Interview with Tommy Koenig

National Lampoon veteran and star of Baby Boom Baby

Baby Boom Baby is the culmination and combination of my work in theatre, stand up comedy, music and art. I get to do it all in this one show.

Most of my career I have done all these things separately. I have been an actor since I graduated college (SUNY Buffalo), a stand up comedian since the early wave of comedy clubs spreading across the country, a sketch player as well as writer with National Lampoon (‘If We’re Late Start Without Us’ on tour and ‘Class of ’86’ Off Broadway and filmed for Showtime), a musical parodist who opened for anyone from Bonnie Raitt to Joan Jett, co-writer with musicians like Bernie Worrell of The Talking Heads and P Funk, and an artist with many commissions and sales of my ‘Paintings in 3D’ series.

In ‘Baby Boom Baby’ I get to bring all this into play.

THE WAY IT EVOLVED:

My first one man show, ‘The Living Experiment’, began in 1987 and ran thru 1992 with extended runs in NY and LA. It was the first time I did a show alone but with an ensemble of characters, some of which still appear in ‘Baby Boom Baby’, as I have learned that some routines take years to be perfected and evolved. As George Carlin said ” After 35 years of doing this I’m finally starting to figure some of this shit out”.

My next project, a variety show in the style of the old TV shows hosted by and starring Milton Berle, Jackie Gleason and Red Skelton, called ‘The Tommy Koenig Show’, began as a series of benefits for the Red Cross right after 9/11 in Downtown NYC and ran until 2004. It was voted ‘Best Comedy of 2002’ by Theatremania. In this show I introduced many of the parodies of the artists I now do in ‘Baby Boom Baby’. Through the years I would do a parody of whatever artists at the time were most popular, but stop doing them when someone else came along to poke fun at. But I realized that I had an enormous repertoire of people I had done and wanted to bring them to life again in the proper context.

It was when I was invited to do be an Artist In Residence at The Santa Barbara Theatre in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico in 2009 that the idea for ‘Baby Boom Baby’ began.

For years I’d wanted to do a show called ‘Baby Boom Baby’, telling my personal story and the story of my generation through the rock and roll music that influenced other boomers like me.

It was so well received by older Boomer Canadian tourists and American ex-pats that I returned to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico in 2010 for a successful month-long run of ‘Baby Boom Baby’ which made me feel I was on to something. I realized that although the nostalgia machine was finally getting to our generation with shows like ‘ Beatlemania’ and ‘Beautiful’ there wasn’t a show that told the whole story of what it was like to be a Baby Boomer growing up through the decades. I felt that the musical impressions and characters would be entertaining but what surprised me the most was how my story was resonating with the audiences and how they were really embracing it and the message in it, a return to Peace, Love and Understanding, which is also very rare these days and is another thing that is driving me to keep doing this show.

Upon my return to the States, I teamed up with Gary Smith, who for over 30 years had owned and run The Brokerage Pub in Bellmore, New York. The Brokerage Pub was not only my home club on Long Island (I am from Far Rockaway, Queens) but Gary ran The Brokerage Pub with a spirit that harkened back to a time when being in show business felt more down-to-earth and home-grown. Many performers, like me, honed their craft in that room under Gary’s watchful eye.

He found a new venue, The Bellmore Theatre, in Bellmore, Long Island, New York, an arthouse movie theatre that immediately brought to mind the Fillmore East as I was looking for a place that would be the right vibe for Boomers. We were halted almost a year by Hurricane Sandy which devastated my hometown and most of Long Island in 2012. Gary lost everything, including his spirit, but his 90 year old Mother was a fan of the show, and talked him into co producing the show with me in 2013. In that theatre it felt more like a comedy concert and though the routines and basic story were working I began to feel that this show was more suited for a legit theatre stage.

My old friend from my days in LA, Peter Barbour (who was part of Steven Speilberg’s production team for many years) flew in to see the show and saw the same potential. We had to free me from the concert format which had me using a stand up microphone and having to pause while I made a costume change. Another old colleague, Barry Hirschberg, came on board to be the Musical Producer. He and I had created many of the musical tracks that I used in my act over the years. He provided me with a lavalier (cordless) microphone and I then created the set pieces to store the props and wigs on stage (boxes I painted to resemble years of graffiti) now allowing me to keep the monologue going as I transform right before your eyes. Now the show was feeling like a theatre piece. I enlisted another old colleague and college buddy Mitchell Bogard, one of Broadway/ TV’s top lighting designers, to help further create the atmosphere to bring the show to the next level. I also asked another old friend and collaborator costume designer Rosemary Ponzo for her advice and we set out to find theatres that could help us realize the vision for the show, at first doing the show at The Triad/ Stage 72 Off Broadway and upstate at The Downstairs Cabaret Theatre in Rochester, where the show’s theatrical potential started to be realized in the two months it ran in 2014 and 2015. Runs in Buffalo (Shea’s Smith Theatre), Austin, Texas (Stateside Theatre) and at the Sparta Stage, NJ helped build the momentum that we now carry into South Florida and The Palm Beaches Theatre, and then this Summer at the Ti-Ahwaga Players Theatre in Owego, NY.

THE RESPONSE:

It’s so rewarding to see the show resonate uniformly with audiences as we branch out around the country. The standing ovations notwithstanding there’s nothing better than having a fellow graying Boomer rush back down the aisle and exclaim “That was ME!!!”. But seeing that all ages who attend are ‘getting it’ is a revelation and inspires me to keep going. Kinda like a… campaign?

Seniors relate from the point of view of my parents (the Greatest Generation) and those who grew up as older Boomers like my brother will recall the transition from the conservative to the rebellious that began in the 50’s and even the generations after mine that grew up through the MTV years and even younger get the history lesson and, in the case of at least one 12 year old who attended with her Mother and Grandmother, was inspired to follow her own comedy dream. It ‘s the story of a lifetime – ours.

Audiences come away amazed at how much I put into the show and often teary-eyed at the surprise ending and message they are left with. A love story for the Generation of Love.

THE STORY:

Baby Boom Baby is the story of comedian Tommy Koenig. Born in Brooklyn, NY in 1953, the year Rock and Roll was born, the son of a musician who played with Glenn Miller during WW2, he is greatly influenced by chance meetings with JFK and later George Carlin, and mostly by what the Beatles brought – the influence of music on Boomers’ culture and personal choices.

We follow him through the years as he struggles to keep up with the changing ways, just missing Woodstock by a few miles, the rites of passage of College, Travel and Sex and Drugs and the ever changing cultural and political landscape that music unleashes as it morphs into Disco to Punk to MTV to Rap and beyond, all displayed in 90 non-stop kaleidoscopic minutes of Past, Present and even Future.

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