From the prelude sounds of Three Dog Night’s “Black and White,” the series of sketches performed by these unlikely brothers—the energetic African American Seth Thomas and the laidback white Paul Thomas—has a throwback feel to it. Throwback in its concerns—most of the ideas about race are familiar and even gently administered compared to the take-no-prisoners style of a Chris Rock or a Dave Chappelle. And throwback in its structure—the mix of songs and physical-comedy skits evokes the likes of the Smothers Brothers, a once-popular team who clashed and burned with CBS over an edgy brand of comedy that seems quite tame by today’s standards. The Defiant Thomas Brothers use this throwback structure to their advantage, allowing their considerable charm and intelligence to work its way with the audience progressively. The show opens with a conversation with a heard-but-not-seen God, who chooses to communicate solely by bellowing, “Pepsi.” The show’s cleverness builds, through an old Negro spiritual reworked as a commentary on gas prices, and into an over-the-top encounter that juxtaposes the meditative prayers of a Muslim with his intoxicated roommate’s “praying to the porcelain god.” A reworking of the classic “Who’s on first” Abbott and Costello routine into a verbal inner-city joust over getting the hookup for the best pot is so well executed it becomes a high point. And ultimately, that’s what makes this duo so effective: they perform without resorting to buckets of irony or camp, simply relying on intelligent comedy to bring the laughs. And that’s a throwback idea sorely in short supply these days. The Defiant Thomas Brothers have just been invited to the prestigious HBO U.S. Comedy Arts Festival Aspen this winter; this is your last chance to catch them before then. (Brian Hieggelke)
Studio Theater in the Chicago Cultural Center, 77 E. Randolph, (312)924-1823. Thu-Fri 8pm. $10, $7 students/seniors. Through Dec 10.