You know how sometimes twins seamlessly finish each other’s sentences and sometimes just speak at the same time?
Musicians Paul Sabourin and Greg "Storm" DiCostanzo are like that, except that it’s almost always funny. And since they’ve risen to geek fame as the duo Paul and Storm, it’s hard to think of one without the other.
Whether acting out a nun fight, impersonating Bob Dylan in a well, or counting the pairs of underwear that fans throw at them, Paul and Storm know how to make audiences laugh.
"I love the whole creative process: Coming up with an idea that makes you laugh, feel, or think, and then working hard to bring it to life the way you imagine it in your head. And the best feeling in the world is when you've just completed a song or other project that you just know is gonna kill, and are about to release it–the anticipation of seeing how it will move people in a way that makes them feel good. It's better than opening birthday presents," Storm says.
They started off together in a doo-wop group, which fell apart, and from there they became part of the comedic a capella group Da Vinci’s Notebook. When that group broke up, Paul and Storm decided to go off on their own and continue doing original comedic music in 2004.
Paul and Storm met nerd music superstar Jonathan Coulton through humorist John Hodgman, who has used Coulton’s rendition of “Big Rock Candy Mountain” in the background for an audio recording of a list of 700 hobo names from Hodgman’s book “The Areas of My Expertise.”
The duo sent Coulton some of their CDs in 2005. He remembers sitting in a coffee shop in Los Angeles while on a book tour with Hodgman and laughing aloud listening to Paul and Storm’s recordings.
After their first gig in New York in 2006, the artists with a debut album called “Opening Band” became precisely that – an opening band – for Coulton.
If you’ve ever seen a show of theirs, you know to expect Paul and Storm to begin with the album’s title song, “in which we chronicle all of the terrible things that happen to opening bands,” Paul says. The duo originally included their quasi-famous line “And, sad to say, as of today, no panties have been thrown” thinking it would be funny to be so popular that their fans would throw panties.
It wasn’t long before audiences did start throwing panties, which are now a signature feature of their shows. Fans will often throw dozens on stage, showering Paul and Storm with all manner of colors, patterns and styles. “I still remember the feeling of wow, it actually happened,” says Storm.
“Which made us regret that we hadn’t written that ‘nobody’s thrown money yet,’” finishes Paul.
For a while, Paul and Storm kept a Flickr collection of all the undergarments they’d received. It grew massively, since fans started buying underwear in bulk. They stopped taking photos when the collection grew to include Underoos and other children’s underwear, too.
“I feel like we should start a nonprofit or something; do something with these panties,” Storm says.
“I would keep them in a big bag because I felt like, oh, I shouldn’t just throw out these panties,” says Paul. After all, “who wants to be the 40-year-old guy who takes a garbage bag full of ladies underwear to the Salvation Army?”
The response is sometimes overwhelming - at one Seattle show, the soundman suddenly started playing “2001: A Space Odyssey” theme and from the rafters of the stage came down a handmade 9-foot wide pair of underwear – “Which is easily the most impressive thing anyone has given anyone, ever,” Paul remembers.
Compared to Coulton, Paul and Storm often lean more towards comedy than pure music, although they don’t belong in a comedy club, Paul says. And they don’t do parodies.
“When the joke wears thin, you’re still able to listen to the song and get something out of it. That’s sort of what we always strive for,” Paul says.
“I think we started out more as musicians who did comedy and over the years we’ve become much more a comedy act that is music,” Storm says.
So what makes them geek musicians? For Paul, geekdom is “really just about people being enthusiastic about something and not being embarrassed about being enthusiastic about that thing. There’s not much other than content that separates a stereotypical nerd or geek from a sports fan.”
Paul and Storm, as well as Jonathan Coulton, are more about being open to that enthusiasm than closed off to a particular geek subculture.
“Not a ton of our songs have specific geek themes, but I think it’s clever wordplay, use of language, and interesting music that does appeal to geeks,” Storm says.
Storm, by the way, got his nickname in high school while selling plants at a produce stand, a job he hated. He started overwatering the plants to try to kill them, but it turned out that's just what the flora needed to thrive. His manager promoted him and stared calling him "Storm," and it's stuck ever since. "By the time I graduated from high school, that's how I was introducing myself, including to the future Mrs. Storm," Storm says.
The duo have also started a number of memes that have gone viral in the geek world. “Wookieleaks” was a popular one last year after ComicCon, involving posting Star Wars facts on Twitter using #wookieleaks.
They are also known for jokes of the format “X is the name of my Y cover band,” where X is related to Y in some vague, funny way. "Often at shows, it becomes a friendly game of one-upmanship between us to come up with ones we've never thought of before," Paul says. That model started with the duo taking any innocuous-sounding phrase and calling it "the name of my emo band," Paul says. Paul and Storm admit they didn't invent this joke, but they have certainly made it popular.
“'Now You’re Ready for Jonathan Coulton' is the name of my Paul and Storm cover band,” they said in unison at their DragonCon show.
Check out Paul and Storm at paulandstorm.com.