Sometimes you've just got to seize the means of production.
"Vaudeville on Wheels" is one way to describe the increasingly popular LaZoom Comedy Tour, now entering its fourth season. That's not precisely what proprietor/performers Jim and Jennifer Lauzon had in mind when they started Asheville's alternative guided tour in 2006; then again, they didn't know precisely what they had in mind. Street performers to the core, they had to make it up as they went along.
Moving to Asheville seven years ago, they bartended and waited tables, and Jennifer taught. But they also enjoyed "doing fun things," as they had in New Orleans, where they met, and as Jim (best known as LaZoom's "Sister Bad Habit," sometimes seen frantically pedaling an impossibly tall bicycle downtown, or sipping a brew while hanging on some young stud's arm at The Thirsty Monk), had been doing since childhood. "I never liked TV," Jim says; from the first, he wanted to "be the TV!"
The Lauzons create props and costumes almost compulsively, and their earliest Asheville performances involved Jim, dressed head-to-toe in neon spandex and sporting goggles, feather-dusting the crowd that gathered as Jen played drums. Later, they developed a bit with a huge black coffin; Jen, dressed as a beautiful clown, would drape herself over it, and then turn a hand-crank until out popped Jim-in-the-box, sometimes breathing fire, sometimes handing out flowers.
The idea of a comic tour had occurred to them in New Orleans, but Asheville felt like the right place to try it. At an auction in Pittsburgh, they bought a bus retired after 12 years of service in Central America. They fixed it up and painted it; but, as Jen recalls, "We built the bus. We forgot to build the show."
At first, they improvised, but not well, in their own estimation. Still, they kept at it, and by the end of the second year felt established. With hard-won, growing confidence, they rewrote the family friendly tour in November 2008, and by the middle of their third year found they were selling out. This encouraged them to create a new show — a haunted comedy — for the next Halloween, and they engaged "10 or more actors," some of whom served as celebrity impersonators.
Now that almost every one of the rides on the Purple Bus is sold out, Jim and Jen have begun to peddle back on their personal performances, providing opportunities for other players in town. (Last season, Karri Brantley-Ostergaard, of LYLAS fame, joined the fun. This year, Madison J. Cripps, of Strings Attached Marionettes, will fill in for Jim on some tours.) For family reasons, the Lauzons want more time to themselves, but they're also planning to write and produce an original, adult-oriented tour to debut this year.
As LaZoom's new season begins, they're offering $10 tickets to Asheville residents. And if you get on the bus soon, don't be surprised to find acts from Asheville Vaudeville performing along the route. Learn more at www.lazoomtours.com.