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Loony tunes

THURSDAY, MARCH 10, 2011

Julia Sweeney provides the laughs, Jill Sobule the music in touring show

Many people in Spokane are familiar with Julia Sweeney: Gonzaga Prep grad, “Saturday Night Live” star, “Pulp Fiction” actress and one-woman Broadway show creator.

Yet most of us don’t know much about the “Jill & Julia Show,” the most recent manifestation of Sweeney’s creative mind, which arrives at the Bing Crosby Theater on Friday.

It’s a collaboration between Sweeney and Jill Sobule, a Los Angeles singer-songwriter best known for her 1995 hit “I Kissed a Girl” (not to be confused with the recent Katy Perry song of the same name).

It’s a music-and-comedy mashup which can be described like this: Sobule sings the songs, and Sweeney does the between-song patter. Sweeney said about 60 percent of the show is locked in every night and 40 percent is invented the week or the day before.

“If Jill has written a new song, then I try to come up with a story that goes along with it,” she said in a phone interview. “She has a song about Paris, so I have a funny French boyfriend story.”

Sobule’s songs tend to be satirical stories – one of her most popular is “Mary Kay,” about Mary Kay Letourneau, the Seattle-area teacher who was imprisoned for having sex with a student – so the comedy extends to the music as well.

The “Jill & Julia Show” came about because of a chance meeting at a conference in California.

“We were mutual fans of each other,” said Sweeney. “Turns out, we started talking about living in L.A. and we discovered we lived within five blocks of each other.”

They started hanging out together. When Sobule did a show at Largo – a club where Sweeney had also done stand-up – Sweeney went to see it.

“It’s a natural place for musicians and comedians to perform together,” she said. “And I started getting up and doing the patter between songs for her. While she was tuning her guitar, I’d say, ‘Oh, yeah, that song, it reminds me of this or that.’ ”

The crowd liked it and asked for more. It was so popular they developed full-blown show and performed it at Los Angeles clubs and on the road.

About a year and half ago, Sweeney moved to Wilmette, Ill., where she lives with her husband, a biophysicist, and their daughter Mulan, 11. So she and Sobule have had to carve out time to do mini-tours of the show.

This mini-tour will hit Spokane, Portland, Seattle and the Largo.

At one time, Sweeney announced that these would be her last appearances, ever, as a performer.

“I say this all the time, and now I have no credibility,” she said, laughing. “Because this is what happens: I get to the place where I am right now, which is, ‘I don’t want to be a performer. I don’t want people to look at me. I don’t want to get on stage. I don’t want to figure out my outfits. I don’t want to do it!’ …

“And then I do the show and it’s like someone shot heroin into me. My eyes are falling out because I’m so high and I’m so thrilled. I was meant to be on stage!”

So you might say Sweeney is a bit conflicted about her performing career – but chances are, this will not actually be her swan song.

However, she is happy being out of L.A. and living the life of a suburban Illinois mom. She said she likes Wilmette, near Chicago, because “it really reminds me of Spokane” with a lot of Craftsman-style houses and parks.

Yet Sweeney has not given up on her creative life. She is writing a screenplay for a kids’ movie, about a little boy who finds a kitten and has to keep it hidden in his basement. And she is finishing up a new book called “The Sex Talk and Other Parenting Blunders.”

Sweeney said she isn’t planning on doing a lot of special Spokane material for the show. Spokane has always figured significantly into her monologues and writings, so her biggest dilemma is deciding what material she shouldn’t do for an audience here.

Friday has been declared, by mayoral proclamation, Julia Sweeney Day in Spokane. And her mother and all of her friends will be in the audience.

So should she really tell a certain story involving a former boyfriend who worked at the Hennessey-Smith Funeral Home?



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