Quirky, zany and trippy: ‘The Bicycle Men’ return

by David Holub

The plot of the “The Bicycle Men” is this: It’s about an American named Steve traveling through France. When his bike breaks down in a small French village, he has quite the hellish time as he waits for his bike to get fixed.

“That’s what it’s about … that’s not what it’s about,” said co-creator, showbiz veteran and Durango resident John Rubano.

It’s really a story of redemption. It’s “Monty Python” meets Second City. It’s a musical. It’s quirky and zany and trippy.

“It would be your worst nightmare in a foreign country … on acid,” Rubano said.

You may remember this stage show, which Rubano, along with Mark Nutter, Dave Lewman and Joe Liss performed to sell-out audiences in Durango in 2012 during the USA Pro Cycling Challenge. Rubano said he’s gotten numerous requests for a Durango reprise, hence the “Back by popular demand” on the show poster and the five performances this weekend at the Durango Arts Center. The time seemed right.

“Fall’s kind of a dead time, shoulder season, whatever the hell they call it,” said Rubano, who grew up in Wheat Ridge and has lived in Durango full-time for six years. “We’ll bring it back for Durango.”

These days, they perform the show sporadically, but since its creation 11 years ago, the trio has taken the production across the country and at least one ocean, garnering shockingly impressive blurbs and reviews. The New York Times, Chicago Tribune and London Daily Telegraph thought it was crazy good. So did Steve Martin and the judges at the New York Fringe Festival, where it debuted in 2004 and took the award for Best Overall Production.

“The Bicycle Men” bring impressive resumes with deep ties to Chicago’s legendary Second City comedy troupe and writing gigs for outlets you may have heard of, like “Saturday Night Live.” At Second City, Rubano worked with the likes of Steve Carrell (“I was in his wedding”), Amy Sedaris and Stephen Colbert. He was also on the Jim Belushi sitcom “According to Jim” for eight seasons and still performs in Belushi’s band and in The Blues Brothers musical act with Belushi and Dan Aykroyd.

But after more than 15 years of the showbiz hustle of performing the material of others, much of it rather unfunny, Rubano and team wanted to do something they were passionate about, something of their own creation.

“It’s so much more gratifying than having to do the rhythm of having to do a sitcom: boom-boom-laugh, boom-boom-laugh. It’s repugnant,” Rubano said. “You pay your mortgage with it but it’s a drag. It’s kind of soul-sucking.”

The show was a hit and they had invitations to perform it in Edinburgh, New York, Chicago, L.A., Denver and Portland. They expanded it into a two-act and performed it for a month in London, joined for that stint by Dan Castellaneta, the voice of Homer Simpson.

“On the back of Homer Simpson, you could wash fruit on stage and people would come,” Rubano said. “It’s insane.”

Beyond the glamour of those cities, they’ve also performed it in, God help them, Albuquerque.

“I swear to God. That Albuquerque, there’s a dark undercurrent there,” Rubano said. “I’ll tell you what: I lived in Chicago. I got run over by a car on my bike in Chicago. I never felt as at risk in Chicago even having someone try to kill me with their car … or in L.A. ‘Oh L.A.’s dangerous … I felt more at risk in Albuquerque than I ever felt in those big cities … In Albuquerque you feel like something could happen here.”

“The Bicycle Men” are back this weekend only for five shows beginning with a 7:30 p.m. performance Thursday and 6 and 9 p.m. shows Friday and Saturday.


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