Bajillion Dollar Talent: Tawny Newsome

Music and comedy are keeping her busy, but Newsome is ready to run the show.

Tawny Newsome. Courtesy photo

The world deserves GPS directions as read by Tawny Newsome.

As a frequent guest on Paul F. Tompkins’ delightfully silly podcast Spontaneanation, Newsome can, in a matter of seconds, slip from the boisterous cadence of an arrogant oil tycoon to the frightened whisper of a lost child. An alumna of Chicago’s heralded Second City, she now resides in Los Angeles, where she continues to pursue an ambitious career in comedy and music.

In addition to her podcast appearances, Newsome’s recent work includes a supporting role on BET’s The Comedy Get Down opposite industry heavyweights like Eddie Griffin and Cedric the Entertainer and her tenure as a singer in the band Four Lost Souls with Americana musician Jon Langford. However, it is through improv that many have come to know her sharp wit and fabulous accents — a road that required more than a little perseverance.

Pay a visit to any improv show and you’re likely to find mostly white guys on stage. While women and people of color continue to rightfully claim their place in the medium, Newsome says she understands why some minority groups continue to be wary of the profession.

“It’s very daunting as a young improviser,” she explains, “because everyone’s working their shit out, and frankly speaking, young improvisers in classes say a bunch of racist, misogynistic, and super-homophobic stuff. They don’t mean it — they’re just blurting out the things in their head — but when you’re in a minority group, it’s like, ‘Hey, I walk through the world every day and get assaulted with this stuff. I don’t want to do this every Tuesday night at the Yuk Yuk’s theater that I’m paying to be at.’ ”

Avoiding those moments is one of the many reasons Newsome feels so at home with Tompkins on Spontaneanation. The two know each other well, having co-starred alongside Tim Baltz, Drew Tarver, and others for three seasons of the mock real-estate reality show Bajillion Dollar Properties on NBC’s now-defunct streaming platform, Seeso.

As the social media-obsessed Chelsea Leight-Leigh, Newsome’s realtor character served at the pleasure of Tompkins’ Dean Rosedragon, the head of Platinum Realty and a very peculiar man. In real life, Newsome has nothing but the fondest words for her TV boss, whom she credits for his efforts to prioritize diversity.

“He comes by it so honestly,” she says. “He truly sees it as a value add, as opposed to like, ‘Oh yeah, diversity is a thing that I should think about,’ which I think is where a lot of even the most well-meaning liberal white dudes in comedy are at these days. Paul really seems to understand that we just want to be included and seen, and every chance he gets, he makes that a priority.

“For me, just selfishly,” she adds, “it means that I get to do stuff with him, but also I see him do [things] with other performers — with younger performers and with women — and it just makes me respect him so much more.”

Newsome has faced obstacles as a musician as well. Following November’s election, she traveled to the legendary Muscle Shoals studio in Alabama to record with Four Lost Souls. Originally, she and her husband had planned to drive the entirety of the Blues Highway, but changed their minds shortly after their journey began.

“We got to, like, one rest stop in outer Mississippi,” she recalls, “and I was like, ‘Fuck this. Too many Confederate flags that are now excited! Let me get out of here.’ ”

At the recording studio, Newsome and fellow singer Bethany Thomas had to instruct the staff that their microphones should be in the front alongside Langford’s.

“When you walk into a studio — if you go anywhere with an older white guy and two Black women — they start setting up back-up singer mics. I don’t care how liberal they are, they can’t get away from those optics and that inherent bias.”

While Newsome has no intentions of letting the world slow down her career, she is eager for the chance to be the one calling the shots — and creating a project that celebrates her love of comedy and song.

Newsome’s attention is currently focused on a new podcast set to debut this year on Earwolf. The Supergroup features Newsome and fellow Second City alum Alex Kliner bringing together a musician and a comedian to write and record a high-quality song in one week. The featured comedian for the show’s first episode is, of course, Paul F. Tompkins.

“I know so many comedians who have great musical talent,” she says, “but they don’t often get to pursue it earnestly. A lot of times I feel like if I’m singing, it’s too weird to just sing as myself — it has to be a joke — and I really want to give people like that a space to sing and play music from an earnest place. It keeps me sane, having both sides. I want to share that.”

“Spontaneation” with Paul F. Tompkins, Tawny Newsome, and more
Friday, Jan. 12, 10 p.m., at Marines Memorial Theatre, 609 Sutter St. $30; sfsketchfest.com.

 

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