As a kid, Lory Lazarus valued his time in Hebrew school in Milwaukee. But it wasn’t so much the opportunity to learn Hebrew that he enjoyed – it was the time he had to develop his flair for comedy by writing parody songs and cartooning.
“My mind was always wandering. My teachers said I was ‘quite precocious.’ I never knew what that meant back then.”
Originally from Shorewood, Lazarus spent his time growing up in Wisconsin exploring and cultivating a sense of humor that he describes as “quite twisted and insane.” His initial foray into comedy began with short stories accompanied by illustrations, with one of the first, “Whyball the Eyeball,” describing a bunch of killer eyeballs. Then later in junior high, Larazus penned his first musical.
“I wrote my first musical called ‘The Reunion of Sam’ where a couch gives birth to baby couches, one of the characters has her head caught in a garbage disposal, there’s a Christmas tree chorus that gets run over by a truck, that kind of stuff. It’s just totally insane.”
Lazarus attended the University of Wisconsin—Milwaukee where he majored in theater and acted and produced plays, one of which was chosen as one of the 10 best college productions in the country. He also taught himself to play guitar. But in 1976, Lazarus decided to try his luck in New York City.
“All my showbiz friends, theater friends were out there, and I wanted to take a crack at it because people would tell me I’m very talented, so I was like, ‘let’s just do this.’”
Since living in New York City, there isn’t a lot that Lazarus hasn’t done in the realm of comedy, songwriting and playwriting. For a while, he performed stand-up comedy, eventually forming a folk duo called “Buckwheat and Lazoo,” a cabaret act called “The New Jew Revue,” and the “mock n’ roll” rock band LaZOO. He worked on commercials and voiceovers, created the first ever original song for the children’s show “Barney the Dinosaur” and was a staff writer for “Courage the Cowardly Dog,” a popular cartoon show on Cartoon Network.
“And all while, I was working on cartoons and plays, writing songs, and just everything. Just everything interests me,” he said.
But all of Lazarus’ hard work has paid off –– his musical “Attack of the Elvis Impersonators” opened off-Broadway on June 1. The story follows the most famous rock star in history as he looks to Elvis for guidance in turning his life around. After visiting Graceland, the spirit of Elvis enters his body and instructs him that if the world is to save itself, everyone must impersonate Elvis.
Lazarus was inspired to create the musical by several different events and people in his life, but the idea behind “Attack of the Elvis Impersonators” became a stark reality after he stumbled across a window display for a religious artifacts store in Brooklyn.
“There was a plaster bust of Jesus, a plaster bust of the Virgin Mary, and then nestled in between them was a plaster bust of Elvis. ‘What is Elvis doing here? Are people worshipping Elvis?’ And then I did some research, and I found that they were.”
Lazarus discovered that many people worship Elvis in similar ways that they might worship religious figures. Some even attend Elvis churches, like the First Presleyterian Church of Elvis the Divine. So in keeping with his comedic passions, Lazarus decided to turn the concept into a musical satirizing organized religion and those who do see Elvis as a Jesus-like deity.
Yet despite the hilarity behind the musical, Lazarus still pointed out that there was a significant moral to the story.
“The takeaway is that I think that we put too much of our energies into worshipping idols and ultimately they are just regular people,” he said. “If you see George Clooney walking by and you just want to touch him because ‘Oh my God, it’s George Clooney,’ he’s just a regular person who just happened to like attain celebrity. He’s not more special than you or I.”
Lazarus also pointed to his wife for inspiration and encouragement. When she had heard one of his rough songs for the musical while they were both driving down the West Side Highway in Manhattan, Larazus recalled her turning to him to say, “Get off your ass and finish that! That show is a hit!”
The excitement of New York and now New Jersey where Lazarus resides with his wife has not stopped feelings of homesickness for the community he grew up in.
“I miss everything about Wisconsin,” Lazarus said, listing off Lake Michigan, childhood friends, relatives, and Summerfest as just a few of the things he misses.
And even if he might not be as attached to Judaism currently, it’s clear Lazarus still holds on to his roots in the Milwaukee Jewish community where he grew up learning to love comedy.
“I feel like God put me on this earth in this incarnation as Lory Lazarus for a purpose and that was to bring people joy. I do it when I talk to people and when I write, when I cartoon or in my songs. I want them to be happy and to forgot their troubles, if only for a couple hours.”
Lastly, Lazarus added that he was so grateful for being able to see his hard work come to fruition in New York City where he’s been working passionately and diligently for more than 40 years.
“To actually have this happen on off-Broadway is a huge event for me. Sometimes as cliché as this sounds, I pinch myself and I go, ‘Is this really happening? Oh my God! Thank you God! Thank you burning bush!’”