If Paul Thomas seems to be doing the work of two men, that’s no real surprise. Until recently he was part of the award-winning two-man Defiant Thomas Brothers with Seth Thomas, focusing on sketch comedy. Now Paul’s going it alone, citing irreconcilable differences as the reason for the split from his four-year-long partnership.
Since he’s not comfortable performing one-man sketches, he’s switched to a mixture of stand-up, singing, and comedy monologues for this Piccolo show.
“I’d developed a couple of characters,” says Thomas, “and I just did Waitress Wanted, which includes some monologues and aspects of my personal life.” When New York’s Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre asked him if he had a 30-minute show, he realized that a string of these characters and observations could fill the slot.
Thomas subsequently beefed up the show to an hour, performed it four times in Chicago, and is ready to bring it to Chucktown. He heard about Piccolo from friends in Second City, contacted Theatre 99 and snagged the cozy Buxton’s East Bay Theatre. Since he’s used to playing tiny spaces in Chicago, he’s not concerned about performing in the close-knit downtown venue. He’s been told that a capacity crowd of 85 will be packed into the 45-seater, but the personal aspects of his show should work well when he’s nose-to-nose with his audience.
“I haven’t done Late Bloomer with a large crowd,” Thomas says. “I haven’t done stand-up for so long. Here I can do the different elements, switch things around and do that self-promotional aspect of saying, ‘Hey look at me! I can do all those things!'”
Thomas is staying tight-lipped about the specific contents of the show. “It doesn’t weave together,” he says. “Some of it is just me, and more than half of it is characters.” Not all of the lines are there just to get a laugh; some are self-indulgent, soft gags that Thomas has included to please himself as much as his audience. There’s a particular song that always wows the crowd, though. “It’s not what people expect,” he explains. “People can’t get it out of their heads. Nobody has that expectation when they go to a comedy show.”
What should audiences expect from a show called Late Bloomer? It’s a reference to the comedian’s personal and professional blooming — he didn’t move to Chicago to do comedy until he was 27, and he’s just got married at the old-enough-to-know-better age of 34. There’s also a sense that he’s playing catch-up, using stuff that he kept on the back burner while working with Thomas. Now that he’s on his own, do the constant nods to his former partnership piss him off?
“It’s like we’re divorced now. You wouldn’t have pictures of your ex-wife up on the wall. But I don’t mind all the references in the press. I came to Chicago solo and I left a lot of my material on the shelf in deference to the group I was with. Now I’m making up for lost time.” —Nick Smith
Paul Thomas: Late Bloomer • Piccolo Spoleto’s Piccolo Fringe • $15 • (1 hour) • May 25 at 8 p.m.; May 26 at 8.30 p.m.; May 27 at 7 p.m. • Buxton’s East Bay Theatre, 184 East Bay St. • 554-6060