The first time I saw musical comedy duo Rhythm & Burgundy perform, they were an opening set before an improv show at Live! on Elgin. They played three or four of their songs and I laughed so hard my sinuses hurt.
Comprised of Allison Harris and Kristine Shadid, Rhythm & Burgundy has made me spit my drink a number of times since. Their roster consists of hip-hop tributes to parenting, ballad-esque confessions of cat-fishing older sisters, and folky sing-a-longs celebrating a trip to prison.
The duo finds inspiration in everyday life, and then twists the themes until they are unrecognizable. “It kind of just develops from there,” says Harris. “And then gets silly,” adds Shadid.
Shadid and Harris met when they were both cast in the Crush Improv’s “My Summer Crush” ensemble, to their mutual delight. They were in a sketch show together with Experimental Farm theatre (now The Improv Embassy) when Shadid was struggling with writing a sketch, and so the two decided to pitch the idea of a song instead. They pitched “Mrs. Marshall” about a girl who’s more attracted to her boyfriend’s mom than she is to her boyfriend. The song was a hit and prompted more songwriting, and so Rhythm & Burgundy was born.
After two years of prep work plus a consistently growing audience and repertoire, the pair are now slated to perform at The Gladstone this Wednesday, March 15. They’re also prepping to perform in the Ottawa Fringe Festival in June of this year.
Shadid says the musical comedy format challenges both performers and gives them the time to “not only have the joke you’d originally thought of… but put it in a rhythm, put it in a beat and give it the perfect rhyme.”
“You can craft a certain joke. Because I have a theatre background, doing the same thing over and over again…is how I learned to perform and Kristine could write a different joke every time…the melding of those two things is really cool together…it’s fresh,” says Harris. With a background rooted in acting, she has reassured improv-veteran Shadid that the same joke can be made more than once and still hit.
“She has yelled at me in rehearsals to not do something different, it’s good how it is,” Shadid laughs.
“That’s what they hammered into us in theatre school – serve the plot, serve the story.”
Integrity comes up a number of times and it’s clear that this pair will not be serving cheap laughs. Above and beyond the challenge of comedic songwriting, they also set the bar even higher by being – of all things – nice.
Harris: “We don’t really do dirty jokes.”
Shadid: “Our parents come to this show.”
Harris: “Well mine wouldn’t care.”
But still. In a world where you can bring down the house with a single cheap shot, these two have declined shock value in favour of the awkward, the weird – sometimes even the mundane. Swearing is rare and if it’s used, it’s part of the bit, not the vernacular. The songs are tightly packed humour punches and the duo has carefully crafted their lines and their timing.
“We have a big theme in Suburbia,” Harris advises. “Lots of moms. Lots of pools. Lots of neighbours… something that would happen to a suburban twentysomething,” Shadid adds. “Or younger,” Harris confirms.
These two complimentary means of comedy seem to be suiting the duo just fine. Their easy chemistry and playful banter is a lovely complement to what is actually quite pleasant harmony and songwriting. Both acknowledge that after struggling in various avenues of performance, this unique comedic genre is a “fit” and it shows.
Follow the antics via @RhythmBurgundy on Twitter and Facebook. Then go take in this unique brand of quirky comedy on Wednesday March 15 at the Gladstone Theatre (910 Gladstone Ave). Tickets cost $15–20 and are available online at www.thegladstone.ca or at the door.