The Second City's 104th mainstage revue, Fool Me Twice, Déjà Vu, is a triumphant return to form. It's a gutsy, experimental success. It's the Cloud Atlas of sketch comedy.
If you've read David Mitchell's groundbreaking 2004 novel, you know that comparison is a huge compliment. (If you only saw the 2012 movie adaptation, you're forgiven for thinking it's an insult.) Narratively speaking, Cloud Atlas is a Matryoshka doll, where six stories are split into halves and nested within each other so that the second half of the book mirrors the first.
Chapter Two, Neil Simon's tribute to his whirlwind romance and subsequent marriage to actress Marsha Mason, was clearly written in the 1970s. The plot revolves around a mistaken phone call that resulted in a subsequent and immediate "five minute date" in one of the character's apartments.
I don't know about you, but my experience of dating in 2015 rarely revolves around wrong numbers and the meeting of charming strangers. Mine more often involves obsessive online research of potential dates, the use of some mediated communications (text, facebook post, tweet, etc.) and the ability to communicate with one's potential partner with immediacy and in multiple forms of media. (Or the engagement of what I fondly refer to as "L.U.D.I.S.," or the "Lesbian Underground Dating Information System," e.g. everyone you date knows someone you know somehow through one of their exes. But I digress.) That said, Chapter Two is a delightful throwback to a simpler time, when dating actually involved seeing someone for a few hours over an evening and not just swiping one direction or another prior to a hookup.
Over his roughly seven years as a part of Chicago's comedy circles Dave Maher had gained a reputation for many reasons: as the smartly unhinged, wildly funny comedian with a big heart and warm smile, he was an evergreen fixture on the scene. Notably though Maher was also regarded as something of a world-class contrarian in conversation, routinely contesting various individuals' opinions, often vehemently. This was done, however, not as a show of supposed self-superiority but more to put himself in a position where he could possibly be convinced by their counter-arguments. Music, movies, books, poetry, everything was fair game.
But that was then, before the night of Oct. 22, 2014 when Maher fell into a diabetic coma—one which held him in its grasp for nearly a month, threatening to take his life in the process. It was in this moment that the universe apparently saw an opportunity to prod him further. Fully embracing its trickster nature, it slipped on an Arlecchino mask and tacitly suggested to Maher that there were bigger questions to be asked; questions about life, and fate, responsibility, and absolution.
Left to Right: Rusell Mernaugh as Mischa Bachiniski, Tiffany Tatreau as Ocean O'Connell Rosenberg, Lillian Castro as Constance Blackwood, Emily Rohm as Jane Doe and Jackson Evans as Ricky Potts. Photo by Liz Lauren.
In a U.S. premiere of the Canadian musical at Chicago Shakespeare, Ride the Cyclone twists and turns through musical excellence. Described as "'Glee' meets 'Survivor'," this show does not disappoint with its hairpin plot twists, its tour through musical genres of the last two centuries and an upbeat and outstanding cast of performers and tragic/comic themes.
Oh no! The Zombie Apocalypse has overrun Manhattan and the well-loved Seinfeld television series has been infected with the disease. Can the characters be saved from "Zombie-citis"? Beginning October 10, this unique show at Gorilla Tango Theatre Bucktown will start the Halloween season off with Zombie Central.
Zombie Seinfeld is a display of a truly hilarious zombie parody that helps the audience determine if anti-zombie vaccines exist, learn tricks for noticing zombie morphing and, yada, yada, yada. It's not clear whether playing "zombie-pretend" will help you get things you wouldn't normally have access to.
Plucky Rosenthal, the self-proclaimed "Jewish Star of Stage...and Stage," is presenting a limited run of The Plucky Rosenthal Show (a one-woman show inspired by vaudeville and variety performance of the '40s and '50s) at the Uptown Underground, Chicago's newest venue for burlesque, vaudeville and cabaret variety performances. The limited run is a 45-minute adventure through myriad vintage influences, including wacky bits, physical comedy and the best of modern Borscht Belt amusements. Plucky, whose stage demeanor is alternately utterly charming and then almost demonically over-the-top, handles each bit of original material with her characteristic charisma and panache.
As of June 26, 2015, the U.S. of A. now has given everyone the opportunity to marry whomever they like regardless of gender. As each state has had its battle with the decision on a different timeline, this five-person crew has created a new show called 50 States of Gay, produced by GayCo Productions. 50 States of Gay shows the fight for equality taking you through all 50 states in a series of shows, each of which is chosen by chance through the audience's selection. Picking a state from a hat each week, the cast creates original content that becomes the theme for the next show. The hybrid sketch-variety experience has many art forms (songs, puppetry, stand up, interpretative dance, lesbian break-up scenes and more), and presents the lingering truth (and penis/vagina jokes!) in its own patriotic style.
The Jangleheart Circus by Upstairs Gallery -- one of the city's largest and most diverse comedy festivals, featuring local improv, sketch, and stand-up stars -- returns for its third year this Thursday, Friday and Saturday night (September 3-5) at three different venues on the North Side.
On Thursday night, the CiC Theater (a few blocks north of the Music Box) will host 12 acts including one of iO Chicago's best Harold teams, The Late '90s, and the popular independent improv group, Sand.
Usually, the Mainstage Theater is where you go for a quintessential Second City experience with the ensemble's "varsity team" of seasoned veterans. Currently, it's home to Panic on Cloud 9, a perfectly serviceable two hours of comedy. However, the best sketch show of 2015 is actually in the E.T.C. Theater, where the ostensible "JV team" is knocking it out of the park in their 39th revue, Soul Brother, Where Art Thou?.
Can we talk kind of seriously about comedy for a moment? Please understand that this question is posed in full recognition of how stupid an idea this is: since time immemorial it has been understood that comedy is a topic preternaturally averse to being examined in such a manner, ideologically like a thigmonastic plant, shrinking away in response to interrogative stimuli. Often though the harder a topic is to delve into, the more rewarding it is to explore.
The aforementioned topic hangs thick in the air because this weekend will see our fair city play host to some of the best stand-up comedy talent in the country at the second annual Comedy Exposition—recently named Best New Comedy Festival on the 2015 Reader Best Of Chicago list—which kicks off this Friday, July 10. The festivities run through Sunday night when the festival ends with a closing ceremony performance at the UP Comedy Club by the fantastic Todd Glass. In between the fest will feature some 75 comedians, with roughly half of that talent pool drawn exclusively from the local stand-up scene.
Ladies and gents, a night out on the town may be in order, and if you want to laugh with your friends until your face hurts, you should take them to a play about an all-male review called Roast Beef and be sure to sit in the first two rows. But be forewarned, there will be a few men in thongs throughout the production, so don't take your out-of-town relatives who want to see what you are up to in the big city. That said, there were a few grandmas in the crowd who were really enjoying themselves, so if they are really fun and open-minded relatives who don't mind frequent references to genitalia in your presence, by all means bring them along.
Jazz and comedy are old friends. Fred Armisen has made some of his best jokes sitting at a piano. "The Cosby Show" brought Dizzy Gillespie and B.B. King into our living rooms. In the '50s, when jazz still served as popular music, comedians got their first shots opening up for bands. Audiences waited for the comedians to be done so the band would get on stage.
At Constellation Thursday night, May 21, those roles were reversed. The packed house waited for the band to finish so Amy Schumer would come out. The bandleader, Jason Stein, acknowledged our patience after the second song, telling us he appreciated us listening. About Amy Schumer, his half-sister, Jason joked, "We share only a dad, folks. Just a dad."
Schumer didn't disappoint. She started from a high place and kept it up for well over an hour. Her fame has grown in recent months in anticipation of her first feature film, Trainwreck.
Hannibal Buress, the Chicago standup comic who's gone on to national fame on such shows as "SNL," "30 Rock" and "Broad City," is coming home on his Comedy Camisado tour for a show at Chicago Theatre on April 9.
Tickets are on sale now via TicketMaster and run $35 to $55 -- but right here, right now, you could win a pair of tickets to the show! Just email email@example.com with the subject line "Comedy Comisado" and include your name and phone number. We'll choose a winner at 5pm on Thursday, March 6.
To what end does one seek to be edgy and experimental in comedy today, in this age of abandon? It is a question recently posed, albeit indirectly, by sketch comedy group Hijinks when they attempted to pull off the herculean effort that was HIJINKSfest: 12 hours of original sketch comedy shows, performed by a cast of five, in ceaseless succession with minimal breaks in between.
It might come as a surprise to hear that each show making up the behemoth was a worthy piece of comedy — some transcendent, others raw, with moments interspersed that were at times playful, disgusting, inspiring, shocking, and even touching.
While they may seem unlikely analogues, comedy has many similarities to painting as an artform. Both serve to mirror and heighten reality with the purpose of eliciting a reaction, whether surprise, delight or disgust. In the 20th century, as artists struggled to understand life after the chasm carved out by two World Wars, they began to deconstruct the formalism of the academies, exploring and transgressing into the realms of surrealism. The same is true for comedy, with experimental forms pushing boundaries of taste and tradition.
