Interview: Think Tank

It's been just over a year since Think Tank, a local independent sketch team, wrapped up their monthly sketch blowout, Pistol Party. The group has since worked on a pair of pilots and a well-received Sketchfest show, and is staging a four week run of their new show, Chasing the Hype, every Sunday in June at the Den Theatre in Wicker Park. Tickets are $10 and can be purchased here

I caught up with the four members of Think Tank to find out what they've been up to since Pistol Party wrapped, and what to expect from Chasing the Hype!

The Steamroller: It's been a while since Think Tank produced a live show, what makes now the right time to bring it back? What have you been up to in the interim?

Paul Robinson: Over the last few years we have been balancing our time between performing live shows and shooting videos. Last year we dedicated much more time to the latter, completing an original sketch comedy pilot called Misguided TV and premiering it here in Chicago. We also helped work on another pilot called Sick Day that is premiering next month at the Laugh Factory.

Kevin Carroll: We've had the itch since this year's sketchfest show to expand on that and do a run of a high quality production. It has been a while since we did a weekly sketch revue, so we're really excited to get Chasing the Hype on stage in June.

Brent Bridwell: We sat down after Sketchfest this year and really decided to concentrate on a few video ideas that we've had on the table for awhile. The longer we do sketch together, we're going on something like 8 years now, the more "real life" commitments start creeping in to rehearsal/performance time. We have to be really efficient and smart with how we are using our time together.

Once we knocked out the filming this winter and spring, we had a lot of ideas from our Sketchfest show in January that we loved, but didn't feel we got enough out of. So, as Kevin said, that itch was there, and we had to scratch it.

Peter Stepnoski: I don't mean to air our laundry in public, but, it was gambling debts. We needed to make some quick money or we were losing legs. I can be blamed, I introduced betting on ostrich racing and it cleaned all of us out. So putting up a show was our only way of figuring out how to generate some cash. We also lost our ass trying to get Sally Jessy Raphael back on TV. I think close to $100,000 was spent campaigning for her return.

TS: The Den Theatre is becoming a more popular venue for local comedy (Double Feature and the upcoming Jangleheart Circus festival, and now Chasing the Hype), how did you come to work with them?

Kevin: I've seen some traditional theater there and loved the space, and really loved their bar. Once we realized they were open to comedy shows, we reached out. The Den folks have been super great to work with. 

Brent: We're really excited to do something in Wicker Park as well. We've done some one-off shows in that area, but never a full run. It has always seemed like an area where our brand of humor could thrive.

Peter:  With the rise of anti-Dad sentiment in today's youth, Think Tank though it was important to go the source of the issue and help. Wicker Park is a breeding ground of young people that "hate their Dad."  We wanted to tackle the issue head on and say "Hey there mister, it's alright, your Dad's awesome and so are you."  What better way to break the ice than a comedy show?

TS: What was the inspiration for the show's name?

Kevin: So often the initial reports about news events turn out to be inaccurate because the 24 hour news channels, Twitter, social media, etc have put such an emphasis on reporting news events as quickly as possible. It's really kind of irresponsible and insensitive. We wanted to make fun of that. 

Paul: We've never been a political comedy group, in the sense that you’ll never see us perform a skit about Barack Obama. That’s just not our style. That being said, we do enjoy writing about larger trends in society. We like to satirize those trends and make them outrageously silly.

For this show, we’re poking fun at the news media and their tendency to sensationalize, exaggerate, and wildly speculate based on limited information. For example, in our show Brent robs a bank and the news media flash a picture of Scottie Pippen as a potential suspect. Brent shares very little resemblance to Scottie Pippen. 

Brent: Yeah, a major theme and epiphany we had while writing this show is the evolution of the news, and how fast it's become. It's almost too fast. People are so hungry for that big break that they are willing to report anything that breaks. It's become ridiculous. And when ridiculous is happening, it's a perfect time for Think Tank to slide in with a ridiculous take on it.

We never want to beat any theme over the head in a show (it is still comedy), but it seemed like something relevant worth building an arc of a show around. We consciously never pick a side in our comedy, we just try to make fun of the whole ridiculous thing.

Peter:  Misinformation, is thriving in today's news. Every story that breaks becomes a competition to trump the other stations breaking news. So, Think Tank thought they'd crack open their giggle boxes and make chuckles spew from the audience's face holes. Hopefully in the end, a little bit learning and growing can happen, together…forever…forever….forever.

TS: The Pistol Party shows and other past Think Tank events were fun, multifaceted events, what can folks expect from this new series?

Kevin: Chasing the Hype is a 4 week run of a multimedia theatrical production. There are elements of vaudeville-style physical humor interacting with video; more traditional style sketch comedy scenes, and very Think Tank style weird stuff.

Brent: Definitely. Still a lot of multimedia worlds colliding. We take a lot of pride in that because it's hard to pull off, and we are lucky enough to have the opportunity to try to pull it off. It's a delicate balance, but the longer we do this, the better we get.

This is our best presentation of video interacting with live to create a building "hype" as the show goes. Oh, and really, really absurd and silly. Those are the most important ingredients.

Peter:  We love making laugh soup with a multitude of stimulus.  The written word has always been at the core, but wielding multimedia tools to accompany the show, makes for a more heightened experience.