Music and Laughter in Harmony

Citing influences that range from Steve Martin and Tim Minchin to Weird Al Yankovic and Julie Brown, Shannon Noel and Stacie Burrows know how to tell a joke and string a guitar or two. Together, they are Mommy Tonk, and the musical comedy duo has spread its unique brand of irreverent thoughts on marriage, womanhood and motherhood throughout the country since 2010. Like any act, however, the two spent years prior to meeting to hone their individual talents and craft a show that took advantage of their unique comedic abilities.

With Noel’s being from Louisville and Burrows’ being from Texas, both women had idyllic Southern childhoods and grew up listening to the likes of Loretta Lynn, Aretha Franklin, Sam Cooke, Otis Redding, Chuck Berry and Crystal Gayle. In addition to listening to and creating music, both Noel and Burrows expressed interest in performance art from a young age. “There was this incredible children’s theatre run by my school and some amazing parent volunteers and local artists – Anchorage Children’s Theatre, or ACT,” says Noel proudly. Noel also asserts that it was her third grade teacher, Mrs. Cunningham, who first encouraged her to pursue her dreams of performing on stage: “She knew what she was doing, and God bless her for this wisdom. I’m forever grateful.”

600X400FBBurrows’ introduction to showmanship was less formal: “I learned how to perfect telling a dirty joke by sitting around with my dad and his friends while they drank scotch and smoked in the backyard.” Her family attended church, and she claims that even though she did not always see eye to eye on the content of her preacher’s sermons, she respected the man’s formidable public speaking skills. This formative experience has proven to have had a profound effect on her performance style.

As Noel and Burrows grew older, they slowly combined their affinity for comedy and performance with their love for music, all while garnering as much experience as possible. Noel spent her years right after attending Louisville’s Youth Performing Arts School and the University of Kentucky touring nationally with children’s theatre companies, writing plays and performing stand-up comedy. “Eventually, I moved down to L.A. to study Meisner and then attended the Second City training program,” she says before adding with a chuckle, “I went on to perform in the monologue shows at Second City. I would create a character who was suffering something tragic and write a very dark but funny song about it. I think this is where all my influences started to blend.”

While Noel may have received more formal training, Burrows was nonetheless honing her craft: “When I became a fan of Tenacious D, Flight of the Concords and Tim Minchin, I understood how powerful the joke could be if it was accompanied by music. I learned the beauty of being honest on stage when I performed on the Lower East Side of Manhattan in an alternative comedy room called the Collective Unconscious.” Utilizing her time with Collective Unconscious to the fullest and drawing from her influences in Lenny Bruce, George Carlin, Steven Martin and “Saturday Night Live,” Burrows found her voice: “I like the way comedy can make social commentary but in a very funny and smart way. I enjoy entertaining and educating simultaneously.”

Finally, the two blossoming comedians met while performing for “Expressing Motherhood,” a national show featuring stories about motherhood told on stage. That fateful day occurred in 2010 with both Noel and Burrows at the peak of their comedic abilities and having amassed a wealth of tales from their respective marriages and children to draw from. “I wrote a character piece about a mom – me – who forgets she is wearing her breast pump – true story – and answers the door to the UPS guy,” recalls Noel. Burrows also remembers the monologue vividly, claiming it was a pivotal moment in the duo’s friendship: “I didn’t know that I was going to find my best friend and comedy soul mate that day, but when she stood on stage wearing nothing but a breast pump and pajama pants, delivering the most brilliant comedic monologue I had ever heard, I had to make her my best friend immediately.”

The two women experimented with each other’s material and found that when they sang harmony on each other’s songs, it was magic. For five years now, they have been touring as Mommy Tonk, and when they play in Louisville, they will play with the locally based band The Porch Possums. The result will be a 90-minute show about motherhood and marriage packed full of irreverent comedy, heartfelt storytelling and “the prettiest, filthiest music you ever did hear.” With a description like that, Mommy Tonk is a one-of-a-kind show that you will not want to miss. VT

Mommy Tonk and The Porch Possums will perform at The Laughing Derby – 1250 Bardstown Road – on July 12 at 7:15 p.m. Tickets are $15 and can be purchased at mommytonk.com.