Abraham Levitan’s show compels me, which is why I’m writing about it, but it also confuses me so I’ll let him explain.
Our Town So what's the show's premise?
Abraham Levitan I'll try to explain this as simply as possible, which is a little tricky in the case of Shame That Tune. Each show features three contestants, who come onstage one at a time for about 10 minutes each. First, they spin a Wheel-of-Fortune-style wheel, divided among various musical sub-genres. (Recent categories include R. Kelly's "Trapped in the Closet", Dixie Chicks, Twisted Sister, and Glenn Miller.) Then the contestant spends 3 minutes telling an embarrassing anecdote -- the best contestants usually read straight from a junior-high diary. Then my co-host, Brian Costello (who's a novelist, Reader contributor, and drummer in a great band called Outer Minds), interviews them for 4 minutes. And at the end of the interview, I perform a song about their anecdote, in the style chosen by the wheel. At the end of the whole show, the audience votes for its favorite contestant, via a Human Applause-O-Meter.
OT How was the show conceived?
AL I have a little bit of a history doing these instant-response songs -- I used to do them for a reading series at The Hideout called The Dollar Store, and I've done them for a few WBEZ events too. Meanwhile, Brian used to have his own live talk show at the Empty Bottle. So, it's kind of a fusion our backgrounds. We wanted to make it a game show because we feel like there are already a large number of awesome reading series in Chicago, and this was our way of doing something distinctive.
OT You have a number of regulars—what does each person bring?
AL Aside from Brian and me, we have two regulars onstage at all times. Our intern is played by Jeanine O'Toole (The 1900's, Bare Mutants, and a host of other bands/projects). In her other projects, Jeanine is confident and charismatic. But on this show, she plays a bumbling intern, incapable of adjusting a mic stand without turning it into a huge physical-comedy event. She's excellent. It's basically a non-speaking role. Our other regular, a new addition, is Nick Rouley, a Chicago stand-up. He plays the Life Coach, who guides our contestants with some very West Coast-flavored self-help shtick. He also lights incense sticks when the guests are running long with their stories -- sort of our version of the orchestra starting to play at the Oscars.
OT What’s it like to have to write a song in four minutes?
AL You'd think it would be stressful -- but I actually don't feel that way. The song was written in four minutes -- of course it's gonna be terrible! Any time I start to clam up, I just think, "This is supposed to be really bad," and things start moving again. I also have two cocktails beforehand, which is helpful.
OT How are contestants chosen?
AL Initially they were drawn from our circle of friends -- mostly fellow musician dudes/dudettes, since both Brian and I play in bands. As the show has grown, we've had more stand-up comics as contestants, which is awesome. Whenever we have a contestant on the show, we ask them for recommendations for future contestants.
OT Why tell teenage anecdotes?
AL Most of our contestants are in their 30's, with maybe a little spillover into late 20's, early 40's, etc. By this point in the game, the hope is that we can laugh at our adolescence. Or, if we're still traumatized by it, maybe reading about it in public can be a kind of exorcism. I guess from the pure comedy perspective, adolescence is the most direct shot to embarrassment.
OT Any especially memorable show moments?
AL On one of our very first shows, we had a moment where it seemed like all the stars were aligning. Peter Andreadis, the drummer in my band Baby Teeth, was the contestant. He came up, spun the wheel, and it landed on Metallica. He then proceeded to read from his 7th-grade diary, describing how he was psyching himself up to make a move on this girl by repeating the mantra, "Taste Death, Live Life." The moment he got to that part, the whole crowd went nuts, because that slogan itself already sounded like a Metallica lyric! So, my job was super-easy. I love moments like that, when the story seems to naturally align with the musical category. Of course it's also fun when the two have absolutely nothing to do with each other.
OT How do you choose each month’s theme?
AL Well, Brian and I use Shame That Tune to pay tribute to a lot of schmaltzy, Borscht Belt comedy of the past. (Pardon my Yiddish.) And also, to send up current comedy corn -- AM-radio-commercial caliber laffs. And what do those kind of comedians always do? Talk about the weather. Or the season. Or the closest holiday. So, that's how we usually pick our theme.... sheer calendar proximity. We're not ashamed to manipulate your Christmas Fever in order to get your five dollars.
OT What are you most looking forward to this month?
AL Creating the wheel. This month's category is "Luck", and there are sooooo many cheesy songs over the past 50 years about that subject. I think this wheel will positively reek of cheese by the time I'm done.
OT What’s your all time favorite game show?
AL At this point, I don't think I'm legally allowed to say anything other than Wheel of Fortune. But, in my heart of hearts, probably Blind Date.
For tickets to the March 9th show go here.
A writer with an MFA in Creative Writing from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Sarah Terez Rosenblum freelances for a number of web sites and print publications. Her debut novel, “Herself When She’s Missing," (Soft Skull press) is available for pre-order here. She is also a figure model, Spinning instructor and teacher at Chicago’s StoryStudio. Inevitably one day she will find herself lecturing naked on a spinning bike. She's kind of looking forward to it actually.
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