The Gogo Show is coming out from underground with the start of their new season in September, at the Greenhouse Theater Center. The Gogo Show is a late-night variety show with standup, improv, sketch, storytelling and solo pieces, all featuring and produced by women.
Opening night will feature standup by Ali Clayton and Reena Calm, musical comedy by The Shock-Ts and The Rhinestones, storytelling by Cynthia Shur Petts and solo performance by Wes Perry. Hosts will include Gogo Show producers Mary Rose O'Connor, Anna Lucero, Erin Lane, Andrea Wallace, and Rebecca Krasny-McCrackin.
Billed as a parental night out for beleaguered moms, The Pump and Dump: A Parentally Incorrect Comedy Show comes to Chicago's Mayne Stage next month. Musician/comedian Shayna Ferm and her coach "MC Doula" (Tracey Tee) have presented two years of sold-out monthly shows in Denver.
They're now taking the show on the road to Northern California and Cleveland as well as Chicago this fall. Their album, #BREEDER, featuring songs written and performed by Shayna Ferm, is now on iTunes; and in 2014 Ferm and Tee launched a second website, TheMomToMomProject.com.
The Second City is expanding their 20,300 square feet space to accommodate even more classrooms and facilities for students. The company will be leasing the 25,000 square foot former four-screen AMC movie theater next to its current Pipers Alley location, which closed in 2011.
The Second City Training Center is already the largest school of comedy in the world, but this new development will more than double the space and provide room for their growing curriculum.
Last Tuesday's show, The Jewboy Cain Interview (A Marty Grosbeck Special) was reminiscent of an SCTV sketch, with Marty Grosbeck (played by David Isaacson) bringing a Eugene Levy-esque feel to the talk show host character. Jewboy Cain, played by Jeff Dorchen (who'd performed earlier the same night at Write Club, and won his bout) plays the character like a mix of Weird Al Yankovic, Steven Wright, and Jeff Bridges' portrayal of Bad Blake in Crazy Heart.
By now most of you have heard of web series, for those of you that have not, it is simply a series of video content posted and obtained online. The most popular, and probably most recognizable, of these today is arguably "House of Cards." Mind you, "House of Cards" is not what I would consider typical, or most common, when thinking about web series. Most web series that are being produced today are independent, made by people that want to tell a story or be a part of the entertainment or film/video world but do not feel it is accessible from where they are, so like all great producers they just get out there and make it happen.
YouTube, Blip and Vimeo have given video creators a platform for distributing their footage. Today I want to focus on five web series being produced in Chicago.
Comedian Robin Harris made you laugh -- uproariously -- whenever he touched a microphone. His unapologetic "blue collar" comedic style, comprised of an effortless and expert blend of "signifying" and anecdotes, turned him into a household name.
Harris, a native of Chicago's South Side, put in major work in comedy clubs across the country, eventually landing in L.A.'s famed Comedy Store; however, it wasn't until 1985 when he became the house emcee for the Comedy Act Theater that people really began to take notice.
February marks Black History Month, which has historically been designated as a time for celebration and observance of the achievements and contributions made by blacks in America. Culturally speaking, Chicago always boasts a diverse mix of special events, shows, and performances; here, I've listed a few highlights worth checking out.
Theater is a choice platform that artists often use to open a dialogue about issues that people tend to otherwise brush under the rug. Buzzer by Tracey Scott Wilson is a play that aims to open audience's minds to the complex issues underlying urban gentrification. While the play takes place in Brooklyn, the issue of neighborhood gentrification is no stranger to Chicagoans.
In the production, Jackson, now a successful graduate of Harvard Law returns to the neighborhood in which he grew up. He brings along his white girlfriend and best friend (who has a set of troubles all his own) and soon, the three face exploding tensions in the surrounding neighborhood and amongst themselves.
Eric Lynch, who plays the smart, successful and charismatic Jackson in Buzzer gave Gapers Block a preview of how the issues of sex, race, love, fear and money are tackled in this dark comedy.
Seven Chicago standup comedians will provide a bright spot in the post-holiday lull at a standup comedy showcase Friday, January 17, at Timothy O'Toole's Pub, 622 N. Fairbanks Ct. Shows will be presented at 8 and 10:30pm.
The show celebrates the sixth anniversary of the Chicago comedy collective Comedians You Should Know (CYSK). Both shows will feature CYSK members past and present including: Marty DeRosa, Danny Kallas, Joe Kilgallon, Mike Lebovitz, Michael Sanchez, Mike Sheehan and Junior Stopka.
Food and drink will be available before, during and after the shows; there's no drink minimum. An afterparty will follow the second show. Doors open at 7 and 10pm respectively for the two shows.
CYSK released a self-titled album in 2011. They present a weekly atandup show at 8pm every Wednesday at Timothy O'Toole's. CYSK individual members have gone on to appear at both Just For Laughs Chicago and Montreal, and Montreux Comedy Festival in Switzerland.
Tickets for the January 17 showcase are $10 in advance, $15 at the door, and can be purchased online. All tickets are general admission; you must be 21 or over. No drink minimum. Street parking is available; you can also park in the lot on the southeast corner of Erie and Fairbanks for $10 with validation from O'Toole's.
Comedian Lewis Black always gets big laughs in Chicago. His acerbic wit and his sardonic political commentary play to Chicagoans' own brand of gallows humor about politics and power, and he's done well here long before his appearances on "The Daily Show."
Black will be back at the Chicago Theatre May 10, 2014 with his latest show, "The Rant is Due." Tickets go on sale this Friday, Nov. 15 at 11am, but we've got a pair to give away right now.
To enter, email firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line "Lewis Black" and your name and phone number in the body. We'll select a winner at noon on Friday, Nov. 15. Good luck! UPDATE: We have a winner! Congratulations to Venkatesh.
There are some performers that you just know you want to spend time with, from the very first moment you meet them. Plucky Rosenthal, the "Jewish Star of Stage and Stage," is one of those performers. Endlessly bubbly, charismatic and a darling throwback to vintage vaudeville, Plucky plays the banjo and ukulele, sings, cracks corny jokes and generally lights up a room. I had the opportunity to sit down with her about her upcoming show, Plucky and Friends, which opens tomorrow at Gorilla Tango.
Talk to me about the show -- what is it?
Plucky and Friends is an all-new original variety show. I host it as my vaudeville alter ego Plucky Rosenthal, backed by a killer band, and my friends come in an out of the show as hilarious characters that they've come up with to share their talents... whether Plucky wants them to or not. It's at Gorilla Tango Theatre in Bucktown, so you can hit up Margie's Candies or Belly Shack after the show!
"Chicago Dating Scene," directed by Timmy Mays, is a sketch comedy written and performed by six actor friends who met while training in the city. A delightful hodge-podge of romantic situations flickered across stage through heartfelt monologues and uproarious scenes. How do you keep the romance alive in long-term relationships? How do you break up with somebody? How do you survive a brutal Brazilian wax after a stint of singleness? The show was also infused with absurdist humor reminiscent of vintage "Saturday Night Live" skits, the humor that has you rolling on the floor gasping for breath, although you're not sure why. A man who falls in love with his hawk? Cyrano de Bergerac presiding over a couple's quiet evening at home? The intimate venue added to the feeling that this was simply a merry "Tell me everything!" between friends over dinner.
Just as you'd hesitate to laugh at a friend's romantic misfortunes, you could only watch these comedians with a generous dose of empathy. To stand outside your personal relationships and to perform them for others is to realize their sometimes bizarre, sometimes poignant energy. It turns the audience members simultaneously into voyeurs and companions.
My only regret is that I caught the performance on its tail end. The comedy, which opened on Oct. 3 and played Thursdays at 8pm, ended its run last night. Visit the Public House Theatre's website to learn more about current and upcoming shows; they're guaranteed to be a treat.
Local is a big deal these days. We eat local produce. Drink local brews (and spirits). Support local bands. But what about local television?
Sure, big budget shows like "Chicago Fire" shoot in the city, drawn here by tax incentives and the city's "rawness." But they're more Vienna Beef than Hot Doug's.
I'm talking about the homegrown talent gunning for a medium that has captured the imagination (and attention) of generations. The passion projects that are worth a million "King of Queens."
Six such projects debuted before an enthusiastic crowd this week at the Music Box before heading off to the New York Television Festival. Produced by folks from across Chicago's comedy and media production scenes, these pilots are funny, original, and well-deserving of your time.
And even if you couldn't make it to the Music Box, you can check them out below. I'm no critic so I'll just let the work speak for itself, with a quick description to help you decide if it might be something you're into.
Sinbad, the veteran stand-up comedian who has been making audiences laugh for decades, returns to the big screen in SINBAD: Make Me Wanna Holla, "a night of comedy and funk," next Thursday, August 22.
