During their years performing together on “Saturday Night Live,” Will Forte and KC’s Jason Sudeikis often shared another stage away from the limelight.
“Sudeikis and I have been longtime karaoke partners,” Forte recalls. “When we were working at ‘SNL,’ we would karaoke every other night” — duets including REO Speedwagon’s “Can’t Fight This Feeling” (which they eventually made public on Jimmy Fallon and in KC at Big Slick Celebrity Weekend) and the soundtrack ballad “Falling Slowly.”
“So we have a lot of things we’ve harmonized on over the years.”
Now Forte and Sudeikis are taking their harmonious musical hobby to another audience.
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Both comedians return as hosts of Thundergong!, a charity event set for Saturday at the Uptown Theater. This “night of laughs, licks and sticks” benefits Steps of Faith, a Kansas City nonprofit dedicated to providing care and financial support for amputees.
The follow-up to last year’s successful debut ups the stakes considerably by recruiting Grammy-winning artist Chance the Rapper as a headliner. Fellow guests include actor Sam Richardson (of “Detroiters” and “Veep” fame), drummers Jason Barnes and Joe Wong, magician/musician Rob Zabrecky and a reunion of the Kansas power-pop trio Ultimate Fakebook.
KC’s yacht rock tribute band Summer Breeze returns as the house band — not unexpectedly, since the act’s drummer, Billy Brimblecom, is also the executive director of Steps of Faith.
“There were so many moments that were incredible,” Forte says of last year’s Thundergong! “But the best was when Billy and Wynonna Judd’s husband (Cactus Moser) had this epic drum-off. Both Billy and Cactus have a prosthetic leg, so to see these guys hammering on the drums was both amazing and inspirational. It was a real reminder of what we’re doing there by helping people live full lives.”
At that show, the affable Forte first approached the microphone and asked, “Any Bruno Mars fans out there?”
After being greeted by an enthusiastic cheer, he said, “Tough (expletive). Here’s a song by Black Sabbath,” before launching into a cover of the heavy metal anthem “War Pigs.”
He reveals he may indulge in a bit of Sabbath or an Ozzy Osbourne solo hit this year. Plus, he and Sudeikis will resurrect their “SNL” characters Jon Bovi, the Bon Jovi opposite tribute band.
“Expect a collision of comedy and music,” Forte says.
All proceeds of the concert will be donated to Steps of Faith.
“Last year was so amazing, I’m just excited we get to do it again,” says Brimblecom, who first met Sudeikis at a KC improv workshop in 1995 — an encounter that resulted in a lifelong friendship. (Brimblecom lost his leg to cancer in 2005.)
“The things I’m most excited for are surprises, but I sure am excited to meet and work with Chance. And Sam — man, that guy is just a joy to be around. He’s doing some songs in the show that are gonna make people lose it. And I was chatting song ideas with Will the other day, and as I’d bring up an idea, he’d often start singing the song. I was just cracking up.”
Forte has made it to KC several times recently when accompanying Sudeikis for the annual Big Slick weekend. He made a bit of a splash at this year’s Big Slick softball game in June with his good-natured, roll-in-the-dirt scuffle with CNN’s Jake Tapper.
“I love that city. It’s so beautiful,” says Forte, a three-time Emmy nominee for his series “The Last Man on Earth.” “I’ve always felt a closeness to it.”
His great-grandparents lived in Cummings, Kan. (Cummings was also their last name). His grandmother was born in Kansas but moved to Modesto, Calif., at an early age.
“People often assume (I’m from the Midwest),” says the 48-year-old Santa Monica resident. “My mom’s side of the family raised me a little more than my dad’s side. I think I was instilled with Midwest values and habits and speaking patterns.”
Bolstering this assumption was his starring role in the Oscar-nominated film “Nebraska,” which earned Forte a best supporting actor award from the National Board of Review. But he admits to occasional “California-isms,” such as the fact he grew up — gack — a Raiders fan.
Even that is negotiable.
“I do really enjoy watching the Chiefs. And now that the Raiders are moving to Vegas,” he pauses. “Well, when they go to Vegas, I don’t know if I’ll be going with them.”
Forte established his reputation as a writer for “That ’70s Show” and “The Late Show With David Letterman” before joining the cast of “SNL” in 2002. There, his unsettling sense of humor and jumpy energy powered characters such as oddball politician Tim Calhoun, the reclusive Falconer and the “MacGyver” spoof MacGruber.
In his second season, he met Sudeikis, who had been hired initially as a writer.
“We enjoyed each other’s company. But we didn’t become really close friends until a couple years into it,” he says.
The regular karaoke outings amplified their friendship. But so did a cinematic collaboration.
“We got tight once we did this movie ‘A Good Old Fashioned Orgy’ together,” Forte says. “Orgies are always good things to bring friends together. Once again, you understand this was a movie.”
His favorite moment on the show was his sketch as a high school basketball coach motivated by an unusual song. Peyton Manning played his star player, and he’s constantly asked about. Another highlight: the infamous Debbie Downer sketch when cast members couldn’t stop laughing.
“I’m not a fan of people breaking, but that was such a pure break. There was something magical about it. Rachel Dratch is one of the funniest people of all time,” he says. “If I go to the history of sketches, More Cowbell is at the top for me. Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer used to crack me up. And when I was a kid, I used to live for Mr. Bill.”
In 2010, Forte starred in a big-screen version of “MacGruber.” It flopped but has since become something of a cult hit on DVD/streaming. Now that “The Last Man on Earth” wasn’t picked for a fifth season, he may return to this character.
“I’m always interested in doing some form of MacGruber,” he says. “We’re toying with different possibilities, whether it be another movie or TV or … well, I guess those are the only two things. We’re not going to start a MacGruber band or anything.”
For Shawnee resident Brimblecom, Forte brings a unique vibe to Thundergong!, even though his talents in the percussion field are somewhat limited.
“Aside from Will playing triangle every second he was on stage, my favorite moment with him last year was actually one of my favorite moments of the whole night,” Brimblecom recalls.
“As soon as we finished the show and I walked offstage, he grabbed me and gave me a huge hug. He said, ‘Dude, that was so fun. You’ve got me — please tell me we are doing this again!’”
Thundergong! A benefit for Steps of Faith, begins at 8 p.m. Nov. 3 at the Uptown Theater, 3700 Broadway. Tickets are $65-$75 (VIP packages also available). See stepsoffaithfoundation.org.
A few tickets remain to join Big Slick hosts David Koechner and Rob Riggle for a VIP Tailgate fundraiser Nov. 11 when the Chiefs host the Arizona Cardinals at Arrowhead Stadium. See bigslickkc.org for details.
Jon Niccum is a filmmaker, freelance writer and author of “The Worst Gig: From Psycho Fans to Stage Riots, Famous Musicians Tell All.”