More than 17 years after the movie “Office Space” joked that Michael Bolton was a “no-talent a--clown,” the singer seems to be the one getting the last laugh.
Two Grammy Awards. Four total nominations. More than 55 million records sold. And he still tours close to six months a year; this summer he’ll play dates in seven foreign countries, as well as in 10 U.S. cities. He’ll perform at Charlotte’s Belk Theater next Thursday night.
Plus, the 63-year-old crooner – best known for breathing new life into old hits like “How Am I Supposed to Live Without You” and “When a Man Loves a Woman” – isn’t just getting the last laugh. He’s also more frequently trying to generate them, usually via self-deprecating humor.
Bolton has poked fun at his prowess as a master of cheesy and overly dramatic ballads in everything from sitcoms like “Two and a Half Men” to Honda ads. The “Office Space” dig even came full circle last year, when he helped re-create the scene in a skit for comedy site Funny or Die.
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He spoke to the Observer by phone recently, and based on that conversation we came up with five more things that will help you better familiarize yourself with Michael Bolton before next week’s show.
1. He became a music-video star as (wait for it) ... a hair-metal artist.
Back in the early ’80s, Bolton could routinely be found wearing tight leather pants and a haircut that looked like a lion’s mane. And he could shred the guitar. The mulleted man’s first bona fide hit was 1983’s ultra-cheesy “Fool’s Game,” which sounded a bit like a Whitesnake song, wound up in heavy rotation on burgeoning cable channel MTV, and turned him into a celebrity.
“I was walking down the street and people were giving me these double-takes and I didn’t know why,” Bolton says. “It culminated when I took my kids to the movie theater, and we got in line, and everyone in the place just turned around and started staring at us. My kids got really afraid of it and nervous. They said, ‘What’s going on, Dad?’ And I just said, ‘I think it’s MTV.’ ”
2. He became a viral-video star as (wait for it) ... Captain Jack Sparrow.
In 2011, Bolton paired up with comedy trio The Lonely Island for a “Saturday Night Live” digital short titled “Jack Sparrow” that accomplished two things: It exposed his (on-screen) obsession “Pirates of the Caribbean,” and it exposed him to a much younger audience. He plays himself, and fouls up a hardcore rap by Lonely Island with a ballad-y chorus dedicated to the Disney character made famous by Johnny Depp. When the group frowns at his off-kilter hook, he then tries masquerading as Forrest Gump, Tony Montana from “Scarface” and Erin Brockovich – the last while in full drag.
“They just make you feel comfortable about going for it,” Bolton says of The Lonely Island. “But the Erin Brockovich moment is still traumatic to me, every time I see it. That’s the only one I feel like I really took one for the team. They said, ‘Believe me, please, it’s just gonna be funny. Just trust us.’ ... We got to 100 million views really pretty quickly. ... Now I have 14-year-olds to 40-year-olds walking up and high-fiving me for ‘Jack Sparrow.’ And the 14-year-olds, I’m sure, never owned a record of mine in their lives.”
3. He never hits the road without his golf clubs.
Though he can’t hit the links in every city where he performs, Bolton – an avid golfer who has played rounds with fellow celebs including Kevin Costner, Bill Murray and Bill Clinton – routinely tries to scout out a good golf course before arriving. If the singer has time and can sneak away, he will.
“It’s kind of therapeutic for me. It’s supposed to allow you to keep quiet, kind of force you into this Zen mindset, and remind you to let go of tense moments and bad moments. And three or four four-letter words.”
5. He never wants to hear fans say, after a show, that he was good.
“There are people, I think, who are happy to do a show where the audience says, ‘You still sound good.’ But that would hurt my feelings,” Bolton says, “because I know, with the range and the area that I’m singing in, I have to be great that night. I hope it never gets to the point where I think ‘good’ is enough.”
5. For that reason, he’s as obsessed with taking care of his voice as the “Jack Sparrow” version of Michael Bolton was with “Pirates of the Caribbean.”
Bolton adheres strictly to two important rules.
First: “The gym, it’s an absolute. Working out is an absolute. It gets your blood going where it needs to, and gets your oxygen everywhere it needs to. Keeping yourself in maximum shape makes very happy vocal cords.”
And then: “Getting eight hours sleep is the law. I can be the boring one in the band and crew – when they’re laughing and making a lot of noise after a show or the night before a show, I have to excuse myself. I’m monitoring my voice rest, my voice use.”
Because: “Like Sinatra said, ‘They don’t buy the record for the clarinet player, kid.’ ”
When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday.
Where: Belk Theater, 130 N. Tryon St.
Details: 704-372-1000; www.blumenthalarts.org.