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Comedy Thu Apr 25 2013

Double-Shot Showcase Brings Comedy to Evanston


Alexandra Tsarpalas at Double-Shot Showcase

If you think you've seen every comedy show in Chicago, maybe it's time for you to take the Purple Line up to Evanston. Every Thursday night at 8pm, you can see some of Chicago's best comics at J.J. Java Cafe, an earthy coffee shop right across from the Foster stop, as they perform at Double-Shot Showcase. Double-Shot is produced and hosted on a rotating basis by Peter-john Byrnes, Cody Melcher, Dave Stinton, and Alexandra Tsarpalas. The show features three comics you've probably heard of, plus one newbie who you probably haven't, but will want to. In a laid-back atmosphere, audiences have a chance to see a select few comics explore their material with some extra time on stage, rather than a crammed lineup of comics trying to squeeze their sets into four minutes. It's part of the luxury of the suburbs: wide open stage time. The results are well worth the $2.25 ride on the Purple Line (bonus: It tends to be a really clean train).

I had a chance to ask Tsarpalas and Byrnes about their show, and they were mostly nice to me.

When did Double-Shot start?

Tsarpalas: It started in August of 2012, but I wasn't there at the origination of the show. Dave Stinton and I became producers this January after Kris [Simmons] left. I was so thrilled when they asked me to join them! I was a DSS fan already and still am!

Byrnes: Dan Telfer was sitting in J.J. Java one summer afternoon last year and tweeted that he was in an Evanston coffee shop with a stage that was crying for a comedy show to be held there. I read the tweet and emailed him from my office in Skokie to ask him where he was. I wandered over and agreed. I asked Kris [Simmons], and Dan suggested Cody [Melcher] when I asked him for a suggestion for a third producer. Oddly enough, Kris and I had met Cody on the very first night he did stand-up, at the Chaser, nearly a year earlier.

The four of you, Peter-john Byrnes, Dave Stinton, Cody Melcher and Alexandra Tsarpalas, co-produce and host the show on a rotating basis. How do you make it all work?

Tsarpalas: It is mostly just a ton of fun. Peter and Cody have a great read on the Chicago comedy scene, so Dave and I were able to get into the swing of things smoothly. We trade off hosting each week and we are each responsible for making sure our week is booked in advance. That's the long answer. The short answer is: spreadsheets.

Byrnes: The other piece is the trust you put in your co-producers. Although we're each ultimately responsible for booking our own hosting weeks, the necessities of scheduling mean that often you'll have someone in the short slot who is too new to have a clip online, and that only one or two of us will have seen. Bringing Alexandra and Dave on was easy because we trusted their taste.

Tell us about J.J. Java and what it is like performing there.

Tsarpalas: J.J. Java, if you couldn't tell by the name, is a coffee shop. They have a stage and sound and a very positive vibe, so it has been a great place to perform. Since it isn't a bar, the audiences are relaxed without being out of control. Audience members have a sandwich and a cup of tea and are attentive.

Byrnes: It's also unusual in that it's well lit, which means that for a comic, it affords the rare opportunity to see everyone's face in the audience. So for a performer, it offers instant and complete feedback on newer material, and for the audience, it's a chance to see a headliner up close. Many of our headliners are people you'll see at The Laugh Factory, Zanies or UP. This is your chance to see them do an acoustic set, as it were.

What is the goal of Double-Shot?

Tsarpalas: The show was created and continues to adhere to these principles: Our line-ups are always co-ed--there are no all male or all female shows at Double-Shot; comedians get paid; and, we want to be a supportive space for comics to push themselves--where a new comic working open mics gets booked for their first six minute slot. Same with the 15-minute slots and headlining spots.

Where do you find your "one newbie" per show?

Tsarpalas: Most of them are from open mics we attend. We are always keeping our eyes open for new comics on the scene who are really shining. I know I have booked a lot from Kelsie Huff's Fem Com classes. It is so much fun to watch new comics kill it on our stage.

What are the challenges and advantages of doing a show so far north?

Tsarpalas: We have had quite a mix of audience members come through. The location has been a challenge for some city folk who have been reluctant to come to Evanston, but once they go, they realize how easy it is to get to J.J. Java. The advantages have been that we are getting fresh audiences. We aren't competing with other shows in the neighborhood, which is great. Also, there is plenty of parking, even in winter.

Byrnes: I live in Evanston, so it's all a matter of perspective. "Lake Forest!," I want to say. "That's far north." The challenge is right there in the wording of the question. I'm not aware of people complaining about the Mayne Stage in Rogers Park being so far north, but it's only a few El stops away from us. There is something about the city border that makes some people think they'll fall off the edge of the earth and be eaten by dragons. And likewise, we hope to encourage some of our Evanston audience, who refer to everything on the north side of Chicago as "downtown," to go see the performers in their native habitat.

What kind of audiences do you get?

Tsarpalas: Lots of supportive friends and family, Northwestern students, Evanston and Skokie comedy fans, Chicago comics and Chris DeNardo (he has super fan status). We always get supportive attentive audiences who really enjoy the experience. We have been so lucky to have such generous audiences.

Byrnes: We're starting to get regular, repeat customers from Northwestern and DePaul, which was one of our original goals. Back in the Dark Ages (the '80s), I was a 17 year-old comedian and comedy fan. Going to a club was difficult, and a bar was nearly impossible, because I wasn't of drinking age. I wish our show existed then.

Tell us about a memorable Double-Shot moment.

Tsarpalas: My most memorable moment was before I was producer. My debut performance was in the Halloween show. Peter was dressed as Winnie the Pooh and totally killed it as host despite/because of the crazy costume. I was dressed as Sally Jesse Raphael, which I have learned can only make my comedy better. The Puterbaugh Sisters headlined and were brilliant as always. I was crying laughing at their set, plus, they had Halloween vests and gourds. So good.


Byrnes: My wife doesn't get to come to many weekday shows, because we have children and DCFS frowns on us letting them go feral. But she was able to come on a night I wasn't even performing and saw Chad Briggs, who's one of my favorite comedians and people, because it was in Evanston and we could get back home at a reasonable hour. That meant a lot to me.

Anything else?

Tsarpalas: Cody, Dave and Peter are some of the most talented comics in Chicago right now, so the show has been an absolute treat. All of us have different styles, but I think it is safe to say we are all fans of one another and the comics we book.

Byrnes: I like Alexandra OK.


Double-Shot Showcase happens every Thursday at 8pm at J.J. Java Cafe, 911 Foster St., in Evanston. $5 suggested donation.

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