Ricky Mokel is the on-stage alter ego of Grant Turner. Grant grew up in Decatur, Georgia playing sports and drums and making magic films with his mother’s 8 mm movie camera. As the only child of working parents, he also had plenty of uninterrupted time in front of the TV set. A line of study that would prove invaluable in creating a stand-up comedy act noted for its originality.
Initially his childhood interests led him into high school and college football, then into UGA’s journalism school. Upon graduation, Grant landed a job in one of Atlanta’s top advertising agencies, where his client, Jim Dandy Dog Food, asked him to play the role of Barney by barking in a series of regional radio spots. A seed was planted. As a hobby, Grant began doing stand-up comedy once a week at the Excelsior Mill, a big pizza parlor in downtown Atlanta.
Three years later, his skyscraper job behind him (he was canned), Grant began performing full time in comedy clubs; first in Atlanta, then around the Southeast. In 1984, Grant won the Great Southeastern Laff-Off at the Punchline in Atlanta. By barking, making fun of his suburban childhood, doing dead-on imitations of upscale southerners and bringing down the house with his big closing bit, a parody of an Amway presentation, he was awarded $500 and a trip to NYC to perform at Catch a Rising Star.
Grant soon moved to Los Angeles where he had a chance of being funny on TV. Immediately he was headlining clubs across the country, leaving no time to stay home and audition for TV and Film parts. After the birth of his son Kyle, Grant’s priorities changed overnight.
He bought a secluded home in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Western North Carolina, a nice place to change diapers. In Cullowhee, NC–home of Western Carolina University–he enjoyed an amazing back porch view of the Great Smokey Mountains, and for the next ten years Grant worked the road. He managed, however, to spend half of each month at home with a growing pile of diapers.
About the time Grant’s daughter Natalie was born, he created a childlike character named Ricky Mokel. Ricky was intended to be an extreme example of Hollywood’s ridiculously cartoonish idea of a Southerner, but equipped with a startlingly sharp intellect.
Despite being nervous, having no jokes or plan of any kind, Ricky was funny. Within 6 months this wide-eyed fellow with an adorable twisted innocence, a scratchy, high pitched voice and an ability to make things up on the spot , had taken over Grant’s act–because he was funnier. As Ricky, Grant could improvise freely and to great effect. In less than a year after his birth, Grant couldn’t follow him. So Grant Turner became Ricky Mokel’s opening act!
For a while Grant convinced comedy club owners to pay both of them as if they were two separate human beings. “You save the airfare”, he told them. Grant would perform a half hour show on stage as Tom Butters, change clothes, comb his hair down in the front, and return to the stage after being introduced as Ricky Mokel, a last minute replacement for Grant Turner, the headliner who hadn’t shown up.
This was unprecedented. And people didn’t realize it was the same person! And they loved Ricky. He was not a professional comedian with a carefully memorized script. Ricky was a total rookie who, with a few beers under his belt, gamely and naively gave it his best. He ended each show with a recount of his Food Court conversation with the Myth Man, an intellectual whose voice Ricky mimicked in an extended quote about mythology. And Ricky killed, as they say, night after night.
Ricky Mokel continued to improve as the character developed, adding bongo drums to accompany himself in singing a catchy Taco Bell jingle (“What’s that Smell? It’s Taco Bell!”). In addition, he also found his own inner uvula voice, and began explaining his theories on automobile air bags and women’s laugh raisins. And the character has never stopped improvising and improving. Each performance is different. Fans return to see him again and again. The show is always fresh because even Grant doesn’t know what Ricky will say next. It’s spooky.
Since January of 2000, Ricky Mokel has been the star comedian in a family friendly, but otherwise Las Vegas style, musical variety show at the Alabama Theatre. It has been in this environment that Ricky Mokel–a lowly stage hand who, at the last minute, is pressed into entertainment duty–has been most appreciated.