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On Stage: two bimbos from Berwyn

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The Tiff and Mom Show would never be considered great theater--the spaces are dirty, the costumes are cheap, and the jokes are dirty and cheap. But Tiff and Mom endure. For three years Todd Schaner and Robert Bouwman have been playing a booze-infested bimbo from Berwyn and her overweight teenage daughter at bars and shoddy theaters all over town. People seem to love them. Fans hang out after the show. They clamor for Tiff and Mom T-shirts but will happily settle for less--Tiff and Mom matchbooks, for example, complete with a charming photo of the smiling pair.

Tiff and Mom live in the public eye, while their creators barely seem to exist. When the show gets a bad review Mom--not Schaner--writes a letter to the reviewer, fussing about how hard it is to remain attractive while raising a daughter alone.

Tiff and Mom star in a "public-access television program" that can only be seen live. They send 250 fans newsletters with updates about new "episodes" as well as personal details from their lives. A recent mailing claimed Fox had flown them to LA to discuss a contract--which isn't true of course, though nowadays nobody would be surprised if two white-trash bimbos from Berwyn made a public-access show that went national precisely because they were two white-trash bimbos from Berwyn making a public-access show.

Tiff and Mom embody the dumb humor Hollywood has been shoveling ever since Married . . . With Children came out in the late 1980s. They share the cosmos with such idiots as Beavis and Butt-head, Wayne and Garth, and Al Bundy. But somehow--when you get a letter from them typed on hot pink stationery and mailed in a soft pink envelope--Tiff and Mom seem more real.

Their current episode, "The Charity BBQ," offers the same old Tiff and Mom fare: jokes about sex, booze, and food. And as always, the 11-member cast hops about onstage like a bunch of kids playing house. "It's definitely not anything that's polished," Bouwman says. "That's completely intentional." Yet, he finds following a script is a useful crutch. "For us, it's a convention that frees everybody. We've got men playing women and women playing men and all these weird costumes. So now you can say, OK, it's all set up. My realm of reality is huge."

But even with all the jokes, there's a lot of pain in Tiff and Mom. "It's important to us that down deep inside there is a meaning," says Bouwman. "It is about dysfunction, and it is about these things that are taboo. We're making fun of them and trying to poke holes in them. People do actually do this to each other." He hopes it will make the audience think: "Isn't that hilarious? Isn't that awful?"

Tiff and Mom debuted in September 1992, when Schaner and Bouwman were doing Danny's Show-a-Go-Go, a performance revue that ran for six months at Danny's in Bucktown. The characters, however, were actually born on a drunken night in the late 1980s. Bouwman came to Chicago to visit Schaner, an old college friend. "We'd sit down with a bottle of wine, drink it, start talking, and just say funny things. It had nothing to do with writing, or going into the theater. It was just something to amuse ourselves."

The two never expected to attract a cult following. Nor did they expect to be producing the show three years later. Perhaps there's just something addictive about their sly, absurd humor. At the end of a recent newsletter, Mom added a P.S.: "Watch for us in the Gay Pride parade!" To which Tiff replied, "But Mom, I'm not gay."

"And I'm not proud, Tiffany," Mom wrote. "I'm not proud."

The latest episode of The Tiff and Mom Show (complete with live commercials) is offered at 8:30 this Wednesday at the Factory Theater, 1257 W. Loyola. Tickets are $5; call 278-3274. Schaner and Bouwman plan to take a break from the show next month but promise that Tiff and Mom will be back in the fall.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Jim Alexander Newberry.

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