During a recent visit to Winnie's, the onetime Chinese mafia hangout and current downtown karaoke dive, it occurred to us that in every karaoke bar in this town (and really, all over the world), one encounters the same cast of characters. They vary in accent and affect but, for the most part, karaoke is the closest thing to commedia dell'arte we have. In an effort to prepare you for the battlefield that is not only love but also karaoke, we've put together a field guide to karaoke archetypes, or as we call them, karaokarchetypes.

The Aging Heartthrob: Usually perched on a bar stool near the "stage" (and by stage we mean that part of worn-down floor in front of the large television screen), the aging heartthrob retains the sort of generic good looks that made him a star in various regional theater productions of Oklahoma! and Clifford Odet's Big Knife. Having retired from the theatre (pronounced with three syllables) the AH favors songs that showcase his range. His specialties include Billy Joel ballads (esp. Scenes from an Italian Restaurant) and Shout! In fact, during the part in that song where there's a decrescendo ("A little bit softer now") he's likely to crouch down, only to dazzle us with his athletic prowess during the "louder now" part.

Korean Mick Jagger: Balding, mustachioed, Korean. One wouldn't expect the snarl of the big-lipped Mick Jagger to come from this unlikely source but, as the man approaches the mic, his demeanor changes. His gut, hitherto obscured by an old blue t-shirt, seems to disappear. His baggy jeans somehow tighten. Beneath the weight of his years and the cost of his age, one can see the swagger of a young boy from Kent. It shows itself in a gentle swaying. He'll sing Beast of Burden, Loving Cup and Jumpin' Jack Flash. Don't expect Satisfaction. That's child's play.

The Tisch Kids: Every so often, you'll walk into a karaoke bar and there will be a cluster of pristine melodramatic brightly-dressed young'uns. We'd advise you to get the fuck out while you can. These are the Tisch kids, musical theater majors who've escaped from the NYU campus to crash your karaoke party and make you feel inferior (and also, weirdly, superior). That they have superb voices is irrefutable. They introduce tricky rubato on It's Raining Men and nail every note in Kate Bush's Wuthering Heights. But they really besmirch the enterprise of karaoke, which was never really about how well you can sing but how hard you try and how admirably you faceplant.

The Atonal Hipster: If the Tisch kids are to be assailed for their overpreparation (training, actually), then the atonal hipster is to be upbraided for his refusal to try at all. Mustachioed often (but ironically), this character thinks it is really funny to sing Air Supply's Lost in Love really horribly. Which it is. For two seconds. Then it gets extremely irritating. Now one way to look at this is that this tendency of cloaking real effort in irony is an endearing defense mechanism of someone uncomfortable with vulnerability. But just as this ethos renders long term relationships untenable, so too does it ruin Pat Benatar's Heartbreaker and the Kink's Waterloo Sunset.

[Photo: LIIegs/Flickr]