Recorded earlier this month before a live audience at The Fillmore Detroit, Sinbad, born in Benton Harbor, Michigan, performed for his home state crowd with a funny flurry of observations on advice his parents gave him, talentless people who own clothing/fashion lines, and a breakdown of "who he really is..." The concert film will also feature "exclusive footage--never to be shown again," which is certain to be a hilarious treat for his fans.
Tucked beyond the parades of gleefully drunk Cubs fans, just on the outskirts of Wrigleyville, sitting in humble solidarity is The Public House Theatre. I've walked past it on many occasions with questioning curiosity of what may be going on inside...
This cozy theatre is where a group of veteran sketch artists and improv actors known as (long pause) perform their zany Chicago version of "Saturday Night Live." One-half pre-recorded film segments and one-half sketch comedy in front of a live audience, the group of actors, writers, and improvisers have garnered some national attention with their ongoing sketch comedy series. The sixth installment of the show is being performed every Thursday at the Public House Theatre.
Craig Gass's comedy grind began in the early 90s with gigs at "whatever crappy bar or club would have him"; that grind eventually paid off and led the way to regular appearances on "The Howard Stern Show," guest-starring on hit network sitcoms like "The King of Queens," and a quite memorable role on HBO's "Sex and the City." Today, Gass is well-known for his hilarious celebrity impressions that include Christopher Walken, Gilbert Gottfried, and Al Pacino, and starting tonight and throughout the weekend, he'll be bringing them, along with many others, to Zanies' Rosemont and Chicago locations. Recently, I spoke with Gass to talk about the state of celebrity impressionist comedians, why Tracy Morgan is his favorite celebrity to perform and of course, that "Sex and the City" episode.
Bold. Audacious. Unafraid.
There are perhaps dozens more adjectives that could describe Paul Mooney; however, for die hard, or even casual observers of the legendary stand-up comedian, these pretty much sum things up.
Fans and students of comedy will tell you that while Mooney wrote for classic 70s sitcoms like "Sanford and Son" and "Good Times," he is best known for his close ties to the late Richard Pryor, which has resulted, in some circles, with him being hailed as "the man behind the man." In the early days and during the peak of Pryor's career, Mooney wrote (or co-wrote) a lot of his television and big screen material, including the short-lived "The Richard Pryor Show," his classic "Saturday Night Live" appearance, JoJo Dancer Your Life is Calling, and much more.
This weekend, legendary comic Dave Attell performs alongside Chicago native Danny Kallas at Mayne Stage in Rogers Park. I was able to chat with the stand-up legend and hilarious 'Insomniac' Attell; the comedian got nasty as we discussed retro porn, his favorite dirty comics and tips to navigate the entertainment business.
Julia Sweeney & Jill Sobule; photo courtesy of The Silverman Group.
Before grabbing a Heineken and a slab of ribs to celebrate the Fourth of July (or if you're like me, an avocado wrap with barbecue sauce), grab a glass of wine and a ticket to "The Jill and Julia Show" at the City Winery Wednesday, July 3. You will find in this funny informal show about love, family and the conundrums of life, witty monologues by Julia Sweeney coupled with equally as witty tunes by Jill Sobule.
The TBS Just for Laughs Festival is officially over; however, through six shows over four days, Jokes and Notes, 4641 S. King Dr., featured staples of Chicago's urban comedy scene including Damon Williams, Vanessa Fraction, Marlon Mitchell and others; rounding out the festival's run at the popular South Side comedy club was comedian Milton "Lil' Rel" Howery, who hosted "The Lil Rel Show," an alternative mix of his stand-up along with special guests, Taneshia Rice, Russ Williamson, Buck Wild and Marc Henderson.
The TBS Just for Laughs Festival continued its comedy takeover into last weekend with a set from "Saturday Night Live" star Seth Meyers, along with special guests, Al Madrigal and Hannibal Buress; the comedians, who clearly have distinctive styles, performed in front of a packed house at the Chicago Theatre.
The show's opener was Al Madrigal, whose listless pace began the evening on a rather slow note, so much so, that it was surprising that his jokes about the years-old R. Kelly case elicited any audience reaction at all. Next, the pace picked up with Chicago native Hannibal Buress, whose masterful storytelling was delightful; his bits about Amtrak's lenient gun laws, suspicions about those interested in podiatry, his fitness regime (drinking overpriced juice, combined with his health-conscious girlfriend's repeated warnings of "Hannibal, you're gonna die!"), and the freedom of New Orleans' party lifestyle were the perfect segue for Seth Meyers.
From the moment Russell Brand hit the Chicago Theatre stage, the enthusiastic [largely female] crowd greeted him with applause befitting a rock star. The British comedic actor, who became a U.S. household name after roles in box office hits like Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Get Him to the Greek and Rock of Ages, served as a headliner Wednesday night at this year's TBS Just for Laughs Festival.
Brand, much to the crowd's delight, began the evening by acknowledging the Chicago Blackhawks' run for the Stanley Cup; from there, he continued his set, in an "everywhere-and-all-over-the-place" fashion, on subjects that included the Chicago Theatre's architecture (certain structures were "phallic" while others resembled female genitalia), the reciprocal relationship of "sexting," his "internet death" (snowboarding incident), his admiration of the late Michael Jackson (sans the "Jesus juice pajama parties"), weird State of Illinois laws--and even civil rights.
If I can tell you just one thing about Chicago, besides never even hinting at ketchup on a hotdog, it's comedy. I'm always so confused when Chicagoans don't go see comedy on the regular; I'm like, "What are you doing with your life right now?" We not only have the opportunity to catch (sometimes free) shows every night of the week, we also get major festivals like this week's TBS Just For Laughs, which started Wednesday and power-hours through Sunday the 17th .
The Festival is a major deal (see: TBS) with shows featuring famous comedians like Russell Brand and Bill Maher, and more local up-and-coming/established people doing their thing at big venues all over the city, as well. A few weeks ago, while eating my proverbial (daily) croissant, I went over the Just for Laughs schedule and got, to be honest, most excited about Knuckleheads, a sketch/improv show with "Saturday Night Live" members, Aidy Bryant, Tim Robinson, and Cecily Strong in Second City's UP Comedy Club.
Coming to the city next week (June 11-16) is the TBS Just For Laughs Comedy Festival. The 5th anniversary brings some of the funniest legends and new upcomers alike across nine venues for five days.
I conversed with the versatile veteran David Cross, performing at the Chicago Theatre June 13, on the return of Arrested Development and how he keeps his own comedic process fresh, whether he's in a movie, a cartoon, on television or doing stand-up.
For both casual and die-hard comedy fans, TBS Just for Laughs Chicago is undoubtedly one of the most highly-anticipated comedy festivals around; this annual event, which boasts some of the biggest names in comedy as well as stars on the rise, returns to Chicago June 11-16.
Celebrating Chicago's legendary and vibrant comedy scene, Just for Laughs will feature city-wide showcases at venues like Jokes and Notes, the Chicago Theatre, Park West, UP Comedy Club and more, with a diverse array of shows that covers areas including stand-up, improv, podcasts, and interactive comedy, will be featured.
Coming to the city next week, June 11th-16th, is the TBS Just For Laughs Comedy Festival. The 5th anniversary brings some of the funniest legends and new up-and-comers to Chicago, across nine venues for five days.
I had the honor to talk with legendary comedian Bob Newhart. Performing at the Chicago Theatre June 15th, Newhart has been performing comedy for some 50 years. As a Chicago native, TV sitcom star, and one of the first comics to actually define 'stand-up comedian' as an actual occupation; we discuss the plague of the Cubs, the continuity of comedy, and how he still keeps laughter alive.
Through his writing, commentary, and appearances in clips on "Conan," comedian Deon Cole, using his unique brand of humor, hilariously offers his views on subject matter that has included everything from political pandering to hurricane hardships. But for this native South Sider, sometimes, both comedy--and life--are more than just about the laughs. "I like to be in an environment that I can learn from," said Cole. "I hate when I'm the smartest person in the room because then I can't learn." Now, viewers can see even more of Cole and his perspectives in his new pop culture-themed television series, "Deon's Cole Black Box," premiering Monday, June 10 on TBS. Here, the two-time Emmy-nominee talks about creating the show, viral videos and fame in the digital age.
After I watched the improv team Switch Committee perform at Second City's Donny's Skybox last night, I decided to get a $1 vanilla cone from McDonald's. But, instead of my midnight, summer ice-cream, I learned a hard lesson: even at a 24 hr. location, the McDonald's dining area closes sometime before midnight. The point of this story is that summer is almost here and that means it's a perfect time for ice-cream and by ice-cream I mean seeing Switch Committee, because unlike my failed $1 cone trip you won't be disappointed.
Switch Committee has been performing together since around November 2011. The team's members -- Ryan Nallen, Alan Linic, Collin Dahlgren, Dave Karasik, and David Schwartzbaum -- have performed/studied improv all over the city, including at Second City, iO, and The Annoyance. "We're very playful," said Karasik. "In real life we're close friends so we have the camaraderie with messing with each other and we love bringing that to the stage."
