If you can’t find something fun to do on a Chicago weekend, then you’re an idiot.
So says Mancow Muller, the popular, outspoken morning drive radio personality at WRCX-FM (103.5). For the uninitiated, Muller, 30, is a man who doesn’t weather boredom well either on his radio show or his live rock ‘n’ roll extravaganzas. For instance, at his “Hell-O-Ween Spectacular” last month at the United Center, his sideshow included dozens of lap dancers who took their acts to audience members. Then there was the little matter of feeding time for the 600-pound snake and a little donkey named Danny, but we won’t go there for a bit.
So it was with curiosity that the Sun-Times set out to chronicle a typical night out with the popular shock jock.
Here’s what we found: An evening on the town for Muller is a little different than for, say, you. On a good night, you might run into a handful of people who know/care who you are. Muller doesn’t enjoy that kind of anonymity. Besides his syndicated “Mancow’s Morning Madhouse,” which can be heard here from 6 to 10 a.m. weekdays on Rock 103.5, he has made numerous appearances on such shows as “Late Night with David Letterman,” “Extra,” “The Jerry Springer Show,” “A Current Affair” and “Entertainment Tonight.”
Muller, who was born and raised in Kansas City, Mo., has only been in Chicago since 1994, but everyone seems to know who he is. And they’re not shy about approaching him, regardless of whether he’s having dinner, walking down the street, standing in line at the movies or doing his business at the urinal.
He wouldn’t have it any other way.
“My dad suffered all his life in a job he hated,” Muller says. “I consider my job a blessing. A trained chimp could do what I do, and I get paid well for it.
“You have to keep things in perspective. Someone told me the other day that my show was better than (Michael Flatley’s) `Lord of the Dance.’ I didn’t know how to take that.”
During the week, Muller starts his days at 2:30 a.m. with a nutritious shake. So he enjoys taking things slightly slower over the weekend. He spends most of Sunday catching up on his sleep. But Saturdays are free-for-alls.
On a recent Saturday, the Sun-Times tagged along with Muller as he and a group of pals went on the town. The day started off around noon at his downtown apartment, which is crammed with an eclectic array of collectibles, such as a full-size replica of the robot from “Lost in Space” and one of the prop bombs from “Lethal Weapon 3,” as well as Gerald Ford’s autographed high school football helmet.
Pushing the “ick” factor, Muller also has Charles Manson’s prison induction papers, which he obtained from a California prison guard by trading a pair of Prince concert tickets. He also has a brick from serial killer John Wayne Gacy’s crawl space.
“I’m being pushed out of these rooms,” he says. “I’m stacking (collectibles) on top of each other.”
Then it was time for a quick workout with his personal trainer, Billy Glegoroff. Most people look heavier on film, and Muller claims he appears at least “20 or 30″ pounds fatter in pictures. In person, though, he’s in pretty good shape.
“I enjoy working out,” Muller says. “It offsets some of my bad habits.”
Such as . . . a trip to Mr. Beef’s Deli (666 N. Orleans, 312-337-8500)?
“Mr. Beef’s is my favorite restaurant in the city,” he says. “I eat there as often as I can. The food is great and the people are really wonderful.”
If there’s anything Muller enjoys as much as Mr. Beef’s, it’s movies. His pick for Best Picture so far this year is “Boogie Nights.”
“I love going to the movies,” he says. “I never get tired of them. `Red Corner’ is one that I still want to see. But I’ll go see just about anything.”
He proves his point by hitting two movies that day – one in the afternoon and another in the evening.
Mancow fans know that he had a cameo appearance in Keanu Reeves’ film “Chain Reaction,” which was shot here. But the general public doesn’t realize that Muller played the role of thespian long before he became a staple on Chicago radio.
Back in the days when he went by his given name, Erich Muller, he graduated from child model to actor. Muller appeared in numerous stage productions, including “On Golden Pond” and “The Crucible,” and the radio personality says he would like to star in a sitcom in the near future, perhaps with his good buddy Chris Farley.
On this particular day, Muller and his friends head over to the Esquire (58 E. Oak, 312-280-0101) to check out “Devil’s Advocate,” starring Al Pacino and Reeves. It doesn’t quite live up to his expectations.
“It was mediocre, but fun,” he assesses. “I loved the bits when Pacino was overacting, though. He’s the best over-actor in the business.”
Muller imitates Pacino’ scene-stealing, “Hoo wah!” outbursts from “Scent of a Woman” and keeps his pals in stitches.
From there, it’s off to dinner at Magnum’s (225 W. Ontario, 312-337-8080). Muller is led to a corner booth in the back – his usual. With him are some of his closest friends, three of whom are celebrating their birthdays: Gooey Dewey Gosnell, Angie Congine (a.k.a. Phone Girl and a producer of Mancow’s show) and John Calkins. Non-birthday boy Bill Hainsworth, who does sports on his show, also is along for the fete.
A waitress brings over a platter of raw cuts of meat to show off the evening’s specials. Muller is familiar with them all and orders a seafood/steak combo.
Sharing a meal with Mancow is an experience. You can barely swallow a bite of food before a waitron, manager or restaurateur comes over to see if everything is OK. This happens at least two dozen times between the time appetizers and dessert are served.
