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Comedic Notes

Performing under various names, the trio of Ben Brown, Tone Tata and Anthony Francis bring South Florida to life with sound of musical comedy.

by Chuck king
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BOCA RATON – Considering the group that doesn’t have a set list, a script, or even a name, it shouldn’t be surprising that the trio of Ben Brown, Anthony Francis and Tone Tata are quite accomplished at converting nothing into something.

And it’s usually something funny.

Offering a refreshing approach to a South Florida comedy scene that’s growing a bit too comfortable and conventional, the trio combines musicianship, stand-up comedy, and improv to deliver one of the more unique entertainment experiences in South Florida.

The trio wowed during a mid-June performance at Boca Raton’s Biergarten, engaging a nearly full bar in 40 minutes of impromptu singalongs, often punctuated by applause and laughter.

“It was still comedy, but it was with music,” comic Nadeem Awad said. “The crowd had fun.”

That night the trio performed as The Bentones (pronounced “ben-tone-ees,”) – a name that combines the first names of Ben, Tone and Anthony – a moniker that Tata said served as “The name of the night.”

Though permanently renaming the group “Impromptune” is gaining traction, the trio hasn’t settled on a name, in part, because they play together in this format rather infrequently.

Francis, an improv comic who serves as the primary singer, and keyboardist Tata often play together in comedy settings under the name Ant Farm. Tata and jazz trumpeter Brown perform musical gigs under the names Boom Kaboom, Musical Jargon, Sugar Shakers or Tony Bonnets.

Combining two classically trained musicians – Tata studied at Columbia College in Chicago, Brown at Berklee College of Music in Boston – with an accomplished improvisational comic elicits the best of both entertainment forms.

Francis and Tata first met when the keyboardist wanted to give improvisational comedy a try.

“Tone’s honestly one the most knowledgeable musicians I’ve ever met,” Francis said. “He’s so analytical with the way he approaches music.”

Tata, in turn, exposed Brown to the idea musical improv.

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“The first time Ben walked in he was like, ‘What is this?’” Francis said. “And I was like, ‘We make up funny songs.’ And he was like, ‘I love this.’”

All three are teachers, with Tata and Brown teaching music to adults and children, while Francis runs Improv U – a West Boca Raton-based school that focuses on improvisational comedy.

For a typical Bentones (or is it Impromptune?) performance, Tata and Brown take the stage together initially, performing a couple of songs before Francis, having collected improv topic requests from the audience, joins them.

While Francis revels in the improv aspect of the performance, Brown enjoys songwriting-as-a-process, evidenced by one song he sang at the Biergarten about not having enough screws to finish a project.

“I like word play,” Brown said. “I enjoy the puzzling nature of lyricism.”

When all three are on stage they’ll perform up to 15 songs based on audience suggestions. The improv songs usually last about two minutes, but if Francis gets on a roll and the audience is rocking, the trio will extend the effort.

At the Biergarten the trio created songs on based on suggested topics “A Dog Named Cliff,” “Inflation, “No One Loves Me and I Don’t Either” and “New York,” among others.

Almost no topic is off limits, though the group will read the room and self-edit. One memorable topic from a previous performance cited by all three members was “Beers, Brats and Blowing Shit Up.”

“That was a weird one that turned into one of the best songs of all time,” Brown said.

While the Bentones/Impromptune don’t have any scheduled upcoming shows, an offshoot of this project featuring Francis and Tata dubbed “Comedy Game Show” will come on down twice in the coming weeks.

The purpose of the show is to bring improv comedy to bars and other non-traditional venues by incorporating an easy-to-comprehend element familiar to all. The Comedy Game Show concoction is “Family Feud” meets “Whose Line Is It Anyway.”

“We wanted to find something that we could do at every bar,” Francis said. “By turning it into a game show format, the audience is like, Oh, I know this format.”

Lilo’s Library in Lake Worth hosts “Comedy Game Show” on Saturday. Tata serves as the show host, with Francis, Brian Sutorios and Patrick Price acting as the game show contestants.

The free show, which begins at 9 p.m., will be preceded by stand-up comedy performances from Awad, Drew Illa and Charly Esturilho, among others. The following weekend Francis and Tata are taking “Comedy Game Show” to Hopportunities in Delray Beach.

And while the trio has yet to be contacted for a corporate show, both The Bentones/Impromptunes and “Comedy Game Show” seem like perfect fits for corporate gigs.

“Hit us up,” Tata said, sporting an impromptu smile.

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