Published on May 30th, 2013 | by Jessica Mickey0
The Shock T’s Carefully and Hilariously Tackle Two Mediums
If you’ve ever been to a comedy open mic night, chances are that if an aspiring amateur climbed onstage with an acoustic in hand, groans were somewhat audible. Music and comedy is a fickle pairing. Sure, bands like Tenacious D, Garfunkel and Oates, and Piccolo Fringe’s recent visitors Reformed Whores do it well and bring in the crowds, but some people can’t help but see the use of music in comedy as a crutch. Luckily for us, the Shock T’s fall into the desirable category.
On Fri. May 31, the Shock T’s — singer/guitarist Tyler Paterson and singers Sarah Shockey and Tim Dunn — return to Theatre 99 for a whopping sixth time with their hilarious satirical ditties, absurd renditions, and overall BFF good vibes. The three became friends while taking classes with the famed Chicago conservatory at The Second City, and while working on a sketch comedy show, they stumbled upon the possibility of pulling together a musical comedy group.
Patterson recalls, “I was just kind of riffing when I told Sarah that most songs in the musical Les Miserables follow the same basic pattern and melody. I started playing the progression, and we started trading lyrics from different songs back and forth. It was so much fun, we thought, “Hey, let’s do this more often.”
Shockey adds, “And then we both agreed that it’d be great to round it out with Tim, because he’s just real funny.”
Dunn now amusingly questions his motivation in joining.“I was hoping to gain attention from Second City so I could do a cruise ship, which is something I no longer want,” he laughs. “I think originally the style was a little looser, like ‘a sketch group with a guitar,’ but we just got better at songwriting and decided to start calling ourselves a comedy band.”
Since they were already friends and collaborators, inspirations for songs came (and still come) naturally.
“Our process is almost 100 percent collaborative. Most of our writing sessions start with pitches or general ideas, but it often slips into philosophy or social commentary,” Paterson says. “We ask ‘Why aren’t we talking about these things?,’ or ‘I’m really passionate about this thing,’ or ‘You know what makes me laugh really hard?,’ and then songs start to form from that. Once we find our angle, we’ll try to then choose a style that best reflects our thesis for the song. After that, the structure comes naturally. We might play it on stage a few times, look at what worked, what didn’t, then tighten it up. It’s constant tweaking and learning.”
One look through the Shock T’s’ repertoire over the last four years, and it’s hard not to find a solid handful of songs that resonate with you. Beyond their fun opener, kooky yet creepy version of “Barbie Girl,” and other absurd original tunes, there’s “Matt and Aimee,” a song about a dysfunctional couple that just can’t seem to quit each other. It brings the guffaws, not just because the material is hilarious, but also because everyone seems to know one of these couples. “More Important” fuels even more head-shaking moments, as Dunn gleefully sings as a professional baseball player about his value in the world. “Last Guy,” a song about a man still going to Best Buy to buy a DVD, ends with a perfect, unexpected punchline. Their strongest material is extensions on their everyday experiences, gripes, and observations. Think of it as Onion-esque editorials put to music — because the comedy within the songs could stand on its own, sans Paterson’s skillful strumming.
When asked about the stigma about the addition of music in comedy, Paterson explains, “The main problem I see with other ‘musical comedians’ is that they’re neither. They’re maybe half good at one or the other, but they think that because they’re doing both, they’ll stand out. Musical comedy tackles two mediums, which means you have to work twice as hard to blend the two into one thing. If you only focus on one aspect, the other will lack significantly. There seems to be this school of thought that ‘anything is funny if you sing it!’ I’ve found that this is not typically the case. If your idea isn’t working, putting it to song won’t necessarily save it. I guess what I’m saying is that if you’re using music as a crutch, it’s not for you.”
However, the group believes the addition of music makes their comedy more accessible. Dunn says, “It’s why every Second City show opens with a big music opener — to get everyone on board. The challenge is being critical enough of your own material to know that your music enhances your writing, but doesn’t carry it.”
Of course, according to Paterson, the group’s dynamic certainly helps, too. “The three of us on stage have a unique chemistry, and we often talk to our audiences to make shows feel more intimate. We love what we do, and we want audiences to share in that.”
If you happened to catch the Shock T’s when they were last in town during this year’s Charleston Comedy Festival, don’t worry — they’ve got you covered. “We’ll have tons of new stuff, I think!,” Shockey exclaims, “We just did a whole run of writing all new material, and there’s some songs I’m really excited about. We are really experimenting with different styles.”
The Shock T’s perform at Theatre 99 as part of Piccolo Fringe on Fri. May 31 9:30 p.m., Sat. June 2 at 7 p.m., and Sun. June 2 at 5 p.m. Tickets are available for $16. Visit theatre99.com and shockts.com for more.
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