The early to mid-90s marked a significant era for African-American comedians; from sold-out performances at comedy clubs across the country (including Chicago's now-defunct All Jokes Aside) to television appearances on shows like "Showtime at the Apollo" and the wildly popular HBO's "Def Comedy Jam," established comedians became even bigger and up-and-coming comedians emerged into household names.
Another series, however, was also popular during that period--"Comic View"--an hour-long show on Black Entertainment Television (BET) which helped shoot two "Original Kings of Comedy," D.L. Hughley and Cedric the Entertainer, into superstardom.
"If the crowd isn't feelin' you, they're just not feelin' you," Patrick Rowland said when I interviewed him back in August. "All you can do is power through it."
3Peat -- an improv team Rowland is in -- probably won't have to "power through" anything during their Friday night run (through May 31) at The Playground Theater, because they are just that good. But, it's this seasoned mentality that helps make this group so much fun to watch, every.single.time. Made up of Rowland, John Thibodeaux, Nnamdi Ngwe, Nate Sherman, Brianna Baker, and Gary Richardson, 3Peat commits to each other and isn't afraid to take it there, to, you know, get personal.
Three weeks ago, actor/director Zach Braff launched a $2 million Kickstarter campaign to fund his upcoming self-produced film, Wish I Was Here. With a week and a half left to go until the deadline, the project is already overfunded by nearly $600,000...and this pales in comparison to the $5.7 million raked in by a Kickstarter campaign two months ago to crowdfund a movie based on TV show "Veronica Mars."
However, despite justifications from Kickstarter and Braff himself, many people have complained about these campaigns, arguing that celebrity crowdfunding takes attention and money from projects being created by visionaries with no name recognition or Hollywood connections.
So if you're into movies that blend comedy and drama (like Braff's 2004 hit, Garden State), but agree with the criticism over these campaigns, and also want the opportunity to help fund emerging filmmakers in the way Kickstarter was intended to be used, then Party Time Party Time could use your help.
Every Saturday at midnight, for three years and six successful seasons, audiences have flooded the iO Theater for Chicago's own premier late night talk show, "The Late Live Show" hosted by Joe Kwaczala.
Since 2010, "The Late Live Show" has offered iO's weekly audiences live late night talk show just like the pros. This small, independently-produced show has attained national recognition and welcomed such distinguished guests as Paul Feig, Danny Pudi ("Community"), Lucas Neff ("Raising Hope"), and local all-stars such as superchef Rick Bayless, Olympic speedskater Shani Davis, and best-selling author Rebecca Skloot. This sketch comedy show has become a staple in the Chicago, and has gained recognition at festivals from coast to coast. Its credits also include a writing team that has produced writers now working for such shows as "Late Night with Jimmy Fallon" and "The Onion News Network."
This Saturday, after three years of laughter, "The Late Live Show" will put on its last hurrah, with a "finale full of jokes, characters, interviews, sketches," and a few special surprises, as the crew looks back at the show's run. As part of their finale and 50th show, host Joe Kwaczala and his staff will welcome back returning favorites, Adam Kempenaar and Josh Larsen from the Filmspotting podcast.
Don't miss your chance to see the last run of this hilarious late night performance this Saturday, May 11 at 11:59PM. "The Late Live Show" is held in iO's Del Close Theater, 3541 N. Clark St. and is only $5 online or at the door (free for iO students).
For women, simply not having kids is one thing, but to decidedly not have them is a different matter altogether. For Jen Kirkman, the choice to be child free is the subject of her funny new book, I Can Barely Take Care of Myself: Tales from a Happy Life Without Kids. Named one of Entertainment Weekly's "One of the Top 12 Rising Stars in Comedy" in 2009, Kirkman currently holds court at E!'s "Chelsea Lately" and has also performed stand-up on popular shows such as "Conan," and "The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson." I spoke with her in advance of her Chicago appearance this weekend at The Hideout; here, the down-to-earth comedian, writer and actress talks about the world of comedy, working in late-night TV and why you won't ever catch her in "mommy mode."
Here I was, on the South Side of Chicago at an old decrypted warehouse surrounded by a bunch of nutjobs. Gathered at the massive space was the lackluster circus known loosely as the Born Ready Films crew.
In full character, here were the yacht-club yuppies, hood-ass rappers, hardcore metal freaks and white-trash weirdos. Hours prior I was told that these strangers were supposed to play each other in a tournament of dodgeball. Uncertain of everything but surprised by nothing, I the objective bystander was supposed to interview them for a film.
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.
Ian Abramson, Tim Barnes, Melody Kamali and Marlena Rodriguez are a comedic quartet not unlike "Captain Planet," as Barnes points out. The four can be seen doing stand-up frequently all over Chicago, as well as huddled in dark corners around the city editing films on their laptops. Recently, they had a joint realization. "We looked at the Chicago comedy scene and saw that there were a lot of people who enjoyed both film and stand-up, but there wasn't much that brought them together," said Abramson. In an attempt to foster collaboration and showcase a variety of Chicago talent, the four comedians decided to create and produce Double Feature, a new showcase combining film and stand-up, which will debut on April 24 at the Den Theatre. "We're calling it a 'Stand Up Comedy Film Festival,' Barnes said. Through film and performance, the producers hope to include all of the comedic genres and communities. "Double Feature" will "serve as a melting pot for Chicago comedians," Rodriguez says, "whether they [are] filmmakers, sketch writers, improvisers, or stand-ups." While stand-ups will have new, broader audience to cater to, Double Feature presents filmmakers with "rare opportunities to hear a live audience react to their work," says Barnes. I talked to the producers about what makes Double Feature different and why you can't afford to miss it.
Fawzia Mirza's hilarious web series "Kam Kardashian," which follows the daily adventures of the long-lost gay Kardashian sister Kam, is having a huge season two launch party this Sunday in association with the monthly Chicago queer event "T Party" at Studio Paris in River North. If you want to party like a Kardashian with some of the funniest and most successful people in Chicago, Studio Paris on Sunday is definitely the place to be. I had a chance to talk to Mirza, the creator and star of "Kam Kardashian" and director Ryan Logan , about their incredible project as it launches into its second season, and why you can't afford to miss the upcoming sexy fun Kardashian party this weekend.
What are you most excited for about the Season 2 launch party? Logan: We're excited to launch our season at the T Party at Studio Paris because it's a place where everyone can have fun, celebrate in style and party like a Kardashian but in a queer-friendly environment. And I am always eager to bring different communities together: queer, comedy, theatre, film.
If you haven't been to "The Blackout Diaries" yet, you really have no excuses, unless you were blackout drunk. In that case, you should probably get on stage at the next show and tell us about it. "The Blackout Diaries" is a weekly comedy show on Saturdays at The Lincoln Lodge hosted by the show's founder, Sean Flannery, who was voted the best stand-up in Chicago by the Chicago Reader in 2010 and has a critically-acclaimed one-man show called "Never Been to Paris" at The Comedy Bar.
"The Blackout Diaries" kicks off with a fascinating and fun lecture on a drinking-related topic from Flannery, complete with PowerPoint photos, and continues with drinking stories from some of Chicago's best comics, as well as members of the general public. During the stories, audience members can text questions for the performers to Flannery's phone if they prefer to be anonymous, or they can raise their hands and ask it themselves if they are feeling brave. Questions range from clarifying story details to "Are you single?" Flannery assures us throughout the show that there are no dumb questions, at least not at "The Blackout Diaries."
Diversity is something that is often hard to find in a lineup at a comedy club. It happens easily though, at UP Comedy Club, especially on second Sundays of the month when Brian Babylon of WBEZ's Vocalo Radio hosts an incredible new monthly showcase called "R.E.A.C.H."--and acronym for "Risky Eclectic Artists Comedy Hour"--and it is exactly that..
Every month, R.E.A.C.H. features different performers who express themselves on a given theme in a variety of ways, from spoken word to stand-up to song. The rotating themes include history, women, sex and violence, race and LGBTQ. In March, I had the pleasure of seeing the R.E.A.C.H. show on women, during which performers of all races, gender expressions, sexual orientations and experiences, taking the stage to sing their uniquely feminist praises.
You might know comedic actor Lucus Neff from his primetime role playing Jimmy Chance on FOX's "Raising Hope." Raised only a few miles from Improv Olympic himself, this Chicago-born star is back in town for a night of wacky skits and laughs this Saturday, March 30 as a guest in iO's sketch comedy show, The Late Live Show.
The Late Live Show will host Neff as well as the musical guest for the night, Brighton MA. Their indie stylings have been featured on shows such as "Gossip Girl," "Community," "Castle" and "One Tree Hill."
Along with Neff and Brighton MA, the Late Live Show's Players will also perform, so get ready for a night of weird jokes, sketches, and characters, all crafted by the iO staff writers, whose credits include The Onion News Network and Funny or Die.
See The Late Live Show Saturday, March 30 at 11:59 pm at iO Theater, 3541 N. Clark St. Tickets are $5; for more information, call 773-880-0199.
