Seth and Paul Thomas are the Defiant Thomas Brothers. They are not actually brothers, but they’ll let you figure that out on your own; in a recent clip from the Chicago morning show, You and Me this Morning, the guys tell two befuddled hosts that they “have the same mother.” Seth and Paul, who are black and white, respectively, do not have the same mother. They don’t mind making you a little uncomfortable asking about it, though.
In our interview the Thomas’s tell us that we can distinguish one from the other because, “Seth sounds black.” In conversations, as in their comedy, the pair aren’t afraid to talk about race. Heck, their promo image features Seth in whiteface and Paul in blackface.
The Defiant Thomas Brothers, who perform sketch comedy along with a grab bag of elements, including music, started performing in Chicago in 2002 where they presented a show at the upstairs of a restaurant for 80 weeks. In 2005 they won best sketch show at the U.S. Comedy Arts Festival in Aspen. That was the same year the Flight of the Conchords were named best alternative comedy act at the same festival. And as Paul says, “They turned out OK.”
The guys were making it pretty big when, nine or so years ago, they decided to take a break. Wives and kids came into the mix and Seth worked on rap music while Paul did more comedy and some film stuff. “I had forgotten how effortless it was,” says Seth of performing as the Defiant Thomas Brothers. They’re quick to shoot down or build up ideas they think won’t work, saving each other the time and energy that could be wasted on a not-funny joke or scene.
“If everything’s about race it gets preachy or boring,” says Paul. He’s referring, in part, to one review of the show that described the Defiant Thomas Brothers’ work as “racial comedy.” They talk about race, sure, but they don’t want to be pigeonholed.
“It’s like the special sauce on a Big Mac,” says Seth of the topics the two discuss in their sketches. “The meat and bread is that we’re human beings. Our characters are gounded, real people that you might be able to identify with.”