The live stage talk show format has become increasingly popular in Chicago’s performing arts community in the last couple of years. “Paper Machete”, Chris Piatt’s weekly “live magazine” comes to mind. There’s something cheekily self indulgent about the enterprise, suggesting our local performers are at least as interesting as Hollywood celebrities are. Wait a minute, that’s undeniably true!
“Tonight It’s Live With Tom Bambara” embraces the fundamental silliness of the concept, patterning itself after major network late night comedy. If “Paper Machete” is “60 Minutes”, “Tonight It’s Live” is “The Tonight Show”, replicating the classic Carson formula. We start with a musical number by house musician James “Manny” Manno, who performs the “Tonight It’s Live” theme song. This segues into our host Tom’s monologue. He is then joined by sidekick Andi Woody and they engage in banter followed by interviews. Interview subjects have included Denise Donovan of Team Starkid Productions, Evelyn De Hais of the clown troupe Harlotry and Necromancy Appreciation Society, and local puppet comedians Crash Pad.
We also get to see some excellent sketch type moments, such as when Tom’s mother Skypes in to matter of factly tell him she doesn’t much care for the show.
Bambara’s persona is a combination of flop sweaty self deprecation and playful lechery, which owes a lot to Conan O’Brien and other masters of the form, but he displays an earnest passion for the show that is all his own. Woody skewers Bambara’s pretensions with a combination of quick wit and deceptively cheerful delivery.
“Tonight It’s Live” is only a couple of months into its existence, which is an open run, and it probably has some growing to do, but it’s already an intelligent, vibrant addition to Chicago’s live arts scene. Most importantly, it’s a lot of fun.