The Big Ditties — Banned but unbroken

The Big Ditties (Photo courtesy of Roman Sobus)

It may not be the ban heard ‘round the world, but getting booted from ever playing the Chicago branch of City Winery again certainly didn’t hurt the rep of comedy band The Big Ditties in the slightest.

“There was this couple that was not happy with their meal at City Winery, so the manager was like, ‘Go check out this show. We’ll let you in for free,” recalled Kelli Owens, aka DJ K-Heyyy. “They come in and we’re opening for Cathy Richardson and they got offended by us, by something Tu-PO had said, and then they complained about us.”

You know what happened next — they were banned from the venue.

“And it’s unfortunate because we killed that night,” Owens laughs. “Everyone was going nuts, and they loved us. My mom was there and I dedicated the clap to her and she wasn’t offended. But then we found out that we got banned because they complained. ‘Yeah, we’ll make sure they never play here again.’”

A “Free the Big Ditties” campaign didn’t remove the ban, but as Owens points out, “We would gladly take them back.”

Well, City Winery’s loss is every other venue’s gain, as the trio (Owens, Tu-PO (Temple Schultz) and Ad-Rik (Rikky Harriman)) are starting to gain traction, with their recent video for the song “Mom Just Quit The Band” premiering on Funny Or Die.

So how did this all happen?

“Tu-PO asked me to be in the band without even ever hearing me because we got together on a play date with our kids and put away three bottles of wine, and she’s like, ‘This girl can hang,’” said Owens, who has previously been involved in projects for Better Than Ezra and Edwin McCain. “She never even heard me sing and she was like, ‘Do you want to be in the band?’”

Owens agreed, and at their first rehearsal, it all worked.

“They started playing some of the stuff that they were doing, which were quirky takes on these covers, and I started singing three-part, and it just clicked,” she said. “We would just laugh our asses off and just mess with these songs and mash up different things together and we were laughing so hard at how ridiculous it was. To us, it was really, really funny and then we just started playing this stuff out and we were getting laughs and we kept going with it. That’s our barometer — if we’re laughing our asses off at rehearsal, then we’re good and we just hope that it works live.”

It was a gutsy move for the band, which has decided to take on two of the toughest gigs in the world in music and comedy.

“If there’s anyone who gets paid less than musicians, it’s comedians, right?” said Owens. “It’s a 1–2 punch into poverty.”

Those are the lines that make this project a winning one, even if it may not be for everybody, as the City Winery incident proved. But that’s not stopping Owens and company.

“It’s pretty to the edge and really honest and truthful and brutal, and will offend some people, I’m sure, but we don’t care,” she said. “We’re just making fun of it all and going with it.”

And if there is a bright side to putting your comedy on the line in front of an audience and risking the dreaded “bomb,” it’s that Owens, Schultz and Harriman have each other as backup.

“It can be challenging because you never know what’s gonna translate and you’re relieved when it does,” she said. “And the other thing is, obviously all rooms are different and under different contexts you don’t know what’s gonna play. And one thing that we’ve learned is curating a bit for a specific type of show does not translate to the next show necessarily. All you can do is do it and see what happens and learn and move on.”

But when the laughs do come, and with The Big Ditties it’s impossible for them not to appear regularly, that’s the payoff.

“There’s nothing more amazing than that,” Owens said. “That is the gift.”

For more information on The Big Ditties, click here