Monique Madrid's show Bitch, I'll Cut You, which appeared earlier this month at Mary's Attic in Andersonville, was like a rum and Coke buzz in this frigid, hopeless March. In the show, Madrid plays her alter ego, Monica Barcelona, a hairdresser and cosmetologist who is as sassy as she is sensuously dressed. Watching Bitch, I'll Cut You, which has appeared at the Chicago Women's Funny Festival, The Compass Improv Festival and at The Annoyance Theater, is like watching the reality TV show "Jerseylicious" live, except it is funny and smart.
Where can you find a duke cleverly disguised as a priest, a cunning nun out to save her condemned brother by whatever means necessary, a handful of satirical plays-on-words, and enough whorehouses to be disreputable even by the lenient standards of the 1970s? Only in Robert Falls' production of William Shakespeare's Measure for Measure at the Albert Theater at the Goodman.
After the final curtain and a standing ovation, the man sitting behind me, whose commentary I had been tuned into throughout the entire production, said that he felt as if he'd been assaulted by the theater. The smile on his face told me he meant this in the best way possible. In my own way, I felt the same. The on-stage events were a loud, blaring, spray-painted, bell-bottom-wearing, nothing-barred strike to the audience's sense of morality and righteousness, but we couldn't stop laughing.
If I had stars to give, I'd throw five to this production. From the set to the acting, the lighting design to the interpretation of the script, the play was nothing short of what I would expect from the Goodman.
Queer Comedy at Zanies, now in its third season, is a comedy show that brings Chicago's best queer comedians to the stage at Zanies, the famous Chicago comedy club at the corner of North and Wells. Presented by OutLoud Chicago, which was created by Adam Guerino to bring queer entertainment to mainstream Chicago venues, each show strives to prove that queer comedy belongs with mainstream comedy. By getting the best and brightest queer comics onto one of the most historic comedy stages, packing the house night after night and making it erupt with laughter, Guerino is showing that being funny has nothing to do with your sexuality. This month, Guerino is especially proud to present James Adomian, who was a finalist on "Last Comic Standing," has headlined SXSW and opened for the great Joan Rivers, and made appearances on everything from "Comedy Bang Bang" to "Conan." The March 26th show will be opened by Guerino and hosted by one of Chicago's favorites, Candy Lawrence. Guerino and Lawrence talk about why Queer Comedy at Zanies is important, whether or not they actually like each other (they do), and why they are so excited to work with James Adomian.
Queer Comedy at Zanies is now in its third season. How has it evolved since you started in 2011?
Guerino: I think I originally wanted to have queer comedy next to mainstream comedy. It was important to me that there wasn't a difference between the two so to have a show at a historic comedy club was the only original goal. Then it grew. The queer community in Chicago grew and Queer Comedy at Zanies became a place for queer comedians all across the country to perform.
Ever Mainard and Rasa Gierstikas are two Chicago comics and producers who are as similar as they are opposite. Both sassy, loud, and unapologetic, but in totally different ways, they are a unique and dynamic duo when they take the stage to co-host The Shit Show, a free comedy showcase on the last Friday of every month at The Shambles. While Mainard, a cast member at Chicago Underground Comedy, packs her schedule with stand-up, sketch and film, the more focused Gierstikas pours herself entirely into the project that she and Mainard are currently co-producing: The Shit Show. Mainard and Gierstikas have devoted many more hours of planning and decorating to the show than their audience, buzzed from The Shit Show's free Fireball Whiskey shots and delirious from laughing too hard, might ever know. But now they can! Here, the co-producers confess that their "shit show" is much more work than the title suggests, and that their relationship is a bizarre, but functional, business and drinking partnership.
The Shit Show started as an open mic that was a comedian-favorite on Monday nights, but, since August, you've transformed it into a showcase on the last Friday of every month. What was that transition like?
Mainard: We knew it would be a little different to run it as a showcase. There's a lot of organizing and a crazy number of press releases to send. We were a little nervous about turnout, but it's been fun watching the show grow more and more.
Gierstikas: I think since it was an open mic before, we know what we want from the showcase and it transitioned smoothly. I haven't experienced the worst of it yet (except for Ever Mainard).
How did you two decide to do a show together? What is it like being co-producers?
Mainard: I met Rasa when I used to go to The Shambles open mic. I thought she hated me and was the meanest person I had ever met. We started working together and the open mic grew from just 7 comics stepping up to the mic to the now 100 people in attendance for the show. [As co-producers], we try and fail at GoogleDocs and then we text a lot. We also meet at The Shambles to talk and plan and drink. We have fun, and then we stay out of each other's lives.
Gierstikas: [When I met Ever], I thought she was really fun and talented, so it seemed like the logical choice to have her help take over co-hosting The Shambles open mic every week. We're on the same page with what we want from this show and I think we trust each other's judgment.
Last Thursday, I trekked through early-March slush to watch local standups perform in Congrats On Your Success, a BYOB showcase held every first Thursday of the month at Uncharted Books in Logan Square. At first read, standup in a used bookstore might seem strange -- wait, aren't standups confined to dark dive bars, you say -- but that's the great thing about Chicago comedy right now, it's happening all over the city, anywhere people can get a microphone and a crowd.
With its mismatched chairs and exposed brick, Uncharted Books feels like the basement of your friend's cool parents. The unconventional comedy space is a little more accessible for people who might not see many shows and conversely a change of pace for people who see comedy/perform every night.
Hosted by Bill Bullock, the CoYS lineup featured five smart comics who gave us a mix of storytelling, observations, and solid jokes. All the performers seemed really relaxed, which was nice because we got to hear jokes that felt natural -- anything from Rebecca O'Neal talking about a Venn diagram of her love life to Nicholas Rouley's feelings on having children.
Oh, St. Patrick's Day in Chicago. It can't be beat. This year, why not celebrate with an age-old Chicago tradition: Improv Comedy.
In celebration of St. Patrick's Day weekend, ComedySportz will be hosting six comedy shows beginning Thursday, March 14th and running through Saturday, March 16th dedicated to the two great Irish traditions- drinking and joking around. Shows will build off Irish themed suggestions from the audience, so come ready with your Irish trivia! ComedySportz's ususal games, scenes, and songs will be altered for the special occasion. Make sure to show your Irish spirit and wear green to the show for the chance to compete on stage to win a St. Patty's Day prize, and as an added bonus, guests will get a souvenir picture of themselves in the clubroom.
Finally, Irish drinks won't be left out! ComedySportz's bar will be stocked with green beer, of course, and St. Patrick's Day staples -- shots of Jameson and cans of Guinness -- will also be on special for $5 each.
My friend recently told me that I'm "known for talking about celebrities." This caught me off-guard because I imagine myself as a much more interesting person who, I don't know, likes art or something. Admittedly, I do spend a great deal of time talking about Rihanna conspiracy theories (there is no way she smokes as much pot as she Instagrams) and I'm a Lindsay Lohan apologist (she has real problems!) but the thing is: I don't actually care about celebrities.
Celebrities are metaphors. We extrapolate on our own lives based off their constructed narratives. The beautiful people in movies and on TV let us explore our most base inclinations toward voyeurism. They are figures for clichés. We are allowed to openly talk about them because their lives are on display, and we rationalize our obsession by saying that they "knew what they were signing up for" or they like the attention.
It could be argued that in the US, one of the most important (if not extremely damaging) forms of storytelling is played out in the live-action celebrity sagas we proliferate and dissect. This celebrity worship is what The TomKat Project -- Wednesdays in March at 8PM, Playground Theater -- understands and capitalizes on, making it one of the most interesting and funny comedies I've seen in Chicago.
Time for a bit of nostalgia. The Second City first opened its doors to Chicago in 1959. What was a small cabaret style theater then has been pushing the envelope ever since. With a mission to cater to the younger crowd and current events-based comedy, the small theater has become one of the most influential and recognized comedy theaters in the world. By the time the sixties rolled around, The Second City's sister theater in Toronto was performing and creating cutting-edge comedy series as well.
Between the two theaters, their famous comedic reputation, and their training centers, many of Second City's alumni have gone on to become comedy elite appearing on everything from Saturday Night Live to Comedy Central. Fifty-two years in the business has turned out comedy geniuses like Steve Carell, Tinay Fey, Stephen Colbert, John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd and Gilda Radner, just to name a few.
The Second City is truly a Chicago landmark, and in celebration of their 52nd year in comedy, it will be hosting a "best of" show. "The Best of Second City" will feature some of the best and most beloved sketches, songs, and improvisations for the past half-decade-plus in comedy.
There are two chances to be part of this walk down memory lane: Thursday, March 7, and Sunday, March 17. Make sure to grab your tickets now. Don't miss out!