“If you were here by yourself, they’d ask you if everything was OK and leave you alone,” Mancow says, not unkindly. “This happens to me everywhere. They’re afraid I’m going to talk about them on the radio. Because I have.”
Dinner conversation ranges from the elusive book he’s writing with Calkins to him quitting radio next year to become a priest to the fate of a small donkey named Danny, which was supposed to have been eaten by a 600-pound snake during his recent “Hell-O-Ween Spectacular.”
“The snake ate him after the show,” Muller says. Looking at a horrified member of his dinner party, he matter-of-factly adds, “The snake has to eat, too, you know.”
Mancow’s biggest critics, Muller says, are people who are aware of his reputation as a “shock jock,” but have never bothered to tune in to his shows. He’s the first to admit that he says some upsetting things on the radio. But he believes that many people are put off by his belief that free speech isn’t always pretty.
Muller even has a tattoo designed by artist Tony Fitzpatrick on his left shoulder that says, “FREE SPEECH 1st.”
“My show crosses boundaries,” he says. “It’s not about gender or race or age. It’s bound on ideas, not a certain kind of music or fashion. I believe we’re losing our right to free speech in this country, so (the tattoo) is my statement.”
With that, the waitress packs up some of the leftovers for Muller. Hainsworth is given the responsibility of carrying them throughout the evening. But some time between then and a trip to WhirlyBall (see below), the doggie bag gets misplaced. The gang piles into two cabs and heads over to the Lodge (21 W. Division, 312-642-4406) for a drink.
“Keanu and I went there when we wanted to chase women,” Muller recalls.
He hasn’t been inside for more than one minute before he is surrounded by fans who recognize him.
One young man, who resembles the eldest brother in Hanson, incredulously asks, “So, what brings you to the Lodge?”
“I come here all the time,” Muller says.
Muller buys the young man and his two friends a round of drinks and gets their addresses to send them promo T-shirts.
“This has made my night,” says Mike Pirro, 29, of Bensenville. “In the past two weeks, I’ve worked 140 hours. Now I can smile. Actually, 70 percent of all my laughs are from him. Mancow is just the best.”
Back outside on Division, he’s about to hail a cab when a voice across the street calls outs to him.
“I’d like to buy you a beer,” offers Sean Somerville, an assistant manager at the House of Beers (16 W. Division, (312-642-2344).
Muller shouts back, “I’ve got friends.”
“That’s OK. Bring them all over.”
We’re there. At the House of Beers, Mancow and his friends sit on the “dance floor,” which actually is a covered pool table that Somerville said patrons like to dance atop on weekends. No one dances. The only action on the floor is when Congine puts drops in Muller’s eyes for him.
Outside, he is about to hail another cab when a pizza delivery man runs over to him and starts a conversation.
“This happens all the time to Mancow,” says Hainsworth, who met Muller when he was hired to strip for Jenny, Muller’s girlfriend of 2-1/2 years. “He’s never short with (his fans), because he really, really loves them.”
“That’s why I hate things like limos,” Muller says later. “I’m just a lucky nobody. I don’t put myself above the audience. I put God first, then the other person second and then me third.”
By now, he’s in the mood for some game playing. He takes us over to WhirlyBall (1880 W. Fullerton, 773-486-7777) for a little action. On the ride over there, we pass several movie theaters, and it is clear that Muller is jonesing to see another flick.
“Oh, look,” says Congine. ” `I Know What You Did Last Summer’ is playing. I’d like to see that.”
“Me, too,” Muller says. “Maybe we can do that after WhirlyBall.”
At WhirlyBall, an indoor amusement venue where patrons can race around in tiny bumper carlike vehicles, the friends navigate around the court. Each appears more interested in spinning and banging into each other’s cars than in hurling the ball through the hoops.
“I don’t actually like doing that,” Muller says. “I just like an excuse to bang into other people’s cars. How fun is that?”
Muller signs a few more autographs and then we’re off to the Webster Place Theatre (1471 W. Webster, 773-327-3100) to catch the evening’s last screening of “I Know . . . “ The line is long, but Muller doesn’t pull a star trip. He waits in line like everyone else.
Fitzpatrick and his wife stop their car and briefly chat with Muller. By the time he gets to the ticket booth, the film is sold out. He and his friends opt for Richard Gere’s “Red Corner.” Armed with Raisinets, Twizzlers, Junior Mints and cherry slushies, we head to our seats. He finishes his drink, but has only one or two pieces of candy.
Just as the film’s opening credits quietly starts, a cellular phone goes off. His.
“No, it’s not mine,” he explains later. “A friend of mine wanted to hook up with us later and gave me his phone so he would know where we were. I hate these things.”
Once the movie’s over, a disappointed Mancow gives the film a thumbs down.
By now, the gang is ready to head back to Muller’s apartment to continue celebrating. Cabs are scarce, so everyone crams into one taxi. Muller spies the Golden Arches and suggests a late-night snack at the rock ‘n’ roll McDonald’s (600 N. Clark, 312-664-7940). He buys sundae nightcaps all around and, of course, is recognized.
Before the evening’s over, Muller will have been glad-handed by dozens of fans and had his tush kissed by just as many club managers. But he takes this all with a grain of salt.
“We’re all the same,” Muller says. “We really are. We all are freaks.”