Should there be an unexpected power failure during his career-spanning solo concert at San Francisco’s Castro Theatre this week, Yes keyboardist Rick Wakeman is prepared to keep the night moving along with amusing anecdotes and snarky British banter that might surprise his prog-rock audience. But in his native England, it’s common knowledge: He’s one of the funniest people in show business, with a long list of hit BBC TV comedy series (plus a regular standup act) to prove it. “In the U.K., I’m as well known for comedy as I am for the music,” he says. “I hosted a comedy show called ‘Live at Jongleurs’ and I was on the ‘Grumpy Old Men’ show for six seasons.” But on this first American jaunt in 13 years, be prepared for anything musically, from “Journey to the Centre of the Earth” splendor to his recent “Piano Odyssey” simplicity.
Are you planning on trying the in-house Castro organ?
I’ve only just found out about it, so apparently I am, yeah. It’s the first I’ve heard about it. But I’ll get there and check it out, and if I can do something on it, I certainly will. And if not, I’ll tell people that it’s broken down for the day. But I’ll have some of that. That sounds good to me.
When did you first discover your twisted sense of humor?
When I was a kid at school, really. Invariably, I’d never get my homework done because I lived quite a long way from school. And by the time I got home and did my piano practice, it was too late to do any homework. And back at school, I found out that if you could make the teachers laugh, then you avoided being caned. They used to cane me at school. But I found that laughter covered a multitude of things for you, and you could get away with absolute murder, almost. But I did get away with murder there, because they knew that I’d already gotten a scholarship to the Royal College of Music, and no one there had gotten one before. So they probably felt, “He’ll be gone soon. Let’s just leave him be.”
You used to have wizard-length hair, the longest in rock, probably.
Any hair snafus? Certainly in the early ‘70s, I was banned from various restaurants; I’d walk in and they’d yell, “Out!” I landed in Kuala Lumpur with Yes, on our way to Australia, and myself and Steve [Howe] were pulled away by the police, who said, “We’re taking you away to get your hair cut!” We did manage to stop it, but I’ve never been back to Kuala Lumpur since. I think there’s a hairdresser still waiting for me!
IF YOU GO
Where: Castro Theatre, 429 Castro St., S.F.
When: 8 p.m. Saturday
Tickets: $55 to $70