Pat Hazell Brings “Wonder Bread” and Laughter to KU Presents!
By Susan L. Peña
KUTZTOWN, Pa. – If you are a Boomer, or know Boomers and want to understand what makes them tick – or if you just want to spend an evening laughing your head off at one of the funniest men in America – Pat Hazell’s “The Wonder Bread Years” is exactly the show you need.
This one-man comedy show about growing up in the 1960s will take place in Kutztown University’s Schaeffer Auditorium at 7:30 p.m., Wednesday, Feb. 8, as part of the KU Presents! series. Hazell, a playwright, standup comedian, actor and former writer for the popular comedy series “Seinfeld,” is in the midst of his first national tour since 2020.
At 6 p.m., prior to “The Wonder Bread Years,” a nostalgic homestyle dinner, including comfort foods like meat loaf and ambrosia salad, will be served in the Schaeffer Little Theatre (at an additional cost). Reservations must be made before Jan. 31.
Tickets for “The Wonder Bread Years” are $38; $32 for students and seniors and can be purchased at www.KutztownPresents.org, or by calling the KU Presents! Box Office 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., Tuesday through Thursday, at 610-683-4092. Established to be the center of cultural life at Kutztown University, KU Presents! serves the campus and community by bringing world-class live arts that entertain, educate and enrich.
Hazell said he originally wrote the show 25 years ago for a PBS pledge drive and expected that one-hour version to be the only performance. But at the urging of some people who observed the rehearsal process in a theater, he later expanded the show to evening-length and took it on the road.
“I expected its nostalgic bent would soon wear off,” Hazell said. “But I realized the audience was aging at the same rate as the show.”
Born in 1961, Hazell was a late Boomer who spent most of his formative years in Omaha, Neb. His memories of favorite TV shows on only three channels, “horrible road trips” crammed in the back of a station wagon with his siblings and playing with “dangerous” toys furnished the show with details shared by most people of a certain age.
“When I wrote it, I was trying to figure out a centerpiece for the narrative, and I came up with a day in the life of a child back then, from waking up to bedtime, and then a year in the life, hitting all the holidays,” he said. He added his own family’s slides for a touch of authenticity and found that audiences across the political and social spectrum could relate.
“Everything now is focused on the divide,” he said. “But we have more in common than we have differences.”
Hazell said he got his sense of humor from his family, and his entrée into show business from being a “kid magician,” starting with living room performances using a magic kit. His unexceptional magic was supplemented by what amounted to standup comedy; and the laughs he got were all the encouragement he needed.
For a while, after college, he took his magic/comedy act into the streets and then began earning a living performing at corporate events. When he moved to Los Angeles, “my goal was to be on the Johnny Carson Show,” he said, but he realized that to achieve that, he would have to drop the magic and hone his standup skills.
His career truly began when Jerry Seinfeld began using him as an opening act, and later as a writer for “Seinfeld.” Hazell also wrote a play, “Bunk Bed Brothers,” that was later used as the basis for the sitcom “American Pie” on NBC.
When reminded that he was living the life depicted on “The Dick Van Dyke Show,” he laughed. “It’s interesting how much TV taught me to do what I’m doing. It went from being my babysitter to being my mentor.”
He did reach his original goal when he became a regular on the Tonight Show and surpassed it with nationwide acclaim. Now, as the Chief Creative Officer of Sweetwood Creative, he is responsible for the national tours of five original productions: “Bunk Bed Brothers,” “Nashville Backstage,” “The Wonder Bread Years,” “My Funny Valentine” and “A Kodachrome Christmas.” He is currently collaborating on a musical adaptation of his original play, “Grounded For Life.”
When touring stopped during the COVID years, Hazell started a podcast called “Creativity in Captivity,” in which he picked the brains of many successful people involved in the performing arts. His guests included Broadway director/choreographer Susan Stroman, Seinfeld, the late Muppeteer Frank Oz, Broadway songwriters Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty, and Pete Docter, creator of “Up,” “Inside-Out” and other Pixar films.
These podcasts, now numbering more than 80, are available on Amazon Music, Apple Podcasts and other platform, as well as at https://www.creativityincaptivity.fun/about. Hazell said the series was built “as a library of candid interviews with people in the arts, for people who want to know more about the creative process.”