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I have been in love with the improvisational comedy revue format for more than 45 years. Improv comedy has been the guiding light of my life.
Most recently, I collaborated as a writer, performer and director of my 23rd comedy revue – celebrating 40 years of Practical Theatre Company comedy with “Big Holiday Bag O’ Fun” at Studio5 in Evanston, Illinois — ringing in New Year’s 2020 with music and laughter.
I’m still as passionate as ever about developing comedic situations and characters, polishing and performing sketches, and eliciting laughs from an intelligent and discerning audience.
It’s how I’m wired.
My comedy-loving father, Pete Barrosse, was born in New Orleans in 1927. Dad gifted me with a keen appreciation for the history of silent film comedy, vaudeville, stand-up comedy — and sketch comedy giants like Red Skelton, George Burns, Milton Berle, Carl Reiner, Imogene Coca and the great Sid Caesar.
Sid Caesar was the King of TV Comedy — the comedic force of nature behind Your Show of Shows, the seminal TV sketch revue that paved the way for great TV comedy revues like That Was The Week That Was, The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, The Carol Burnett Show– and, in my adult years, Saturday Night Live, In Loving Color, Mad TV, Chappelle’s Show and Key & Peele.
Jumping ahead for a moment — in 1983 I got a chance to work with Sid Caesar and The Smothers Brothers on Saturday Night Live. How crazy is that?
But going back two decades to 1964, I remember my mom staying up after work to take notes on each episode of the edgy, erudite TV comedy revue That Was The Week That Was— because dad was working the night shift at Reliable Spring in Cleveland.
I was just 8 years old, but I recall staying up late with my mom as we watched the show each week, and she took notes on TW3 for my dad.
Pete and Mary loved TW3.
Of course, it was all largely above my childish head – especially musical director Tom Leher’s cutting-edge songs.
Check out the cast and writers for TW3: Buck Henry, Paul Sand, Comden & Green, Henry Morgan, Alan Alda, Elaine May, Mike Nichols, etc.
I was just a child, but I was absorbing the very best of satiric comedy. And I knew my parents thought it was important. Comedy was important. Laughter was important. Lesson learned.
That Was The Week That Was didn’t last long on U.S. network television – but 11 years later, I got my chance to join in the sketch comedy game. And my authentic life began.
Before I knew anything about The Compass Players, Second City, The Committee – or any of my improvisational comedy antecedents, I was cast in my first sketch comedy revue in the summer of 1975.
My high school theatre director Mary Ann Zampino asked me, a callow high school junior, to join her hip, funny, and far more sophisticated friends to join the cast of an adult cabaret sketch show called Goodtimes.
How much older were my cast mates? Five years? Ten? I had no idea.
Musical director Paul Novosel was talented and visionary, but I had no clue how old he was.
He was the musical director and keyboard whiz for my junior year high school musical, Li’l Abner– and Paul and Zamp liked my turn as Marryin’ Sam enough to cast me in their 1975 summer cabaret comedy revue, Goodtimes.
Goodtimes director Jane Van Bergen was the only woman who ever directed me in a comedy revue. Our three man and three woman cast was the most gender-balanced in a comedy revue I’ve ever been in.
Goodtimes was cutting-edge — before I knew where the cutting-edge was!
But these folks were so damn cool – and so funny! And they treated me like a peer. It was a magical experience and it changed my life. Performing sketches, crafting funny characters – and getting laughs from a sophisticated audience (with adult cocktails in hand) was an intoxicating experience.
It would take several years for me to get back to the main thing: cabaret comedy.
When I arrived as a freshman at Northwestern University in the fall of ‘76, I planned to make my mark in the legit theatre. I saw myself as a dramatic actor. My goal was a career in regional theatre — perhaps a role in the repertory company of The Cleveland Playhouse.
Then I saw the 1977 Mee-Ow Show highlights in McCormick Auditorium.
I had no idea Mee-Ow wasn’t a long tradition at NU. In fact, just two years earlier, The Mee-Ow Show began as a subversive reaction to the old-fashioned, student-written musical comedy revue, The Waa-Mu Show. It was a variety show that encompassed music, dance, comedy — even a laser light show, I believe.
Mee-Ow was then revamped and re-directed by cast members Bill Nuss and Dusty Kay (‘76) as a sketch comedy review — taking its inspiration from The Second City, Kentucky Fried Theatreand Monty Python.
The show I saw featured the best bits from the 1977 Mee-Ow Show, North by Northwestern: a show written and performed by Jeff Lupetin, Betsy Fink, Kyle Heffner, Stewart Figa and others. It was so damn funny. It was so damn cool. It was inspirational.
