Jeremy Witteveen for Nice Peter
Nice Peter: 'The side of myself that I present onstage is an exaggeration. If I behaved that way in public, I'd get in a lot of trouble. But onstage, the crowd really loves it when I lay into someone. My favorite victims are the ones who aren't listening.
Chicagoan Pete Shukoff, a.k.a. Nice Peter, possesses a rare talent -- the ability to write funny songs that don't grow stale on repeated listens. His clever lyrics and simple yet catchy tunes have a way of sticking around in one's brain.
Unlike many funny songwriters, though, Shukoff is not very kid-friendly. With the wicked wit of Tom Lehrer and the vocabulary of George Carlin, Shukoff has earned YouTube notoriety (and the ire of hip-hop fans) for the gleefully un-PC wordplay of songs such as "50 Cent Is a Pussy" and "Fuck Guitar Center".
Shukoff, currently touring in support of his new studio album Suburban Highschool, recently answered a few questions via e-mail.
The Daily Page: How long have you been playing shows as Nice Peter?
Nice Peter: I've been playing shows with this style and material since 2002. I started out solo, just under my name, Pete Shukoff, and picked up a drummer, who told me she liked my shit, and then a bass player, who told me I needed a bass player. The three of us were trying to figure out a name, when the host at a hip-hop open mic called me Nice Pete, by accident. He usually called me Pete Nice, a rapper from the '80s.
I thought the name was catchy, a bit naughty, and nobody had the URL, so it stuck. I have since lost the bass player and drummer, and four other drummers, but I'm keeping the name, 'cause I've got too many T-shirts already made.
Will there be a drummer along on the current tour?
No. The drummer and I were dating for four years, I flipped out, broke up, moved out, and now I'm hitting the road solo. It's some sort of mid-career crisis. Playing with a drummer was great, it rocked, but it made me a bit lazy.
Holding a crowd on your own is tough work, and I used to work very hard at it. Over the years with the three-piece and the drummer, I lost a little bit of my connection with the audience. Now it's back to just me and them, at least for this tour. I'm playing something called the Wazinator -- basically a hollow piece of mahogany with a bass pickup in it. It works like a kick drum to give some songs a little groove.
Are you ever confronted by listeners who are angry about your songs after a show (besides the angry 50 Cent fans)?
Yes. Sometimes, I'm the first to go apologize to some guy I made fun of. Just last night in Buffalo, N.Y., I walked right off the stage and told a guy, "I'm sorry, I know you didn't mean 'white power' and those pants aren't really that bad." He took it pretty well.
The side of myself that I present onstage is an exaggeration. If I behaved that way in public, I'd get in a lot of trouble. But onstage, the crowd really loves it when I lay into someone. My favorite victims are the ones who aren't listening.
I'll sing about them until the crowd around them realizes it, then their table, then their friend and then finally, there is a hilarious reveal when it dawns on them that the girl with the Peach Tank Top in the chorus of the song is her.
One time, in Mankato, Minn., I sang a song called "157" for this big angry meathead who told he didn't spend three dollars at the door to see some guy stop after two hours. "157" is basically me counting from 1 to 157 in a big, long song. It's my best response to an audience that is asking for more long past the prime time. In this version, I sang 157 sprinkled with 15 or so references to how I was going to kick his big meathead ass. I don't even weigh 157 pounds, I wasn't going to kick anyone's ass, but I was counting on the rest of the crowd to laugh, and make the situation comical, so I didn't get punched.
At another show, I was singing to a man who looked exactly like Jack Nicholson [or Nicklaus], the golfer. I told him so. The rest of the crowd laughed, he didn't even grin.
I sang something to the effect of, "Fine ... I didn't want to talk to you anyway, and your golfing video game for the original Nintendo sucked anyway."
I thought for sure he would chuckle, but I got nothing. I let it go, but kept coming back to him in the next few songs.
Finally, after he was really giving me no reaction at all, I climbed off stage and started singing right to his table. I just thought he was being bad-ass, didn't want to have fun in front of his date, or admit that this idiot onstage was even mildly amusing.
After he and his date stormed out and left, someone broke it to me, he was deaf. Ouch.
How often do you improvise a song on stage... and do any of those songs go on to become regular set list material?
I improvise during every show. It keeps me sane, as I've played some of these songs so many times, I have to do something to keep the show fresh. I like the audience to realize that we're all really here at this moment together. And yes, that man weighs at least 400 pounds, and he is wearing a T-shirt with the old Soviet Union flag.
There are some fans who will request improv songs from some of my live albums, but I try not to play them. It's a little sad to me. I work very hard to make catchy comedy rock songs that don't get annoying, and then some guy will beg me to play that song I made up in five minutes onstage about some stupid girl on her cell phone.
You've mentioned the idea of doing a kid-friendly version of your show... is that still something you're considering?
I've always loved playing for kids. They are just fucking fantastic. But that's my problem, I love to use swear words too.
It is definitely something I would like to do sometime, probably in the form of an album. Nice Peter presents: Music for your kids that will not drive you out of your mind.
Might be easier said than done. I've already started writing a few songs, "Awesome Socks" and "Me and My Mom Today."
How do audiences in the U.K. react to your music? Do the American pop culture references translate?
Oh man. The U.K. is so awesome. They react like people who actually listen and give a shit. One of my favorite U.K. gig moments was a guy listening to my whole set, coming up afterward, buying me a beer and then telling me he didn't like my music. People in the US just stop listening, they play pool, or talk, or leave.
Over there, first of all, they don't ask you to play more than 45 minutes, and they listen and respect you simply because you are playing music. It's just different, hard to explain, but I love it.
As for pop culture, I have to change a few things here and there, or explain them, but for the most part, the world is so covered in the U.S. mass-media vomit, they understand most things.
What is always funny is sorting through and singing about their specific pop culture icons. They have this socio-economic class called "Chavs" -- they are a fucking mystery. Kind of a blend of white trash and gangsta, they all wear the exact same kind of clothes, like a uniform.
Track pants tucked into socks. I'm serious. I sing about them every time. They're also known for their violent, quick reactions, so that might backfire on me.
But so far, no 50 Cent shootings, and no Chav stabbings (not so many guns in the U.K., they'll just punch you)!
Nice Peter will be bringing his guitar back to the High Noon Saloon on Tuesday, October 2, for a 6:30 p.m. performance with Madison rockers The August Teens. The show is 18+, and the cover is a mere $5.