Brass Chuckles is a playful, monthly comedy show at The Playground Theater that values genuine comedic expression over perfection. This makes sense given it was created by one Chicago's most exploratory artists, Tamale Sepp. Hanging out with Tamale at a tea lounge is just like watching her produce a show. She oozes positivity and acceptance, and she notices everything. Are you standing in the doorway and making everyone cold? She will politely ask you to move. Did you leave your mug at your table when you left? Tamale's got it. It is exactly these superpowers of perception and caring that make Tamale a fantastic producer.
Tamale, who has a background in fire dancing, burlesque, drag, sketch, improv and stand-up, created Brass Chuckles to foster comedy in Chicago that is as interdisciplinary as she is. Brass Chuckles performances range from drag to videos to performance art, with comedic expression as the through-line, and Tamale hosts the whole thing with an upbeat charm. The show aims to bring different artistic communities together to play and to learn from each other. A stand-up who watches fire dancing, for example, can learn a new meaning of silence from a crowd. "When I'm fire dancing, my audience does not talk," says Tamale. "People are hypnotized, so they don't have a lot of response. This does not equate to them not being invested or completely involved in that experience. It's the opposite. And that can be true during tension-filled moments of stand-up."
This Valentine's Day marks the 15th anniversary for Gilda's Club in Chicago. For 15 years Gilda's Club Chicago has been standing by cancer patients and their families through thick and thin.
The Club was founded in memory of the famed "Saturday Night Live" and former Second City Cast member, Gilda Radner.
Radner was diagnosed with cancer in 1985. Once commenting on her diagnosis she said, "Having cancer gave me membership in an elite club I'd rather not belong to." After her death in 1989, Gilda's Club was opened as a support community for families and patients affected by Cancer. Gilda's Club Chicago is a community with no membership dues. Through health seminars, classes in yoga, and special events, Gilda's club provides an escape from the stresses of diagnosis and treatment.
Second City has remained close to Gilda's Club since the first red door opened to the public, raising funds and performing at many of the Center's functions. See Second City perform tomorrow, and join Gilda's Club Chicago at 5pm in celebrating their 15-year milestone with an open house at 537 N. Wells St. and comedy performance.
Finally, if you're still in a last minute pinch to find your loved one a great Valentine's Day gift, check out Chocolate Inspirations, Inc. and their Chocolate for Charity program. This year, 10% of the proceeds will go directly towards Gilda's Club Chicago and help support another 15 years to come.
Last Sunday -- while Twitter was blowing up about Beyonce's halftime show at the #SuperBowl -- I was sitting in Studio Be listening to Caitlin Bergh tell an audience about the first time she masturbated. The story was part of her new one-woman story-telling show Chunks and she was telling us about a nice lady she met online that helped her, you know, get in touch with her inner self. I think she said she was 22 years old when this happened for the first time.
Twenty-two might seem a bit older for a "first-time toucher" but before that she had Googled "lesbian" and saw images of flannel and leather wrist cuffs. She didn't feel like she quite fit the images that popped up on her computer screen. Anyone who ever used a same-sex Yahoo! chat room or has typed in "gay" and hit images probably knows how she felt.
Eventually, Bergh came to grips with her sexuality and her show explores lesbian sex and dating in the internet age. The area that blurs the line of funny and sexy and gross is where Chunks likes to touch itself the most.
If a night of risqué comedy and provocative burlesque performances sounds fun, or even just plain interesting to you, then look no further than Kiss Kiss Cabaret's Second Anniversary Show on February 1.
This special anniversary show features Kiss Kiss Cabaret's full lineup of comedians, burlesque performers, musicians, jugglers, magicians and hosts. Guests are even invited to partake in post-show birthday cake. Maybe this is what they meant by having your cake and eating it too.
This second anniversary party also marks Kiss Kiss Cabaret's 100th performance since the company was founded. The Cabaret's burlesque troupe, "The Kiss Kiss Coquettes," includes performers who have traveled the world practicing their craft. Bella Ciao, Naughty Natanya, and the rest of the company are sure to entertain.
The 18-and-over show is happening February 1 at 11pm at the Greenhouse Theater Center, 2257 N. Lincoln. Tickets are $15 in advance or $20 at the door. The show is expected to sell out, so it's a good idea to purchase in advance.
If you can't make it for the celebration, Kiss Kiss Cabaret puts on a weekly show every Friday at the Greenhouse Theater Center.
Todd Barry is a comedian who comedy nerds know and the casual fan might recognize from his acting on "Louie" or as the prickly grocery store manager in "The Wrestler." He's recorded four albums, and the title of the first one — Medium Energy — sums up his stage presence. His comedy has been described as dry, deadpan, concise, at best put out, subdued. Barry's always done some crowd work, including on his last special, "Super Crazy." Now he's on a short tour doing crowd work exclusively — no material, just back and forth with the audience. That's a bold move for a comedian who usually tells tight jokes on mundane topics without a word out of place. If any town can appreciate a comedian improvising an entire show with the audience, it's Chicago. Barry will be performing at Schubas on Wednesday, Jan. 23, and Thursday, Jan. 24. Both shows are at 9pm. Tickets are $14.
I emailed the New York-based comedian a few questions and he kindly replied.
You've done a bit of crowd work before, and there's some on your last special, "Super Crazy." Why did you decide to do whole tour of crowd work and why now?
I don't know. I guess I was worried about having a special out, then going on the road and still doing some of those jokes. I've always done crowd work in my shows. It seemed like an interesting idea to do a whole tour of it. I'm scared and excited about the whole thing.
Today I read (most of) this really interesting article in Psychology Today, the only magazine that I get in the mail. It was a really good article, but I'm not here to tell you about my PT read -- even though it was really insightful and may have changed the course of my life -- I'm here to tell you about the 12th annual Chicago SketchFest (#ChiSketchFest) at Stage 773.
SketchFest is "the largest sketch comedy festival in the nation," and it is also a time where lots of warm bodies cram into one space and laugh until they aren't cold (or depressed) anymore. The event is a blessed two weeks -- the 3rd (my bday, btw) through the 13th of this month -- where sketch comedy groups, from Chicago and beyond, come together and do their thing. Shows take place Thursdays through Sundays while Mondays through Wednesdays are reserved for recovery, which is much need because each day different teams simultaneously perform in each of Stage 773's four theater spaces -- the Cab, Pro, Box and Thrust. You can check out the schedule here.
Last Friday was my first time going to SketchFest and the lobby of Stage 773 was basically -- as described by my photographer -- "anarchy." On the hour, people clamored toward the bar and waited in tight groups to be let into their desired theater. At first, the whole crowd was a little overwhelming, and I wanted to run for my life. Here's the thing though, I thought it was pretty well organized for what it was -- there are a lot of groups, you can do the math because, well, math.
Also, after I got my senses about me, I liked the crowd's energy. Some people dressed in costumes (although I'm not sure they were performing) and it all added to the Fest feel. The point is sketch -- scenes that people write and then act out to make people forget they are sad. And people want to see it. You are probably one of them. Don't be afraid, and if you get nervous just read this SketchFest survival guide.
On Friday, I saw four shows (starting at 8pm, ending around midnight) and they were all -- oh wait, you have to read my mini-reviews for that part.
As we close(ed) the curtain on 2012 and head(ed) into lucky '13, I thought I'd write about the comedy shows that my brain remembers with the most fondness. This past year I saw a lot of funny shows -- seriously, people are crushing the game -- but it was only a small percentage of what's out there. There is no way I could or would want to make a hierarchical list, so this is not a "Best Of." Plus, I've noticed that with some people "best" usually just means most boring. This list is just to say, "Hey, these shows are super funny, and you should go see them."
With that said, the comedy scene in Chicago is producing consistently great work, and I want to give props to all the writers, performers, lighting people, and everyone else that have put themselves out there for us to laugh. In no or arbitrarily numerical order, here are five of my favorite comedy shows that I saw in 2012.
Whether through dramatic roles on shows like HBO's "The Wire" or stand-up series including "P. Diddy Presents the Bad Boys of Comedy," Donnell Rawlings has definitely made his mark in television; however, it would be starring alongside comedian Dave Chappelle on "Chappelle's Show" that would turn him into a household name. I recently spoke with Rawlings who performs at UP Comedy Club next weekend; here, the comedian, actor, (and burgeoning chef), talks about his current projects, why a certain filmmaker should keep quiet, and why it's still alright to be "ashy."
I've always been, well, impressed, by comedians and actors who do great impressions; to be funny is one thing, but for me, to be funny while embodying the essence, voice and mannerisms of someone else, simply takes things to another level.
Of course, comedians doing impressions is nothing new, and for many, especially of a certain generation, Rich Little (aka "The Man of a Thousand Voices") is perhaps the most famous impressionist from the world of comedy. And while Little is certainly respected in this regard, for the hip-hop generation, two others reign supreme: Aries Spears (Jerry Maguire, "MADtv") and Jay Pharoah ("Saturday Night Live").