The Mee-Ow Show was now my goal.
But I had no idea where The Mee-Ow Show would lead.
When I first wrote the history of The Practical Theatre for this blog, I finished by saying, “The Practical Theatre in Chicago in the 1980’s — that was Brigadoon: a magical place that existed for a brief time and vanished. And I got the girl.”
That was true. I did get the girl. And because I emerged from that life-changing experience with Victoria Zielinski as my wife and collaborator, the Practical Theatre was ultimately due for a renaissance.
Alas, the PTC revival would take more than two decades.
The PTC had to wait as Vic and I raised our three wonderful daughters: Maura, Emilia and Eva. But by 2010, the year of our 20th wedding anniversary, with our girls old enough to spare their parents for a few hours a day — Vic and I began to consider whether we were still comedians who had something to say.
We decided it was time to bring the Practical Theatre back. Thus was born “The Vic & Paul Show.”
Inspired by the classic work of Mike Nichols and Elaine May, Vic and I began improvising extended comic scenes in our kitchen, including…
There were times when our improvisations were so lively, so passionate, and so LOUD – that our girls would rush downstairs to see if we were okay. Were we really fighting? Arguing? Drunk?
They’d never seen us performing comedy sketches.
We polished our routines, edited our scripts, and wrote some songs. A Practical Theatre revue had to include music. That meant involving our long-time music director, Steve Rashid. We booked a series of shows in a tiny local bar called Push Lounge in Woodland Hills, California.
That leap of faith launched a tour that took “The Vic & Paul Show” to Chicago’s Prop Theatre and Mayne Stage in Rogers Park, to Cleveland’s 14thStreet Theatre — and iO West in Hollywood.
After that, we renewed a collaboration with our fellow Northwestern graduate and Mee-Ow Show alum, Dana Olsen, starting with Mr. Olsen’s Neighborhood at The Wilmette Theatre in 2012 — followed by “Mr. Olsen’s New Year’s Rockin’ Neighborhood” at 27 Live in 2013.
Then, Vic and Dana and I spent a solid year writing new material for “The Vic & Paul & Dana Show.” We were delighted that Steve Rashid and Rockin’ Ronny Crawford joined us for a Hollywood run at iO West in November 2015.
That show in LA revived a PTC comedy tradition that launched North Shore runs of “Mr. Olsen’s Holiday Party” in 2016, “Mr. Olsen’s Champagne Celebration” the following year and “PTC Radio Theatre On The Air” in 2018 – all staged at Bea and Steve Rashid’s fabulous Studio5 theatre in Evanston.
The Practical Theatre is alive and well at Studio5.
The PTC’s “Big Holiday Bag O’ Fun!” is the latest comedic chapter in a very funny history.
“Big Holiday Bag O’ Fun!” is a compendium of The Practical Theatre’s funniest sketches, dating from our “Mee-Ow Show” days at Northwestern University to “Bag O’ Fun” – our first improvisational comedy revue staged in the summer of 1980 at Evanston’s Noyes Cultural Arts Center – through “The Vic & Paul & Dana Show”.
Plus a few new bits written right up to opening night.
Brigadoon is back.
See you at Studio5!
If you haven’t gotten your tickets yet for The Practical Theatre Company’s Big Holiday Bag O’ Fun at Studio5 in Evanston, Illinois — now’s the time!
Tickets are going fast — so don’t delay.
It’s going to be the best party of the year. After an arduous political and social slog like we’ve all experienced in the past 12 months — we can all use a big, blow-out party with great music, free-spirited laughs, and a great big, bag o’ fun!
Get your tickets now at: http://www.studio5dance/calendar
In the summer of 1980, The Practical Theatre opened it’s first improvisational comedy revue — “Bag O’ Fun”— at The Noyes Cultural Arts Center in Evanston.
Now, four decades later, The PTC returns to Evanston for a concert celebration of classic Practical comedy – featuring grown-up laughs, great live music – anda well-stocked bar!
Playing their third holiday run at Studio5 in three years, writer-performers Victoria Zielinski, Paul Barrosse and Dana Olsen anchor a “Big Holiday Bag O’ Fun”– with music by jazz maestro Steve Rashid and his Studio5 All-Stars.
Saturday Night Live veteran Gary Kroeger and Evanston’s own Rockin’ Ronny Crawford set the beat for a bright young supporting cast: recording artist Eva B. Ross, Giggle Break’s Daniel Rashid, VEEP writer and stand-up comic Emilia Barrosse — and newcomer Reilly Anspaugh!
