After successfully ex-communicating herself from a religious cult and a first marriage, 49-year-old Sandy Riccardi launched a brilliant career in musical theater with her second husband, Richard. Their all-original, all-musical show “Tastefully Raunchy” describes their “cracked and bush-whacked road to marital bliss, social consciousness, and menopause.” Read on to learn more about how she hit her midlife stride.
Describe your musical act. How did it come about? Who is your audience?
Our musical act came about very naturally as two musicians in love. We spent many a romantic evening at the piano, playing and singing our favorite jazz and classical music (and still do!), and started going out on the occasional jazz gig together, but the comedy part was a twist we never really imagined. That came about when I found myself urgently writing my first serious parody in 2008 when Sarah Palin came on the scene saying she was speaking for all the hockey moms.
I happen to be a frozen-assed card-carrying hockey mom, and I disagreed with everything that came out of her mouth, so I found myself writing “Don’t Speak For Me, Sarah Palin” to the tune of “Don’t Cry For Me, Argentina” while I was at the gym on an exercise bike.
I came home, and I said “Richard, you know this song, right?”, and he said “What key would you like?” and we filmed it on a little Canon point-and-shoot lispy-sounding camera, put it on YouTube, called it “Hockey Mama For Obama” and it got a million hits in two weeks.
We weren’t sure what to do with all the attention at the time. It was actually scary, being such a politically charged moment–we were receiving death threats and being called horrible things in the comments section on YouTube, plus, we had no actual act yet to promote!
So over the years we started writing more heart-felt political parodies which got attention and applause, and then we just started writing general comedy songs about the ironies of life, with much self-deprecation and nods toward our aging bodies and brains and failed previous marriages that gave us a demographic that we can actually measure on YouTube.
Our stats say we are insanely popular with the 50-70 year-old set. Now when we tour around the country, that really is our main audience. We even refer to it as “PG-35”. Younger people don’t really relate to songs about menopause and Viagra, and our song “The Southern Girl’s Mating Call” is completely lost on them, because it’s about the repressed sexuality that we good religious Southern girls had that could only be loosened up by some heavy-ish drinking. They automatically assume it’s glorifying date-rape (it’s NOT), because they never had to live through that repression!
You’re 49 and your husband is 71. Is your age a hindrance in the music business or is it a non-issue?
I don’t think it’s a hindrance for us. Our age and experiences have made us a successful act! And the fact that Richard is very tech-savvy and I am very social-media savvy means that we are in step with the world. We know how to do this thing.
Plus, Richard’s resume is incredible. He has played for so many famous people and Broadway tours…..Joel Grey, Mel Torme, Tom Jones…the list goes on and on and he is still very much in demand. He plays for movies and video games at Skywalker studios all the time. His experience is an enormous plus. So many of his older, musically-accomplished and connected friends around the country have venues they beg us to come perform in.
How long did it take you to write the Menopause song? Was taking off your shirt scripted or impromptu? What was the reaction from women who saw it?
LOL. Well, the tune is “Meadowlark” by Stephen Schwartz, so we didn’t have to write the music. I probably futzed with the words off and on for a month. Our director, Paul Gilger, came up with the strip tease at the end. He spent many years designing shows for the cabaret scene in San Francisco in its hey-day.
He has a talent for imagining the sexually hilarious–sometimes I can’t handle doing what he suggests because I have the Voices of Southern Propriety in my head still. But being a chunky, perimenopausal woman with hot flashes and night sweats, and wearing a VERY modest bra, I agreed that stripping to cool down right before intermission would be hilarious. The reaction from the crowd is sheer pandemonium on a good night.
What is the song you’re the most proud of and why?
That’s hard to say. I love the punchline we came up with for “Unfriend Me” because the audience is completely unsuspecting, and it’s fun to watch them get blindsided with humor.
“Holiday Dinner Party” has certainly struck a nerve with over 2 million hits and still growing virally this December.
But I really love the songs where Richard wrote the actual music (not parody but still comedy) like “I Wanna Be A Swing On Ol’ Broadway”, or the stick figure family song where we parade our highly imperfect family on the back of the car.
“Speed Date” was our first non-political comic song, and to me, Richard’s music for that song is as good as any jazz standard.
But some people gave our parody “Hockey Mama For Obama” credit for winning the election, LOL! We were played on NPR and BBC and on the homepage of AOL (remember AOL?) and on Andrew Sullivan’s blog among thousands of others.
You and your husband live together, work together, and perform together. Do you ever get tired of each other, or are you usually inspired by each other?
Well, like I said, Richard is a highly in-demand pianist in the San Francisco Bay Area, and so not all the jobs we do are together. He works at Sonoma State University, I music-direct local children’s musical theater and have a private teaching studio. So we welcome the time together.
We actually have to carve out time to work on our show, but once it’s together (we write a basically new show every year), it brings us so much fun and adventure. Nothing better for the sex life than plenty of nights in decent hotels with no distractions, with the added excitement of just coming off the high of the show!
How do you and Richard put your act together? Do you write the lyrics and he writes the music? How do you handle disagreements?
I write the lyrics. If it’s a parody, Richard just arranges the pre-existing piece to our liking. If it isn’t a parody he writes original music. Yes, we sometimes get into disagreements because he’ll work hard on something I gave him lyrics to, and his music won’t match what I was really feeling when I wrote it. That can be frustrating. We’re both experts at sulking when that happens.
We have discovered that passing a song back and forth several times from lyricist to composer to lyricist to composer about 5 times works well! But most of the time he just delights me with what he comes up with. Our director Paul also frequently has some great suggestions to tweak my lyrics to make them funnier or clearer.
It’s said that one of the benefits of aging is that you care less about what people think of you. What’s your reaction to this, both in your work and in your life?
Well, that must be true, because I open my mouth and speak my mind publicly, politically and otherwise, more now than ever. I think I embarrass my mom. She’s very proud of me, but has definitely asked me to find my Southern filter when visiting North Carolina.
The striving for a perfect image went out the window for me when I got divorced, left my religion, and started getting passionate about politics and humor. I had a 6-month struggle with going public about my relationship to an older man, wondering what people would think, but once we reached the point of no return, I truly didn’t care. I was too happy.
How can people find you and do you have any upcoming engagements we should know about?
We have a standing New Year’s Eve show (two back-to-back shows, actually) at the 6th Street Playhouse in Santa Rosa, CA. After that we have random shows in northern California, and hopefully Florida (Tallahassee and Gainesville), then Denver and up and down the East Coast in June.