Armed with two beers worth of courage,
a notebook and pen, I entered Freddy’s Bar & Backroom in
Prospect Heights on a recent Wednesday evening.
I’m here to be entertained. I’m considering becoming an
Mostly, I am going to watch some Brooklynites vie for a very
special prize: 48 ounces of 97 percent fat-free pork with added
gelatin and natural juices, valued at $2.99 a pound. A Krakus
brand, canned Polish ham, to be precise.
The "Karaoke Big Ass Ham" contest is staged at Freddy’s
on the third Wednesday of every month. "Are you a ham?"
is the main question the contest asks of its participants, each
of whom responds by singing horrendously, loudly, hammily – and
often repeatedly – songs from a list of nearly 200 by all the
karaoke-friendly artists you’d expect: Elvis Presley, The Beatles,
Don McLean, Bee Gees, Queen and Diana Ross.
The hammiest performance wins the canned meat, awarded by the
KBAH Master of Ceremonies, the charming Bill Carney. The karaoke
contest takes place in Freddy’s backroom, in front of about 10
"This is the alternative to sliced, spiral ham," Carney
says of the prize as I pore over the playlist for that perfect
ham-winning song. "I think the spirals are not all they’re
cracked up to be. This ham is straightforward. You cut and you
I was soon to discover that KBAH regulars are liable to go to
great lengths to win this cholesterol-rich prize.
"I want that ham," demands one contestant as
she poses with her back to the 20-person crowd, awaiting her
cue to spin around dramatically and begin: "At first I was
afraid, I was petrified . . ."
Tony Limuaco, the technician who sets up the speakers and microphones
and provides the free karaoke MP3s from his laptop, explains
the Krakus ham’s allure.
"Krakus is a delicacy," Limuaco says. "I grew
up on Guam, and around holidays, the American military would
give away free Krakus hams to the locals. Oh, Krakus was fancy
– much better than Hormel."
Carney agrees, explaining that the prize is "delicious"
when washed (washed!?) and cooked with orange juice, honey,
maple syrup and cloves, as one previous KBAH winner prepared
Carney kicks off the evening, buttering his voice to make it
sound like Presley’s in "Suspicious Minds": "Caught
in a trap/I can’t walk out/Because I love you too much baby."
His performance is saucy; you’d never guess that Carney, by day,
is an attorney for the Legal Aid Society.
The criteria for winning KBAH, as Carney lays them out, are a
"There are a few options," Carney explains. "Number
one: You channel the song’s original artist. Number two: You
give a personal, interpretive performance. Number three: Your
performance is very stylish. Whoever is number one in that entire
spectrum," he says, waving a hand emphatically, "wins.
It’s all equally valid, artistically."
The first contestant, Pat O’Shea – stage name Peter Granite –
approaches the microphones with a strut. O’Shea, also of Prospect
Heights, is a regular at KBAH and is a standup comedian by trade.
The first thing I notice about him are the massive chops – sans
mustache – on the side of his face. They’re bushy and impressive,
and little do I know, they’re a sign of the follicles to come.
But then I notice O’Shea’s socked feet on the backroom’s linoleum
"That’s funny – he’s forgotten his shoes," I think,
but by then, Mountain’s "Mississippi Queen" has started,
and I’m thinking, "Oh my God, he’s taking off his shirt."
As O’Shea’s abundant torso writhes to the music, his body spinning
around, I wonder which is hairier: his chest or his back? Then,
off come his soiled, white socks, flying though the air, one
sticking precariously to the ceiling fan.
"Way down around Vicksburg/Around Louisiana way/Lived a
Cajun lady/Called the Mississippi Queen."
He’s unzipping his fly.
"You know she was a dancer/She moved better on wine."
How much wine has he had?
He’s doing it. The crowd hysterical, O’Shea whips off his pants,
and there he is, performing absolutely jubilantly in his baggy,
As the song ends, we give ecstatic applause, and there’s an awkward
moment while O’Shea gathers his clothing from high and low and
scampers, still clad in his tighty-whiteys, offstage to get dressed
in his seat.