“Big Holiday Bag O’ Fun” combines classic Practical Theatre comedy sketches, newsworthy satire, and music better than you can imagine — with Don Stiernberg on every stringed instrument known to man, and Rockin’ Ronny Crawford on all things percussion.
Come and party before the show, sipping cocktails and anticipating the fun in the warmth and comfort of the North Shore’s most intimate performance venue — located at Dempster & Dodge in Evanston.Shows run December 28-31.
There’s a cash bar for all shows. Doors open for cocktails at 7:30. Showtime is 8:00. Except, that is, for New Year’s. The New Year’s Eve show starts at 9:00.
It’s gonna be a “Big Holiday Bag O’ Fun”.
Followers of this blog will surely pardon me for taking just a moment to kvell.
My three talented daughters – Maura, Emilia and Eva — each have a big gig coming up this June. And provided you have enough free time and transportation resources, I recommend you make the trifecta.
All of these gigs are just five minutes from anywhere by rocket car.
First off, there’s Eva B. Ross’ gig at Steve and Bea Rashid’s fabulous Studio5 cabaret in Evanston, Illinois (just north of Chicago) on June 15th. She’ll be mixing jazz standards and her own songs, backed by Steve Rashid on keys, Robert Rashid on drums and Grant Milliken on vibes.
For tickets, go to the Studio5 website.
While in the Chicago area, Eva will also play a set of original tunes at Hungry City on June 14th.
At the same time, Eva’s older sister Emilia Barrosse is playing a gig in Carlsbad, California – yeah, Carlsbad.
Emilia is a standup comedian and TV comedy writer who, along with her partner Julie Roland (a Navy helicopter pilot and a magician who performs at The Magic Castle), launched a popular standup comedy event series called Just Tryna Make Friends.
The next Just Tryna Make Friends event is Saturday, June 15, 2019 from 6:00 PM to 1:00 AM. It’s a PROM SEASON party.
Attendees are encouraged to shine their dancing shoes and pick out their favorite tuxes and dresses for this prom-themed comedy extravaganza, complete with a live DJ spinning the best prom playlist of 2010, reliably-spiked punch — and absolutely no chaperones.
Tickets are first come first served, so get yours now. Carlsbad is lovely this time of year.
At the end of the month Eva and Emilia’s older sister Maura Murphy-Barrosse will be bringing her soulful, bluesy, rocking band, Ms. Maura & The Misters to The Mint in Hollywood on Sunday, June 30 at 7:00 PM.
Ms. Maura & The Misters plays Maura’s original songs and thoroughly groovy arrangements of some classic tunes – all designed to get you out of your seat and onto the dance floor!
The Mint is located at 1136 W 6th St. in Los Angeles.
So, there you go! Your entertainment itinerary for June 2019 is a done deal. Maura, Emilia and Eva will get your summer off to a fabulous, fun start.
Events are moving fast in Trump era America.
Trump confidante Roger Stone just got indicted.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi pulled the plug on Donnie’s State of the Union MAGA rally.
And the serial swindler who sold his passionate, ill-informed minions on a fantastical Mexican border wall was forced to eat his brain-dead campaign promise — by a girl!
How fast are events moving?
Only a couple days ago, millions of Americans took to the streets nationwide to resist President Trump and his agenda – and the news and social media were buzzing about the dust-up between BuzzFeed and Special Prosecutor Mueller over whether it’s kosher to say there’s solid evidence that Trump told his lawyer-fixer, Michael Cohen, to lie to Congress.
Now, Cohen says Trump told him to lie — which sounds entirely plausible. Given Mango Mussolini’s reputation as a pathological liar, it’s completely reasonable. In fact, if it’s a question of whether or not Trump’s lying or encouraging lies, the answer is nearly universally, yes.
Yes! Trump is lying and promoting lies.
But as Trump tries to Tweet-twist the facts, the negative drumbeat continues. His lies piles on lies. And lately, his lies have begun to catch up with him. Remember that wall across our entire southern border that Mexico was going to pay for?
Starting today, Trump’s Great Wall Cave-in will ignite even more strident right-wing blowback. It was Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter who buckled him into a political straightjacket – and surprise! – Donnie’s no Houdini. Might they spare him for attacking windmills at their behest? (I doubt if any of them ever actually read Cervantes.)
Taking the political temperature today, I predict that by the summer of 2019, President Blowhard Bankruptcy will be revealed to all but his most ardent fascist-religious fans to be a dismal, derelict, treasonous failure.
Why do I think so?
Part of it is a gut feeling.
I feel this to be true.
I can sense where this Trump/Russia thing is going. Like I could sense trouble when I was a kid and my brother and I were wrestling around in the living room – and we broke our mom’s best vase.
