Remembering “Mean Mike” Veron
January 24, 2010
It’s January again, so inevitably I start thinking about “Mean Mike” Veron. He died from cancer just around this time back in 1998. Hard to believe it’s been 12 years–it seems like only yesterday that Mike was on the phone, cooking up some new scheme to be famous. That’s what Mike lived for 24/7. He wanted to be famous. He wanted to be somebody.
Forget Bob Zany. “Mean Mike” Veron (a.k.a. “The Corsican Wizard”) was the undisputed King of Central Coast California Comedy from 1980 through 1998, when cancer claimed his life at the far-too-early age of 52.
Those of us who knew Mike were impressed by his endless energy, enthusiasm and joy of life. A group of Mike’s friends and fans eventually came together to create a web site as a tribute to a man who gave so much. to so many over the years. People should not forget “Mean Mike.” In the 23 years, I’ve lived here, Mike was one of the most interesting people I encountered.
Originally from Belmar, N.J., Mike first arrived in San Luis Obispo, California in 1971 to attend Cal Poly and married Barbara Saris in 1973. After graduating from Cal Poly in 1974, Mike pursued his M.A. degree in education and was eventually licensed as an MFCC counselor. During the late ’70s, Mike also took up long distance running and he and Barbara ran coast-to-coast in 50 days from Morro Bay, California to Belmar, N.J. in 1978.
Mike was hired to work as a psychiatric technician at Atascadero State Hospital in 1979 and it was around this same time that comedy first called. Mike created his first character, “The Corsican Wizard” and soon appeared in comedy showcases from San Francisco to Los Angeles.
Soon thereafter, he introduced his most famous character “Mean Mike,” a tough-guy persona, complete with leather vest and whip. “Mean Mike” shared the stage with comedians such as Jerry Seinfeld, Whoopi Goldberg, Bob Zany, and British comedian Nick Lewin. appearing at a variety of California venues, including the Hungry I, the Icehouse, the Punchline, and the Comedy Store.
He dreamed big and worked hard, but fame and celebrity always eluded Mike. The truth was that he was not especially funny. His jokes could be weak–I remember one he liked about “coming to a dip in the road.” (BEAT) And how he hated when it was guacamole. Still, there was no mistaking his attitude. Mike looked like a professional. He acted like a professional. He talked the talk. Everything was fine, as long as he didn’t have to tell his jokes.
So he tried his hand at promoting the local stand-up comedy scene during the ’80s, booking shows at a variety of venues, including the Monday Club, Joshua’s, The Dark Room and Randolph’s. Mike was passionate about his comedy and would always give a break to an up-and-coming comic–even if the comic was funnier than he was.
In 1988, Mike was a finalist in the first and only “Funniest Person in San Luis Obispo Comedy Contest,” sponsored by KSLY-FM. His reference to rotund Bay Area Chinese-American comic Al Ball as “that Great Ball of China” during a gig at the infamous Dark Room made legendary newspaper columnist Herb Caen laugh so hard that he put it in his “San Francisco Chronicle” column.
Mike would literally do anything for a laugh. For two years, he appeared on stage with a monkey tail hanging out of his pants. Don’t ask. He also dressed up elaborately as “The Godfather” and delivered dead fish wrapped in a newspaper to people for $50, sort of a Mafia singing telegram.
In 1987, Mike published his one and only book, “The Comedy Mafia,” a book he called “His Number One Bestseller.” He also wrote a few unproduced screenplays and completed a sports biography of USC football great Anthony Davis.
I’ll say this. I spent my first year in town teaching at Cal Poly, trying desperately to bust out of academe. Mike Veron was the first non-teaching friend I made and I was swept up in his passion for comedy and dedication to the craft. That he lacked the talent didn’t seem to matter. Mike was a true dreamer in the Land of Dreams, thinking anything was possible.
Here’s to dreamers like “Mean Mike.” He made me realize, that in moving to California, I had finally found my home. Thanks, Mean Mike.