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Comedy Wed Oct 31 2012
Mark Colomb has talked to a lot of Chicago comedians. He hosts The Poor Choices Show, a bi-weekly podcast that the Onion A.V. Club called "one of the top free podcasts in Chicago." The show started three years ago with Colomb and a co-host and around episode 40 Colomb started doing it solo.
Poor Choices is nearing the 200th show, which will be its final podcast. Colomb and I talked about Mick Napier, the Chicago hustle, and what he thinks has changed in Chicago comedy during the last three years he's been hosting Poor Choices.
When putting a podcast together, what are some of the things you think about for a show?
I think it's like any interview -- people ask to come on the show and I'm flattered that anyone even listens to the thing. To talk to someone for an hour, I have to have a hook, some kind of narrative. Every other podcast -- or comedy interview show -- is about people after they've made it, they're already on TV or in a movie and they're promoting something. [Poor Choices] is about people who are still figuring out who they are and the value of the show is -- I hope it's fun to listen to now -- but in 10 or 15 years, it will be really interesting as a cultural artifact. If you could go hear Stephen Colbert or Steve Carell or Tina Fey or Amy Poehler 15, 20 years ago, about what they were thinking about when they were young and scared and weren't sure if it was going to work, if you could hear that now it would be really empowering and interesting.
You've talked to a lot of people doing their thing in the city, what are some things that have really stood out to you?
Everybody who moves to Chicago to try their hand at performing or comedy -- I've also talked to music critics or film critics -- everybody has slowly figured out that if you want to make a living performing or writing, you have to do it on your own. You cannot wait for large organizations to pluck you out of nowhere, because that doesn't happen anymore. The people who are doing well -- the thing that I've learned -- are always working on their own, always writing or performing, working on the next thing and thinking about how to recontextualize things. I just thought that you show up, you go through a system -- you do iO then Second City -- and then you're on TV. It does not work that way.
It seems like people who are being successful in the city are finding their own spaces to do what they want.
You can do that now. You aren't going to make a ton of money -- or in my case, any money -- doing anything, but if you want to do something bad, you can.
What are some of your favorite interviews?
My 200th interview is with Mick Napier, the founder of the Annoyance. Mick to me is kind of the heart of Chicago, he's a conscious of Chicago. He's pushed it the farthest but there's also honesty to what he does. Some other people that I really loved were Steve Waltien, Katie Rich, Brendan Jennings from Cook County Social Club. Aidy Bryant, who's on "SNL" now.
What do you think is the best way someone in comedy can use Chicago?
In the last kind of 50 or 60 shows, a big question that I asked everyone is, can you stay here? People have made a living, like Mick has been here for 30 years, and it depends on what [someone] wants to do. At a certain point if you want to write TV or perform on TV you have to be in LA. If you want to do commercial work -- you can do some commercial work here, but nationally it's going to be in LA. It's whatever you want to do. Chicago to me is like grad school, everybody's gone to college somewhere else and you come here to figure out what your professional life can be. It's not to diminish Chicago at all, because people do amazing work here, it's unfortunate that it's just not enough to make a living.
What I've noticed about Chicago comedy is that it's all about the hustle.
Chicago is a way for someone to prove themself. If you're an agent or producer or somebody and you see someone in a show you like at Second City and you ask them, "Well what can you do" and all they say is improvise, that's not much -- it's a great tool and an amazing time but you have to be able to write and shoot and work on other things all the time as well.
What do you think is a good a place for people to see their first show in Chicago?
I think you could see a Main Stage Show [at Second City] or an ETC. show right now and see really great performers. Personally, the people that I really like are at Holy Fuck Comedy Hour at the Annoyance on Friday nights -- I think you're seeing some of the more interesting things, people just trying things. Nights at the Upstairs Gallery -- Upstairs Gallery is really the best place in Chicago, that's really where it's a clubhouse... people just try things and it's really unfettered creativity. The Playground is really great too. To me Upstairs Gallery and the Annoyance are where I go to see shows.
What do you think you've seen change in Chicago comedy in the last three years you've been doing the podcast?
It's good and bad -- you see the rise of the solo performer in Chicago. There's a ton more solo shows, and what I used to love about Chicago was that it was team-based, like Cook County Social Club, 3033, the Reckoning -- great teams of people. Now it's more about somebody developing their own comedic voice... because that's what people think they have to do to be ready for an "SNL" showcase or get an agent or book commercials and they're right, that is part of it, but it's kind of like the art of Chicago is falling off a bit. It's becoming more product-based, but that's also part of growing up...
One thing that's really nice right now is that all the people I know that are doing great work just really want to help each other out. There is a real community vibe.
After Poor Choice's 200th show, Colomb is going to pay to keep the show up. Once a month he is going to do a sketch-based show that he describes as an "idiot's version of Prairie Home Companion." People can help support the site by making donations. Colomb also does video work -- so check him out.