We could lie. We could tell the truth. But no matter what we said – we were guilty of the crime. And we’d ultimately pay for that crime.
Now, President Trump is paying for his crimes.
So, what will Americans think of Trump by the summer of 2019?
Let’s look at the numbers.
And not just the hundreds of thousands who showed up in downtown Los Angeles to enjoy the Women’s March 2019. (I’ve illustrated this post with photos of the march, as I accompanied my wife & some wonderful friends.)
Let’s focus on dry, nerdy numbers. Cold, hard numbers are hard to dispute. Especially numbers that mean so much to our Dear Orange Leader…
How is Trumpty Dumpty doing in the national approval polls?
Let’s take a look at Trump’s current poll numbers in comparison to, say. George W. Bush…
When President George W. Bush left office in January of 2009, he was one of the most unpopular departing presidents in U.S. history. The Iraq War was a crime. There were no WMD. Then the economy collapsed. And oh yeah, Hurricane Katrina, too.
According to a CBS News/New York Times poll, George W’s final approval rating was 22%. 73% disapproved.
Bush’s final approval rating was the lowest for an outgoing president since Gallup began asking the question over 70 years ago.
C’mon, Donnie! You can underperform Dubya!
You can do it!
For what’s left of you Donald Trump fans out there, dig this…
Trump’s current approval rating is far below the final ratings of two-term presidents Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan, who both ended their terms with a 68% approval rating.
Barack Obama — the first black President — enjoyed a 53% approval rating while Hillary Clinton took on Trump during the 2016 election.
Two years later, Trump is in deep trouble.
Nate Silver and 538’s average poll numbers on the eve of the 2018 mid-term elections indicated a substantial Blue Wave. Trump’s approval was at 41.8% — and his disapproval at 52.8%. Trump was underwater by 11%.
Sure enough, the GOP got its clock cleaned in the 2018 mid-term elections — giving the gavel back to Speaker Pelosi. Hello, Madam Speaker!
As of tonight, 538’s Presidential approval poll average puts Donald Trump’s support at 39.3% His disapproval is 56%.
Trump is now underwater by 16.7%.
He was down by 11% before the midterms. He lost nearly 6 points before he caved on his Wall.
It’s only going to get worse for Orange Julius Caesar.
What follows are my favorite shots from the Women’s March in downtown Los Angeles on Saturday, January 19th.
Let’s have fun and march until Mango Mussolini falls — and drags the GOP into the dustbin of history.
It was the first time I performed in a comedy revue while wearing a bowtie.
I wore a faux bowtie t-shirt under my jacket for “Goodtimes” — my first-ever comedy revue in Cleveland in 1975. That’s me on the far right. I was still in high school. (In fact, my high school drama director, Mary Ann Zampino, is seated above me.) But, 43 years later, the bowtie was real.
At the suggestion of our musical director Steve Rashid, in cahoots with Chicago FM jazz station WDCB, we took up the creative challenge of adapting what we’ve been doing in our popular holiday shows for an audience of radio listeners.
First — we scheduled shows on December 28 and 29, 2018 at Studio5 in Evanston, Illinois.
Then, two months before those curtains were scheduled to go up, Victoria Zielinski, Dana Olsen and I began the process of becoming The Practical Radio Theatre Company of the Air.
The Practical Theatre has played a lot with comedy revue formats since our first improvisational comedy revue back in 1980 — but this was the first time we were having fun with the radio show format.
To begin the process, we focused on sorting through which of the sketches and songs in our repertoire would work best on the radio. Most PTC sketches feature a lot of words (some might say too many) — and the material we developed for The Vic & Paul Show and The Vic & Paul & Dana Show is particularly loquacious. So, that was good. Certain beats needed some tweaking, especially topical jokes that had to be updated, but it was creatively stimulating to take a fresh look at some of our favorite sketches.
One of the happiest re-discoveries was the revival of the “Marine Comedy” sketch, which made its summer of 1980 debut in the running order of Bag O’ Fun– the PTC’s first improv comedy revue. I play a boot camp drill sergeant leading a group of comedian cadets through their comic paces. The call and response of a veteran DI grilling his green troops lent itself well to radio. But keeping in mind that the live cabaret patrons aren’t the primary audience we must serve — how do you simulate a pratfall for the radio?
Questions like that lead to the biggest revelation in our writing and rehearsal process: the sound effects.
Of course, we agreed right away that we wanted to employ traditional hand-made radio show sound effects: the kind we remembered so fondly from the classic radio shows of the 1930’s and 40’s. (And no, we’re not thatold.) My dad, who was born in 1927, introduced me at an early age to the classic radio shows of his youth: classics like “Fred Allen’s Alley” and “Fibber McGee and Molly.” Fibber McGee’s closet – the quintessential old time radio sound effect – would not have been as famously funny in any other medium.