"This kind of thing usually doesn’t happen until 11 or 11:30,"
Carney observes. "That’s the disadvantage of starting the
It’s a tough act to follow, but valiant KBAH regular Josh Reynolds
gets up and does an energetic rendition of the Coasters’ "Yakety
Yak." Up next, there’s newcomer Chad Casey of Park Slope.
Casey has kind of a tough-guy look about him. When his friend
Mikey Palms describes him as one of Park Slope’s "old gangstas,"
although I don’t know exactly what he means, the description
seems apt. In short, Casey is the last person one would imagine
singing at all, much less singing Presley’s "I Can’t Help
Falling in Love," which is just what he proceeds to do.
Smiling charmingly with his arms gesturing about, Casey’s performance
builds from singing to talk-singing to shout-singing to howl-singing.
His face red, he is very happy.
"Karaoke’s like a natural high," Casey says. "I
never did it before tonight, but tonight I was drunk, so I thought,
’What the hell?’
"You should do it," Casey tells me. "You say you
don’t want to, but I know that deep down you want to."
Casey’s right: I want to. I scan the list again for songs I know.
The Bangles’ "Eternal Flame"?
Heather McCabe, another regular who happens to sing in New York
City’s oldest choir, St. George’s Choral Society, performs Doris
Day’s "Que Sera Sera" and Alicia Bridges’ "I Love
the Nightlife," and Ellen O’Shea – Pat’s wife – does Joan
Jett’s "I Love Rock ’n’ Roll," condensing the foot-stomping,
hip-swinging and eye-narrowing, as most of us would, into the
"me, yeah, me" parts.
Stephanie Wissinger, a regular who has performed under such stage
names as Surly Temple, Ivana Winna Ham and Ana Monopea, sings
Men Without Hats’ "Safety Dance." It’s ambitious because
it’s a "spelling bee and karaoke combined," she says:
"S-s-s-s A-a-a-a F-f-f-f E-e-e-e T-t-t-t Y-y-y-y/Safe, dance!"
The night is plagued by minor technical difficulties, mainly
affecting the duet singers because of a troubling microphone
discrepancy – one mic is piercingly loud and the other is inaudible.
McCabe and Reynolds, in particular, sing Cher’s "If I Could
Turn Back Time," all the while struggling over the good
In a later duet, O’Shea and Wissinger avert the problem by cozily
sharing one mic during "California Dreamin.’ "
Then there were two
Pat O’Shea returns with a nerdy "Whip It" by Devo,
marching around and again baring his hairy chest, at the end
proclaiming: "That song was for everyone who didn’t get
laid until they were 22."
Gangsta Casey, evidently, wants that ham, too, as he revisits
the stage with the Monkees’ "Daydream Believer." Although
he sings earnestly, the lyrics, presumably blurry on the sheet
he’s holding, escape him, and he becomes aggravated.
"Eaaggh!" says Casey, veins popping from his neck,
frustrated as he misses another cue. "I love this song!"
I begin to think Casey should get the ham for the humor and drama
of his passion.
O’Shea, now Casey’s arch rival, returns with "Crimson and
Clover," impressively simulating the underwater effect at
the end: "Crimson and Clover/Over and Over."
Casey approaches me again.
"If you’re in the crowd, you’re almost expected to sing,"
he says. "Either you’re with us or you’re not. So do your
I want to be with them.
I decide: CCR’s "Bad Moon Risin.’ " Short and easy.
But it’s too late.
It’s time to give away the prize; I’ve missed my chance.
"Who’s the ham now?" I think.
"Tonight, the ham goes to the hairiest performer of the
evening, Pat O’Shea, a.k.a. Peter Granite!"
"All I had to do was strip twice," O’Shea says appreciatively,
accepting his reward.
There is much applause from the audience, and, as the noise dies
down, someone shouts, "Don’t get too much hair on the ham!"
The "Karaoke Big Ass Ham"
contest is held at Freddy’s Bar & Backroom (485 Dean St.
at Sixth Avenue in Prospect Heights) on the third Wednesday of
each month. For more information, call (718) 622-7035 or visit
To learn about other special events at Freddy’s, see Brooklyn