Typically, whenever a new comedian explodes on the scene, comparisons are inevitable--such was the case when I first saw W. Kamau Bell here this past summer for the TBS Just for Laughs Festival. His style and super-quick wit might give audiences a hint of Chris Rock, but really, that's where all the comparisons should end; Bell, host of FX's new late-night hit "Totally Biased," (executive-produced by Rock) chops up race, politics and media like no other. The unpretentious, sometimes irreverent, and uh, "totally biased" comedian, whose show kicks off for a second season on January 17, hits town next week for "The Kamau Mau Uprising Tour"; here, he talks about the show and why he's starting an "uprising" in Chicago.
W. Kamau Bell; Photo by Matthias Clamer Courtesy of FX
Your show was recently picked up for a second season--that's pretty damn cool...
It's very damn cool; but then again, I'm biased.
During the course of the first season, did you just have a feeling you were "knocking it out the park" or was it just a "you never know" kind of thing?
You just never know. I'm proud of the stuff we're doing, but you just never know; I mean, with TV, they can cancel you for all kinds of reasons that have nothing to do with anything, so I was happy and excited, but again, you just never know.
A few months ago, an editor at a newspaper I used to work for sent me a Gchat message asking me to write my coming out story for an article she was compiling for "National Coming Out Day." Coming out stories are still important, because, let's face it, no matter how "open" people are "becoming," saying you aren't straight is a thing.
My ex-editor's article was supposed to be part of a piece about LGBT writers and what it means to "come out." That's nice, I thought, as I typed "I don't think I can make the deadline." I told her that I didn't really have the time to write anything, but the real reason was that I didn't know what to say. In today's no-fat-no-soy-civil-union-app-life, I wondered what I could add to the conversation. Luckily for us, Philip Markle has plenty to say about it in his glittery one-person show Sparkle Hour! at the Annoyance Theatre.
I love a good gay comedy; I think it takes a lot of blue-balls to get up in front of an audience and queen out and not seem like a caricature.
In an independent comedy milieu that's over populated with producers and theaters trying to get rich quick by putting up shows with pre-existing characters (think burlesque shows featuring video games, or musical theater based on TV shows), Octavarius distinguishes itself by being creatively rich, stabbingly satirical and self-destructing (it's performed for one night only) in its production of The Hunger Games vs. Twilight. Octavarius are seasoned authors of amalgamating pop culture cultivations while injecting the fundamental element of what makes them the top improv-sketch group in Chicago; perpetual comedic motion. The performance on Nov. 18 answered the blogashapre's question of which young adult fiction series is better, Twilight or The Hunger Games? Spoiler alert: it's both in Octavarius' parody extravaganza.
The hour and a half long show started out with the group's viral video "Unlikely Quotes from Twilight: Breaking Dawn Part 2 (Parody)", sung to the tune of a "sh*t ____ says" YouTube archetype, where one-liners, jump cuts and subject-specific references insure white-hot laughs. The audience was vocally more pro-Hunger Games than team Twilight. The crowd itself was congregation of quirky-cute female Instagramers who most likely were all at the fun. concert held three days earlier at the Riviera, which is fitting because Octavarius mission objective is spreading fun.
Chicago-native Jason Hodge started getting interested in improv when he was in high school. His father was a police officer whose foot-route was on Clark Street and was able to get him tickets to shows at the then-called Improv Olympic (iO, now). He started doing improv at 19 and has taken classes at iO and the Annoyance. For five years he was part of a member team at the Playground and for two years has been playing with pH -- who opened their new space in Andersonville this month. For the past year, Hodge has participated as a coach in pH's College pHarm Team program -- a free initiative that matches collegiate improvisers with pH company members and gives the teams an opportunity to play.
What made you want to coach a college improv team?
When I first started with pH I hadn't seen many of their shows, so they told me to go see shows and get familiar. The first show I saw was College Night and that show would have a couple college groups and then the coaches would perform. I had a ball, and I wasn't much older than most of the college teams... What I liked the most about it was that when I started improv I was their age, but I tried to get into it with all the twenty-somethings and the thirty-somethings, and I was very much an outsider -- it kind of caused issues -- I think -- with my development and that outlet is incredibly important, and I liked that pH has that. I basically went every night and didn't stop going.
On November 30 through December 1 at the Playground Theater (3209 N. Halsted St.), local improv troupe K.C. Redheart will sacrifice their health and well-being to perform 30 straight hours of comedy as part of the third annual Playground Improv Marathon, a charity event benefiting the Illinois Coalition of Reach Out and Read.
The five members of K.C. Redheart will test the endurance of their wits, going without sleep while performing for the Marathon's entire 30 hours. Each hour will mark the start of a new show as K.C. Redheart welcomes guests from around the city to improvise with them, including performers from CIC, Upstairs Gallery, Second City, ComedySportz, the Annoyance Theatre, iO, and the marathon's home, The Playground Theater.
For the past few months I've been getting together my graduate school applications, because a) I'm a masochist and b) I'm a masochist. Most of the application deadlines are December 15, but being a fierce Capricorn, I wanted to get them in a month early. I've barely seen any light other than my computer screen and this whole process has been a constant flow of over-analyzing myself into self-hate (just kidding, kind of).
Last Friday I took a break from having panic attacks over my GRE scores to check out the new Chemically Imbalanced show To Thine Own Self Be Skewed. Part of CIC's Solo Series, To Thine Own Self is made up of two solo shows: "This is Me, This is You," by Patrick Rowland, and "Bede" by Brianna Baker.
This is Me, This is You
Patrick Rowland -- of Barack All Night -- plays a mix of characters that he's observed while living in Chicago. That's what good comedians do, they observe, and Rowland runs through a mix of characters that are not only hilarious but real. One of my favorite characters is a grade-school boy who has to get in front of the class and read his essay about how he spent his summer vacation -- mostly watching cable (I won't spoil the punch line but it's really clever). He knows how to keep a show moving and he makes the character-transitions high-energy. In another scene he plays a father whose son has just caught his parents "practicing baby-making." For most Americans, this topic is a cringe-inducing fear and Rowland manages to make it not-so-vomit-y.
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.
On our way to Urlakis & Cusick: Questionable Lullabies -- the new duo sketch show by Dave Urlakis and Sean Cusick -- at Stage 773, my friend and I chatted about seasonal depression. The thing about fall is that it gives me this gut feeling that like an inevitable Kanye and Kim sex tape, winter is coming. I can't help it; I get SAT-nervous about cold weather and snow, because in that type of weather leaving the house always seems like the least viable option, because well, there's sleep and sleep. Fall is the time to enjoy the weather and wear sweaters and sip hot chocolate and gorge on pumpkins and not sleep for six days straight.
With the impending sleepiness of a White Christmas winter, now is the time to get out and see some shows. Yes, I'm telling you to not sleep, and go see the new show Urlakis & Cusick: Questionable Lullabies, because it's is a great place to forget about seasonal depression.
Here's the deal -- on Saturday, October 13, The Chicago League of Lady Arm Wrestlers (CLLAW) will be unleashing the most gruesome lady arm-wrestlers in all of Chicago. They are calling this event CLLAW-O-WEEN, and I'm calling it your plans for this Saturday night. If you haven't been to a CLLAW -- put on by The Sideshow Theatre Company -- I feel bad for you. I'll take a quick pause for you to shed a tear.
At the last CLLAW I saw, the ladies really got elbow-greased up and spit-shined the competition. The show was like a burlesque fighting ring, and I can't imagine what they are going to do for a Halloween event. It's seriously one of the most crowd-interacting events you will attend (if you dare, or course).
Rokke L. Squelch will be the emcee and Annie Chokeley, Killer Bee, Lumberjack Jill, and Harajuka Ninja are some of the arm-wrestlers you can expect to see, but who knows what surprises they'll have.
These ladies are rough, but they do it for a good cause! All proceeds from the event will benefit Sideshow Theatre and its partner charity Rock for Kids.
Now, of course we know that no one is safe, but safety isn't the question. The question is: who is the fiercest lady arm-wrestler who lady arm-wrestles in Chicago? I searched every dark alley in the city and I was able to track down Drinkerbell and Calamity Pain -- two ladies who will be arm-wrestling at CLLAW-O-WEEN.
Whether you're a Republican, Democrat, Green Party or Undecided -- but come on, decide already! -- The Neo-Futurists new show 44 Plays for 44 Presidents is sure to get your vote. The show -- which is a remount of the popular Neo production 43 Plays for 43 Presidents put on in 2002 -- documents US history by doing chronological shorts for every president that has worn the jacket.
The Neo-Futurists are on the cutting edge of experimental comedy and this show gives the audience a presidential-suite experience. Directed by Halena Kays, the show's use of set and energetic audience interaction made the presidential transitions easy to follow and engaging. My favorite scenes included some red balloons, a live video feed, and a bit about Richard Nixon.
With the national election dominating the headlines, a new web-based comedy series is looking at politics at the local level.
"Door to Door," written by Tommy Reahard and Tyler Dean Kempf, follows brothers Andy and Evan over a single day as Andy tries to collect 100 signatures to run as alderman for Chicago's fictional 51st ward. Andy's task is complicated by the well-intentioned but easily distracted Evan and the eccentric residents in their ward.
