at The Forum in Hazard as part of the Greater Hazard Area Performing Arts Series. Guests will include Grand Ole Opry and Hee Haw regular Mike Snider, who’s recorded the Morons’ If My Nose Was Running Money, Honey, and Dean Osborne, who is also the festival’s producer. For more information, call (606) 672-4721.
MORON BROTHERS ALIVE
The Moron Brothers’ Web site is www.themoronbrothers.com. While their Web site includes the shanty boat video, it can be seen in highest quality on Kentucky Afield’s YouTube channel (go to www.youtube.com/user/KYAfield#p/u and in the Search Channel box at right, type in “Moron” to locate the video).
There’s also a nice collection of The Moron Brothers clips at http://wn.com/The_Moron_Brothers (although be forewarned: not all of them are of The Moron Brothers).