Steve Rashid’s son, Daniel, embraced the critical job of making the sound effects come alive. Daniel’s a fine young actor — and he’s also a drummer. That’s good. Radio sound effects punctuate moments in the sketches like drum fills in a song. Plus, the gig requires imagination and ingenuity – and Daniel showed plenty of both. As everyone came up with more ideas for sound effects, Daniel’s SFX job grew and grew and…
With about a month to go before opening night, we began to develop some sketches specifically for radio, including two episodes of “Fred Knoblock: Secret President” — a retro radio mystery about a former Walmart greeter pressed into service as a body double for a thinly disguised Mango Mussolini.
For the past few years, we’ve normally featured a corps of dancers in our revues – and Victoria insisted that we include a dance number in the show. But how do you perform dance on the radio?
Dana came up with a script that evolved into one of the show’s freshest and funniest sketches — in which Daniel and his brother (also a drummer) put thimbles on all their fingers and became a tap dancing troupe breaking out show-stopping moves. It became the sound effects highlight of the show.
As occupied as we were with the creation and execution of all the sound effects, another vital radio show element never troubled me: the music. That’s because maestro Steve Rashid was in charge, and the band he assembled was first class.
Steve was on keys, of course, as well as harmonica and trumpet. His Studio5 All-Stars were composed of the great Don Stiernberg on guitar and mandolin, the flawless Jim Cox on upright bass, and Steve’s son Robert on drums and percussion. (Tap-dancing thimbles, too!)
Among the musical wonders Steve performed were the composition of theme music for the show, Practical Radio Theatre On The Air, and all the shows within the show, including “Middle Aged Jeopardy”, “Fred Knoblock: Secret President” and “This Old Man”.
We also brought in two more musical ringers: vocalists Paul Marinaro and Eva B. Ross. Paul is a Chicago jazz favorite with a rich, dynamic voice that makes the Great American Songbook come alive. Eva is an up and coming singer-songwriter who shares Steve and Paul’s passion for jazz.
Whether singing solo or in duet, Paul and Eva gave us two more musical aces in the hole.
So, on the day after Christmas 2018, we returned to the familiar cabaret confines of Studio5 to prepare for a presentation that was not at all familiar to us. We had just two days to set up the sound and lighting and stage the material we’d developed over the previous two months.
Luckily for us, we had audio master Sam Fishkin handling the complex task of not only making sure that the cabaret audience could hear everything – but recording it all for the radio, too. And making the lighting of the show seem effortless, as usual, was Charlotte Rathke. It’s a joy to work with two pros that do beautiful work and never miss a cue– especially when so much of what you’re about to do onstage is new for everyone involved.
I’ve often said that The Practical Theatre Company is like Brigadoon, the mythical village in the classic Broadway musical. We appear for a brief time – and then we vanish. What follows are some glimpses into the process and performances that brought Practical Radio Theatre On The Air to life over four magical days in Evanston. (Many of these photos were taken by guest vocalist Paul Marinaro — a man of many talents.)
In just one week, The Practical Theatre will be back in the Chicago are with a classic radio show featuring grown-up comedy and great live music! Plus adult beverages! Join the fun as the PTC records two shows at Studio5 Performing Arts Center in Evanston for later broadcast on Chicago’s premier jazz station WDCB 90.9 FM.
There are just 2 shows: Friday December 28 and Saturday the 29th. Tickets are now on sale at Brown Paper Tickets. Click here for ticket info and reservations.
Practical Radio Theatre on the Air is a radio show format filled with high spirits, satire and song, featuring writer-performers Victoria Zielinski, Paul Barrosse and Dana Olsen with music by Steve Rashid and his Studio5 All-Stars, and special appearances by Studio5’s favorite singer Paul Marinaro, recording artist Eva B. Ross, and Giggle Break’s Daniel Rashid.
The Studio5 All-Stars are Steve Rashid (keyboards), Don Stiernberg (guitar), Jim Cox (bass) and Robert Rashid (drums).
Join the live audience and be an integral part of the show, sipping a smart cocktail in the comfort of the North Shore’s most intimate performance venue, located at Dempster and Dodge in Evanston — with acres of free parking!
It’s another holiday happening to remember!
Doors open for cocktails at 7:30. Showtime is 8:00.
Friday night’s performance begins with an opening set of songs by Paul Marinaro. On Saturday night Eva B. Ross opens the show. But the fun begins as soon as you get there!