Chuck Booms says the high point of his 10 years in stand-up comedy came in his hometown of Cleveland, when he ripped into a club patron whose coif and apparel he deemed worthy of abuse.
“This poor guy was sitting in front of the stage, and he had absolutely the worst hair I’d ever seen, all puffed out,” Booms recalls. “So I say something like, ‘Hey, Neil Diamond’s here! Hey Neil, don’t you have to get those clothes back to the Bob’s Big Boy, so they can put ’em back on the statue?’ Stuff like that.”
Booms’ barrage chased his target from the club, as the crowd roared. But at the end of his set, Booms found the owner waiting in the wings, ready to lower a boom of his ownright at the funny man. Turns out that the customer having the really bad hair night was a special guest of the house. Yeah, the Neil Diamond.
Even after learning he’d offended an icon, Booms refused to show contrition.
“Listen, I love Neil Diamond,” Booms says. “But if you just saw this guy’s hair…”
Simply put, Booms has made a career out of speaking his mind, and if anybody takes offense, screw ’em. Booms’ offensive will hit the D.C. sports scene come the new year. On Jan. 5, he takes over Tony Kornheiser’s afternoon drive-time slot on WTEM (570 AM).
Booms, a self-described sports junkie, has never had a full-time radio gig in this town, except, well, on television: First, he landed a recurring role as a D.C. shock jock on The Monroes, a short-lived ABC drama series based too loosely on the Kennedys. He also played a talk show host during one segment of Comics on Delivery, a short-lived program (not that there’s a pattern here) he conceived of and emceed for Comedy Central in which stand-up comics would go on location to solve listeners’ problems. A Washington woman wrote to Comics on Delivery and asked to be taught how to be a talk show host, so Booms flew here and brought her to the WTEM studios to tape the spot. That skit put him on the station’s radar.
“Chuck was only in our studios for three hours when he did his Comedy Central piece,” says Lewis Schreck, WTEM’s vice president and general manager, “but when he left we were saying, ‘Hey, we really need to find a way to bring this guy back.’”
When Kornheiser went on vacation in August, the WTEM brass brought Booms in as the temp replacement, and he brought down the house. In Booms’ first shift on local air, he ripped into even the most loyal Kornheiser toadies as if they were so many Neil Diamonds.
Booms’ brightest moments came in brutalizing caller Ronald “Lt. Ronnie” Foy, a D.C. cop and serial proselytizer who didn’t like the new guy’s criticism of Allen Iverson (who had just been arrested for speed, weed, and weapons). Booms put Foy through an over-the-airwaves undressing so complete that the caller drove to the WTEM studios to confront his undresser in the flesh. (Foy held the rank of lieutenant within the Metropolitan Police Department until he was demoted as part of a sordid sexual-harassment lawsuit filed by two female underlings that was settled in January. Even after the demotion, Foy continued going on-air during the Kornheiser show as “Lt. Ronnie.” Foy’s title inflation became an issue for the first time during Booms’ guest stint, and although he still seems to call the station every few hours, now-Sgt. Foy has finally revised his radio handle to just plain “Ronnie.”)
“Luckily for me, when the guy got to the station, somebody at the front desk took away his firearm,” Booms chuckles.
Momentum from the Foy encounter kept WTEM’s phones burning all week and convinced station management that it had hooked a keeper. All the station had to do was get him on board.
“Chuck knocked us on our ears right away,” says Schreck. “He showed us that he’s funny and that he knows more about sports than anybody I know. We decided we really wanted him.”
Thinking Booms might be ready to pinch-hit, the struggling sports station gladly allowed Kornheiser to go on a permanent vacation; it could ring in its habitual 1.0 Arbitron rating with him on the payroll or without him. Kornheiser took his show over to ESPN radio, and beginning Jan. 5, a syndicated version will air locally onsmall worldWTEM from 1-4 p.m. weekdays. Schreck then offered Booms a deal that gives him one year to shake up Washington radio, and Booms accepted.
“My job is to get people telling their friends everything they just heard a half-hour after I go off the air each night,” Booms says.
To get that done, Booms promises not to play by the traditional D.C. media rule that says news providers should serve as nothing more than apologists and boosters for area teams. Booms grew up in Cleveland, where being a fan doesn’t mean always being a cheerleader, so don’t look for him to sniff any undeserving jocks. He’s ready to tip D.C.’s most sacred cows.
Such asoh, yes!Norv Turner. “I don’t need to live in D.C. to know a few things about Norv Turner,” Booms says. “I know he’s a terrible coach. I know that in that last Giants game the lack of preparation was frightening. How do you get a team that calm before the biggest game of the year? Norv must have encouraged all his guys to masturbate and have some coffee and donuts in the locker room, just to make sure everybody was good and relaxed at kickoff time. He’s awful.”
And the Wizards.
“That fight Rod Strickland had [with teammate Tracy Murray] says it all: There’s no way the Wizards will ever win with Strickland. That guy is a punk and a loser,” he rails. “What underachievers this team has! The way [Chris] Webber and [Juwan] Howard just casually jog up and down the court when they want to, it’s sad. What this team needs is a few weeks of ‘Camp P.J.’ Somebody’s got to get on ’em.”
And, believe it or not, the MCI Center (which, as if it matters, Booms has yet to visit).
“I hate the way new arenas are lit up,” he says. “I want to go to a game, not a tanning salon. I want it like Madison Square Garden, where only the court’s lit. What good is it to be able to see the fat guy in the top row eating his popcorn? I’m gonna rag on the MCI Center ’til they turn the lights down.”
Between vitriol lettings, Booms promises to adorn his show with a host of strippers and politicos, to croon Barry Manilow tunes without irony, and to ruthlessly hound Art and David Modell, the patron satans of Cleveland, who are now hiding out up Rte. 295. Of course, since Booms is an outsider, he’s unaware that WTEM’s piddly signal only reaches downtown D.C. when Jupiter is aligned with Mars and the sunspots are just so; forget Baltimore. But even if Booms knew that Charm City was out of his area of influence, he’d probably still take his potshots at the Modells. As any stand-up comic knows, on any given evening you never can tell who’s in the audience…Dave McKenna