This interview came out after the closing of Tamales, but be sure to check out Tom and Tim Bambara in many more future productions!
I sat down for an interview with brothers Tom and Tim Bambara, the creative force behind the hilarious sketch comedy show ¡Tamales! – currently showing in the bar at Strawdog Theater. ¡Tamales! ends this weekend, so catch it while you still can!
Joe Tansino: Have you guys been drinking?
Tom Bambara: My roommate bought Gluten-Free Beer. It's kind of emasculating.
Tim Bambara: We were definitely drinking when we decided to produce tamales.
JT: Tell me about Tamales.
Tim: Tom and I decided to put on a ruckus buddy comedy about three friends in search of the infamous 'tamale guy' of Chicago. We were actually working on another show, The Rise of Emperor Eric, this summer and we were celebrating with a post show drink with our graphic designer. Thus...the birth of Tamales! Tom had a rough idea of what he wanted the script to be and in a few lunch conversations we figured out that the 3 main characters had to go on a quest. Also, they would each have to face a challenge to overcome.
Tom: The whole thing was really just a way for us to take all of the positive experiences of Emperor Eric, focus them, and make them funnier by adding a few extra comedy all stars.
JT: It occurred to me while watching your show that there might be more than one guy selling tamales late night in bars in Chicago.
Tom: There are 2 main ones, but this has been a business in Chicago since like 1992.
Tim: Claudio and Julio - our cast member Mojo (Fernando Albiar) actually talked to Julio a few weeks ago about his back story.
JT: I just assumed it was one dude. Like how Santa can be on TV and in a local department store at the same time.
Tom: Hahaha, it's a lot like Santa. But in doing the research, Claudio, who is portrayed as the "good" Tamale guy, is the guy who has been doing it the longest of all of them. However, there was a guy who sold them before him. So it's kind of like a Jedi Master - Padawan kind of thing. Claudio was the Obi-Wan of Julio.
JT: How long did you guys spend researching this tamale mythology?
Tim: We went to the Long Room a lot this summer and kind of created it on our own
Tom: Well...a lot of it is actual stuff. What's really funny is if you just spend some time on google, you're going to come back with some ridiculous stuff.
JT: When I googled "Tamale Chicago" I discovered that the Tamale guy has over 200 reviews on Yelp.
Tom: Yep! He's on Yelp, he's on Metromix. He's legitimately on Twitter. As soon as I learned that people track him on Twitter, it was a goldmine for the plot of our show.
JT: So there is actually a Twitter tracker for the Tamale guy. How do you know that the Tamale guy you're tracking is the “good” Tamale guy?
Tim: Red Cooler :)
JT: Some of your cast members get really sick from eating "bad" tamales. Have you ever gotten sick eating a tamale?
Tom: No. Plot device. It would go nowhere if they just ate the Tamales from the one guy, and the play ended. It'd be like Juno taking a morning after pill. No plot.
JT: Do the Tamale guys know about the show?
Tom: Eh....next question.
JT: I can't see how they'd be offended, it's free publicity.
Tom: For real! It's a celebration of them and their craft, and is only better for business.
JT: Except for the diarrhea thing.
Tom: I'd like to say that our fine Mojo improvised that aspect of the show...nary a word is written about diarrhea in the script.
Tim: I think I directed the cast to poop their pants a bit..
JT: Let's talk about the cast.
Tim: Well, we have Don M.I.M.I. Mundo (played by Tom) and his sidekick Rodrigo (played by our friend and guitarist James Manno)
Tom: Yeah, Manny is baller. He knows it too...maybe he doesn't. Whatever, he's baller. The roles were tailored for each actor. I had an idea of everyone's strengths and we really adapted the script to work with each of them pretty well. Mike [Cherry] only started doing his "Hipster" character two nights before we opened. It's one of the funnier things in the show. But before that, we both worked on the Stand-Up he does together. And Krista [Kauss], with her dancing...we made sure it was stuff she was going to knock out of the park. And Tom-Tom [Tom Daily] would only sing Seal. Nothing else.
Tim: Mike wanted to do something outside the box so we let him roll with it...I think it turned out pretty funny.
JT: Maybe I'm reading way too much into the show, but I saw it as a quest not just for tamales, but for identity. These characters are searching for the identity of the "good" tamale guy, but they're also exploring their own identities in a big city that is full of awful, just terrible people.
Tim: That's exactly it Joe.
Tom: I completely agree. It's a personal quest for each of them, in a lot of ways. Bea has to dance her way to glory. Mac has to tackle and conquer the open mic standups. Tom-Tom has to woo the heart of a pretty "deaf" girl with music. All in the sake of finding their identities.
JT: Speaking of the standup, can we talk for a minute about the comedienne Connie Howe that Mac challenges?
Tom: Connie Howe is based off of a stand-up comedienne that I've seen a few times. Well, she does the raunchiest, dirtiest stuff, and it's always really uncomfortable. I had an idea to write this person into the show. And I wanted my friend Lauren Maul to play her. So when I approached Lauren, she was thunderstruck. Lauren does a lot of character driven stand-up, and a character she just created was "Connie Howe" based off of this old lady comedienne she had done a show with. After doing a little elimination and youtubing, we realized that we were talking about the exact same person. So we both independently came up with this spoof, so the marriage of our material was inevitable. I love working with Lauren, and she hits a home run every single time she does Connie. That being said...Meredith Stepien...who filled in this weekend was like Kobe Bryant subbing in for Michael Jordan. One was the original, but I think it could be debated for a while who did it better. Both are awesome in my book.
JT: Is Lauren Maul your future ex-wife, Tom?
Tom: Hahaha, no. That's Denise Donovan, who played "Daphne." She's actually my current ex-wife.
JT: And was also hilarious.
Tom: Denise is amazing because she just will inherently entertain you through regular conversations. Denise's bit in the show was just something she did in a cab ride for me. And I was laughing so hard I cried. At this point I've seen her do it about 50 times, and I die every time she does it . . . but anyway, that's what was so fun about writing this script. I just literally plugged in the talents of my friends, and it always worked.
Tim: Her fam is awesome too - they all came down from Detroit on the megabus to see the last show.
Tom: Oh my God I forgot to praise CHRISTIAN! Dude, that dance. Denise and Krista worked on that with him. Christian is so awesome in this. But I think what really got us out of a lot of hot water was finding Mojo (Fernando Albiar). If we had a Gringo playing the Tamale guy, it wouldn't have gone over so well. Plus, Mojo can improvise in Spanish, which is one of the more incredible talents you can have in this city. Some of his improvisations, I can't describe it.
JT: So what's next for Bambro productions?
Tom: Bootleg! Tim wants to do a prohibition era comedy. So I'm going to watch some more Boardwalk Empire, a little Untouchables, and a lot of the "Beer Baron" episode of the Simpsons
Tim: Tom's gotta write it first though
Tom: We may remount Tamales in a different location. Personally, I'm launching a late night talk show which is going to be my main focus. But I have a good feeling I'll be putting my portly and effulgent ass on display with my brother directing sometime in June.
Tim: I'm going to go work with the theatre company I'm in, Tympanic, and then get together with Tom again in a few months.
JT: One last question: Which do you prefer: puerco, pollo, or queso?
Tom: I always bet on puerco.