Some people play the guitar. Others make an audience laugh. Comedy guitarist Mike Rayburn does both.
His family-friendly act includes classical guitar, parodies of popular songs and a subtle dose of motivational speaking.
The distinctly whimsical musician parodies some of every genre. Rayburn, 49, has done a Johnny Cash-inspired rendition of Justin Timberlake’s “Sexy Back” and Bob Marley-styled Garth Brooks songs. After playing in Tennessee, Rayburn testifies that any song can be performed as country music, including AC/DC and Lady Gaga. For good measure, he sings Dr. Seuss’ Green Eggs and Ham in the style of Led Zeppelin.
“When you can take a personality disorder and turn it in to a career, you’ve got something,” Rayburn says with a smile after one of his shows.
Rayburn was originally inspired as a child, listening to country music duo Homer & Jethro parody popular songs. In college, he studied classical guitar and played in a Top 40 dance band called Make Believe. But he was equally inclined to practice comedy. He combined the two loves when he started making fun of the bad requests he received while playing in bars.
Now, Rayburn has played Carnegie Hall eight times. He also has two instrumental guitar albums and a live DVD. “My pride and joy,” Rayburn says, “is my Live at Carnegie Hall CD.”
Rayburn, who is originally from Virginia and Tennessee, moved to Las Vegas in June 2009 to join the six-month run of Amazed at V Theater. Since then, he has kept busy with corporate and national gigs and an occasional show at the Star Theater in the Clarion Hotel (formerly the Greek Isles). And he continues to search for the right Las Vegas venue for his unique talents.
That’s not all. In 2008, Rayburn was certified by the National Speakers Association. He learned motivational speaking after a friend told him his act was already so positive that he should also be spreading a sunny message. One of his running slogans is, “I know I can’t, but what if I could?” He says this reprograms the brain to a can-do, mind-set. It’s a theory he tested in 2000, when he completed a 4,000-mile cross-country bicycle tour benefiting St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital.
In fall 2009, Rayburn—who grew up hating church—helped start Verve, a nonjudgmental local church known for celebrating humans, warts and all. Rayburn plays in the church band.
“He’s just on another level, he’s on that prodigy-type level,” says pastor and band frontman Robb Overholt. “I’ve been playing guitar for about 23 years. Very few guitar players intimidate me, but he intimidates me in a good way.”