Comedian Pat Hazell’s Off-Broadway-style, one-man show The Wonder Bread Years, currently running at McDavid Studio, is a humorous and heartwarming homage to the Baby Boomer era. Using simple props such as family photos, toys and, of course, a loaf of bread, Hazell takes audience members back in time, as he fondly reminisces about life before iPhones. Hazell chatted with us about the show.
How would you describe The Wonder Bread Years to people who are not familiar with it?
The Wonder Bread Years is a fresh and funny salute to a time when life was much simpler, from cereal prizes and long distance road trips to the family slide show and sitting at the kid’s table. It is not my life story but the life story of a generation’s collective American youth.
What kind of stage props do you use, and what else can people expect to see on stage?
There is a simple set made up of a front porch stoop, a clothesline and a lot of hand props to help take us back to childhood. Dangerous toys like Lawn Jarts and clackers. A slide show with vivid Kodachrome images that serves as a time machine to off-beat haircuts, bad Halloween costumes and unforgettable roadside attractions.
How did you get into show business?
I began as a kid magician and street juggler passing the hat after the show. I started writing comedy to cover up for the tricks not working. Eventually, the comedy was where all the entertainment was. So when I moved from Omaha, Nebraska to Los Angeles, I became a stand-up comic and landed an appearance on the Johnny Carson Show. That lead to touring nationally and a series of TV appearance on all the various comedy shows.
You were one of the original writers for Seinfeld. What was your favorite episode that you worked on?
When you work on a series like Seinfeld, every episode that you still have a job on is your favorite. I was a writer in the earliest episodes when it was in development under the name The Seinfeld Chronicles. On my first episode, I drew the short straw among the writers and was required to be the studio audience warm up comic on the night the show taped. The second episode we didn’t draw straws. Everyone said I had the experience and had survived the first time. I continued doing that for another 75 episodes. It the iron man of stand up to studio audience because tapings can go well into the night. But gratefully, I was there when we created the theme song, named the coffee shop Monk’s and I came up with Kramer’s business name Kramerica Industries.
Years later when I had my own series for NBC called “American Pie,” Jerry gave me an invaluable piece of advice. “Sink on your own ship.” Write the show in your voice and captain the ship until it goes into the water, because if you board someone else’s ship and it sinks you will always regret it. Ultimately, that lead to me writing my own one man shows like The Wonder Bread Years.
You toured with Seinfeld. How did you become friends?
Jerry and I met at a few clubs around LA and he liked my animated style. So I opened for him on the road and warmed up the audience for his first comedy special. Over the years I did some ghost writing on American Express commercials and picked up some concerts dates with him. He was always tremendously supportive. Especially when he encouraged me to leave the tricks behind and just pack a garment bag and get by on my sense of humor. There is no one better to serve as you comic mentor than Jerry Seinfeld. He raises the bar on digging into premises and extracting every little nuance out of an observation. When a guy like him calls your show “milk-snorting funny,” as he did with Wonder Bread Years, you know you have hit the bull’s eye.
What can we learn from the Baby Boomer generation?
The Baby Boomer generation is used to describe those folks born between 1946 and 1964. I was on the tail end of that with the bulk of my coming of age years in the late 60’s and the early 70’s. This was an era of plastic toys, grill cheese on Wonder Bread and riding in the swayback of the Country Squire wagon, watching the Harlem Globetrotters, astronauts going to the moon and Evel Knievel jumping the Snake River Canyon. It was a time of innocence, curiosity, discovery and reckless abandon. The show is not about a specific year but more a thesis on our sense of wonder, where we lose it and how to get it back.
The Wonder Bread Years runs through Sunday, July 29, at McDavid Studio. Performance times are 3 and 8pm Saturday and 3pm Sunday. Purchase tickets here.