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‘Tonight Show’ karaoke duo are Congo Square Theatre veterans

Will Sims

Will Sims

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Karaoke duo channel Bon Jovi for Jay Leno
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Updated: May 12, 2013 3:17PM

A former Chicago bartender and his fitness instructor wife — Will and Monifa Sims — have gone semi-viral, with tens of thousands of Web hits and counting, after exuberantly channeling Jon Bon Jovi and Annie Lennox on “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.”

Leno and his producers were so taken with the Sims’ performance during a popular gas station sketch called “Pumpcast News” that they invited the couple on as guests. Their segment aired Wednesday, several hours after it taped in Burbank, and featured a brief reprise of Will’s take on Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ on a Prayer.” Monifa sang back-up, and accompaniment was provided by the “Tonight Show” band.

But when he introduced them, Leno omitted the fact that Will and Monifa are more than avid karaoke singers possessed of infectious enthusiasm who happened to be in the right place at the right time. They’re also professional thespians — founding members of Chicago’s Congo Square Theatre company. In fact, Monifa won a national dramatic acting contest in 2005, shortly before she and Will moved west.

Will says the omission of their acting history was purposeful. “[The producers] didn’t want [people] to think we were actors and it was a ‘plant’,” Will says. “They were like, ‘You’re a bartender and she’s a fitness [trainer].’”

The premise of Pumpcast News is this: actor Tim Stack, as faux newscaster Jack Rafferty, breaks from reading the day’s headlines to mess with unwitting customers via a small pump-mounted TV monitor.

Here’s how it unfolds: After Stack hears Will quietly crooning while preparing to fill up, and subsequently learns of his love for karaoke, Stack requests a sample. Readily obliging, Will belts out the aforementioned Bon Jovi’s anthem. An initially seemingly embarrassed Monifa ultimately emerges from their vehicle to do a fine version of “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This),” by the Eurythmics. Will chimes in for the high parts. There is boogying, too.

As hits began to mount on YouTube, the Sims posted the video on Facebook and told friends to keep sharing it.

“And the next thing you know,” Will says, “it’s gone viral.”

“You never, in a million years, think you’re going to pump gas and be on the Internet, let alone ‘The Tonight Show,’” he says.

Adds Monifa, who also has acted atChicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre, “We weren’t expecting this at all. But it’s been a lot of fun. I’m happy that it’s made a lot of people laugh.”

And, she says, they wouldn’t mind at all if their sudden stardom leads to something bigger.

“I hope and pray. We are in Hollywood.”

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