Lumping in a Lilliputian wheelchair in a hotel ballroom near the airport, six-year-old Abby Gilmore could not be coaxed to talk. Not even on the radio, by members of Q100’s The Bert Show, not even though she was about to leave for Disney World on Bert’s Big Adventure, a nonprofit that gives chronically and terminally ill children and their families a vacation. Minnie Mouse and Captain Jack Sparrow wandered the room, dancing with other kids, but Abby, who has spina bifida, hid her face. That is, until her favorite band, Laughing Pizza, ran out to serenade her with “The Laundry Song.” Abby smiled, her eyes brightened. She pumped her tiny fists into the air and bounced so hard her wheels shook.
A vivacious family band based in Atlanta, Laughing Pizza gets that reaction a lot on its cross-country tours. The silly name and vibrant outfits also conjure one thought: Yeah, make that extra cheesy. But when you see the “Pizzas”—Lisa Michaelis, husband Billy Schlosser, and fourteen-year-old daughter Emily—perform, their energy and sincerity prove infectious.
Billy and Lisa—classically trained musicians who met on a mid-1980s episode of Star Search—toiled for years in New York, performing and writing songs for the likes of Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen. After Emily’s traumatic premature birth, they moved to Atlanta for a fresh start, and Billy became a tech consultant. He was flying to Boston on 9/11 and got trapped there for a week. The scare shifted the family’s priorities. Billy quit his job, and he and Lisa began Laughing Pizza as a way to entertain Emily. They put out DVDs and CDs (and even briefly had a Sony contract). Around age nine, Emily began to join them onstage.
“She was already over the Wiggles,” says Billy. “The next step for her was Britney Spears. Even at a teeny, tiny Montessori school [she attended] in Marietta, she knew the lyrics to ‘I’m a Slave 4 U.’ She’s five or six years old, has no clue what she’s saying. It was cute, but completely terrifying.”
That isn’t to say the trio doesn’t borrow from pop music. Their Black Eyed Peas–esque hooks—now produced on their own label, Little Bean Family Entertainment—appeal to young and old. One mother told Lisa that she could listen to the Pizzas over and over without wanting to shoot herself—high praise from the Barney-inundated crowd.
Like many Pizza fans, Abby first saw the group’s music videos between programs on Atlanta’s PBA 30. The station’s ratings began to spike after the interstitial “Pizza Breaks” began in 2008. Soon the Pizzas were appearing on Georgia Public Broadcasting and in dozens more PBS markets around the country—and were playing at the White House. They’ve won several Parents’ Choice Awards, and their song “On My Way” was selected for the recent book Julie Andrews’ Collection of Poems, Songs, and Lullabies.
A half-hour PBS show is next on the group’s agenda. In the meantime, the Pizzas will start touring Georgia in July to raise money for GPB.
Photograph by Guestofaguest.com Photography/Red Carpet NYC