Imagine blending the best of comedy with the best of rock, the equivalent, say, of Stephen Colbert joining the Beatles. And imagine if you could see that magical hybrid in an intimate setting close to home … this Saturday night. Sounds impossible? It's not. The alchemy of the Chicago comedy scene has produced a band that is that good and they are headlining this month's Comedy at the Mette.
Meet Paul Thomas, Jeff Madden and Cork Kangas. Together they are Lola Balatro (named after Kangas' aunt, a World War II-era burlesque dancer.) They describe themselves as a post-grunge acoustic comedy rock band. But that's just part of the story. Thomas and Madden are Second City alums who have won multiple awards for their comedy, music videos and films. Just this past weekend, Thomas' Moratorium was a featured selection at the Chicago Comedy Film Festival. Kangas is an accomplished musician, the type of guitarist who inspires the question, "How does he do that?"
What sets them apart from other comedians, other rock bands and other "com-rock" is that the comedy, the lyrics, the music and the rock god personas they parody are each original and groupie-worthy in their own right. Put them all together and you've got a unique comedy rock force filling a void you didn't even know you had. Or maybe you did know because after all, whose life doesn't need more comedy and more music?
For a sneak peak of their catchy, addictive inventiveness, you can view three of Lola Balatro's music videos at www.lolabalatro.com/videos.html. (Parental warning: "Questionable Beef" might put you off a favorite dinner go-to. But it's worth it. Actual parental warning: "Rock Star" is R-rated. But it's worth it.) You can purchase Lola Balatro's eponymous album at the show and on www.itunes.com.
I talked with Paul Thomas about the band's history (more recent than past), their approach to making music and breakfast (breakfast usually comes first), the secrets behind their lyrics, and their plans for surviving the upcoming apocalypse (even if it doesn't happen).
Q: What were the highlights of 2012 for each of the band members?
A: Jeff bought a pair of skates. Cork bought a dolly. I bought a storybook because I think dolls are folly.
Q: What was the highlight for the band?
A: The highlight was having our music included in the Ped Crossing* web series [written and produced by Paul Thomas]. It fit in a lot of places. When you don't have money to pay somebody for a track, it's nice to have a catalog.
Q: You can't get better music than that. I remember hearing "Hey Now" in there. That's one of my favorite Lola Balatro songs. And the redheaded kid who's in the "Rock Star" video, did I see him in Ped Crossing, also?
A: Yup, same one.
Q: Who is he?
A: Jacob Caponigro whose dad Aaron Caponigro spray paints the walls in the "Rock Star" video.
Q: He's really good.
A: Yeah, he's really great. He's probably six feet tall now.
Q: Do you have a favorite moment of the Lola Balatro videos?
A: Our favorite moment is in every video when the audience realizes they're watching the best com-rock band on the planet. It happens outside the video inside the viewer's heart.
Q: What is your favorite Lola Balatro song?
A: "Jew Hippie." It's not on the album, but that one is fun to play. It's become a live staple.
Q: Remind me, what's the Hebrew phrase in that song?
A: "Hakol b'seder. Sababa, shalom." [Translation: Everything's all right. It's cool/awesome. Peace.]
Q: You have such beautiful harmony in your music. If only everybody could have that level of harmony during family get-togethers and holidays. What is your advice to families for achieving that level of harmony?
A: Find the best singer, the one who sings the loudest and eject them from the group because they sing too loud and have too much vibrato. They're the problem. The best singer is always the problem.
Q: And what is the secret of Lola Balatro's great opening riffs?
A: Number one for anybody, get a guitar. Number two, learn to play it. And number three, join Lola Balatro. That's the secret to great opening riffs.
Q: How do you guys figure out how to start a song?
A: You get visions from God.
Q: That sounds complicated, but I actually believe it. I have the same question about your lyrics. You don't just go for the easy rhyme.
A: For inspiration, we look to the line from Kanye West's "Jesus Walks": "A truck full of crap rental car from Avis. My momma used to say only Jesus can save us." That is where we find our answers.
Q: Rhyming something with "Hertz" would have been a lot more impressive.
A: He could have had a double meaning, at least.
Q: Oh, yeah, I didn't think of that! Who are Lola Balatro's favorite comedians?
A: Milton Berle and Rod Blagojevich.
Q: How about your favorite book? What do you guys like to read?
A: The novelization of Enya's Book of Days.
Q: I've seen on Lola Balatro's schedule that sometimes you guys are playing at four in the morning …
A: That's the Abbie Hoffman Died for Our Sins Festival. That's once a year.
Q: What do you eat for breakfast to keep up with a rock star's schedule?
A: It's all organic cocaine and fair trade meth. They usually have it at Whole Foods.
Q: What are the band members looking forward to in 2013, assuming the world doesn't end like the Mayans predicted?
A: Finding out what other things the Mayans bulls*****d us about.
Q: Yeah, if they said that, we better find out the other stuff.
A: Yeah. Maybe the pyramids are a sham.
Q: In case they were right, how do you think the world will end?
A: We think it will end just like it began. Six friends in a coffee shop trying to figure everything out.
Q: What secrets can you share with the Wilmette audience about each of the band members?
A: Jeff forged his Kenyan birth certificate. Cork's real name is Aloysius Marblenut. Paul doesn't like your haircut.
Q: Any secrets about the band as a whole?
A: We were originally a Billy Corgan side project until he quit the band.
Q: Yeah, to build that tea room in Highland Park … does Lola Balatro have any comment about that?
A: Ever since he left our band we refrain from commenting on his tea and wrestling ventures.
Q: What is in Lola Balatro's green room rider?
A: The room must actually be green and Billy Corgan is not allowed to be a part of the catering team.
Lola Balatro will headline Comedy at the Mette on Saturday, November 10 at 9:00 p.m. at the Wilmette Theatre, 1122 Central Ave. Tickets are $12. This is a 21 and over event. For more information or for tickets, call 847-251-7424 or visit http://www.wilmettetheatre.com/events/
*For more about the Ped Crossing web series: http://www.avclub.com/articles/ped-crossings-paul-thomas,69497/