The first sign of fall isn't the changing leaves, it's when all your friends get sick. We all know that laughter is the best cure for everything, from the common cold to hypothermia. Fight off your impeding flu by seeing some shows.
Halloween-month -- or as some people call it, October -- is one of my favorite months, because everything is monster-themed, and I have an Addams Family sense of humor. To start Halloween-month off right, I went to the Annoyance Theatre to see the preview of Zombie Genius, directed by Ryan McDermott and written by McDermott and the rest of the cast.
In Zombie Genius, the zombie apocalypse has apocalypsed and now zombies -- excuse me, I mean "Deceased Americans" as they prefer to be called -- want equal rights, too. Go figure.
The show centers around Albert the "zombie genius" -- the one Deceased American who has a special mutation that lets him human-speak and not just say "bwains" all the time (although one human in particular can interpret these grunts). Because Albert is the only one who can human-speak, he must be the rotting-mouthpiece for a whole group of "second class" citizens.
He's on a mission of tolerance and acceptance, but oh wait, that decaying, open flesh wound we humans call love kind-of gets in the way.
From comedic commentators to frenzied fans, sports radio is an entertainment entity all its own; the format, now in its 25th year, will be honored via the "Sports Radio 25th Anniversary Celebration: An Uncensored Evening of Celebrity Entertainment." This action-packed evening, which benefits Parent Heart Watch, will be hosted by ABC TV's and Chicago native Michael Wilbon and WSCR's ("The Score") Dan McNeil, and will feature live music, comedy, roasts and more. Here, former ESPN Radio Chicago General Manager Bob Snyder talks about this sports entertainment extravaganza and and its recognition of a very worthy cause.
Sports and entertainment have always gone hand-in-hand; how would you describe the relationship between the two?
I think, at least with respect to the sports world, it's part entertainment and part influence. A lot of what goes on in the sports entertainment world actually influences a lot of what happens in the sports entertainment business. I'm not in the "Hollywood" world as far as movies and theater go, but in sports entertainment, the impact of sports radio really does impact the way the business and teams operate.
How would you say things are different today?
When you look at sports radio as the pillar of sports entertainment, you can trace it back to when it started 25 years ago and at that point, no business really had much of an influence on the way a team would operate with their PR, their business or the way they do things on the field. But the power of sports radio and entertainment has become such that teams do have to react to it.
For both emerging and established performing artists, Chicago boasts unlimited opportunities for those looking to hone their skills; and at "The Shit Show," performers of all kinds can try out their, well, shit, in front of a live audience.
Produced and hosted by Ever Mainard and Rasa Geirstikas and held every last Friday of the month, "The Shit Show" is a comedy mix of improv, stand-up and other performance art, and includes (and encourages) audience participation, drinking games, prizes and more. The performers heading up this week's show include Chicago comedian and radio host Brian Babylon, Kristin Clifford, Kate Duffy, Ted Tremper and others.
Catch "The Shit Show" at 8:30pm (doors open at 8pm) this Friday, Sept. 28 at Shambles, 2050 W. Division St.; for more information, call 773-486-0200. Free.
Comedy is subjective, but one thing is not: everyone dislikes obnoxious people at improv shows. Chicago is known for improv — like known for it — and Chicagoans should go see as much stuff as possible. I mean comedy shows are like CTA buses — you can catch one every 45 minutes to an hour. Seriously, they happen a lot.
There are a few things I've noticed that audience members can do to be in on the joke instead of being an obnoxious punch-line. Here are four tips to help you have a jerk-free time attending an improv show.
From impressions to physical comedy to acting, Tommy Davidson is one of the funniest stand-up comedians in the business. Known for playing a host of hilarious characters on the iconic 90s sketch comedy series "In Living Color," and for making special guest appearances on hit comedies like "Martin," "The Bernie Mac Show" and "Everybody Hates Chris," Davidson has been bringing the laughs for a long time. Currently amid a national stand-up tour, I caught up with the comedian backstage after one of his shows at UP Comedy Club to talk about show business, his upcoming projects and his strong ties to some of Chicago's comedy legends.
You've been all over town during your time here--I even saw a picture online of you dancing with the Rockettes during their Chicago visit--how has the Windy City been treating you?
I love it. Chicago is always good--like my roots in DC--where people come out and I can give them the real stuff.
Seven years ago Wes Perry moved to Chicago so he could attend Columbia College and become a professional actor. He started taking classes at iO during his sophomore year of college and was performing at the theater by his junior year. He quickly fell into the improv and comedy scene and decided that's where he wanted to be.
Perry was on an iO Harold team for about a year-and-a-half. Through Columbia, he was also able to do the Second City Comedy Studies program. For the past three years his quote-unquote comedy home has been The Annoyance Theatre, where he's performed in such shows as Glitter in the Gutter (which ran for 14 weeks!) , Flames and Blazes, a puppet show called Frienz Finds It, and most recently his one-person-show, Don't Act Like a Girl.
After his performance in a variety show on Monday, Perry and I found a nice, quiet alley, sat on the curb, and he dished about being a queer-comedian, doing comedy he likes, and what his mom thinks about it.
Three years ago, at age 56, Ted Waltmire woke up in the middle of the night and couldn't move. He knew something was going on, so he woke up his wife of 27 years, and she called 911 -- cue the music, lights up on The Mighty Ted, Waltmire's new show that just opened last Saturday in Donny's Skybox Theatre at the Second City. The Mighty Ted chronicles Waltmire's journey after the stroke.
"I was sitting at home [after the therapies] very, very frustrated, because it's no fun to sit down and play one-handed piano, and I needed some kind of creative outlet," said Waltmire. "My friend Dale Galiniak -- who's in the show -- suggested that we take improv. I kind-of jumped at the chance to get out of the house and have an excuse to hang out in the bars afterwards."
When you think of stand-up comedy legends, George Wallace is certain to come to mind; the avuncular comedian, who got his start in New York City and later wrote for "The Redd Foxx Show," is in Chicago for the first time in over a decade to perform at the world famous Laugh Factory, 3175 N. Broadway.
Comedian George Wallace; photo: Bil Zelman.
Named by Comedy Central as one of the "100 top stand-up comedians of all time," the quick-witted Wallace, who's also the self-professed "King of the 'Yo Momma'" jokes, has a career that spans over thirty years; in 2004, he began headlining and producing his own nightly shows in the heart of the Las Vegas strip at the Flamingo Hotel, enjoying record numbers of sold out performances along the way.
Catch George Wallace tonight through Sunday, Sept. 2; get tickets here or call the Laugh Factory box office at 773-327-3175.
Snubfest is an annual event at Chemically Imbalanced Comedy. The festival features improv teams and sketch groups that might not fit in at other, more-traditional comedy festivals. The event also had a stand-up competition.
Last Friday night -- the first of two nights -- was a lot of fun, because everyone seemed to just be doing their thing, pressure-free. During the 8 o'clock hour, two improv teams and one sketch group took to CIC's stage.
But like the old adage goes -- a picture is worth one or two laughs and at the very-least maybe good chuckle...
Chemically Imbalanced Comedy doesn't want anyone left out of the fun and neither do I so go to Snubfest tonight -- yes tonight, as in the one that's about to happen!
The Snubfest stage belongs to improv teams and sketch groups that have been overlooked by other comedy festivals -- you know "snubbed" -- or that do not usually perform at the theater.
Snubfest is a great way to check out up-and-comers. Remember, just because someone is snubbed tonight, doesn't mean they won't be the talk-of-the-town tomorrow (or more realistically in a few years). Past Snubfest performers include Vanessa Bayer (Saturday Night Live), T.J. Miller (Rock of Ages), and Nick Vatterott (Late Night with Jimmy Fallon).
Sheryl Underwood, named one of today's hardest working comediennes, is at UP Comedy Club this weekend. Underwood, who has starred in such films as Bullworth, I Got the Hook Up, and Beauty Shop, starring Queen Latifah, will bring her life experience and world-views to Chicago for two shows only.
Where have all the weirdos gone? Well, for the past 25 years, a lot of them have called the Annoyance Theatre their home (or lair) and last Friday, the company celebrated its 25 year milestone in barely-legal style (by FCC standards, I'm sure) with a huge party at Park West.
The Annoyance prides itself on having a "no judgment" approach to comedy, allowing people to put on creative material that would be considered too messed up for other companies to produce. To give you some context the first production -- back in 1987 -- was called Splatter Theater and involved lots of fake (I think) blood. The Annoyance puts on gritty and slimy and what-the-hell- was-that shows. You know, the best kind.
"The Annoyance has always been a little ragamuffin and a misfit," said Mick Napier -- founder and artistic director of the Annoyance -- as he addressed the crowd. "There are some things that I'm very proud of and one of them is that being the artistic director of the Annoyance is pretty easy, it's this sentence: You can do whatever the fuck you want ... [That philosophy] creates its hits and creates its misses but what it does create is daring and challenge and it creates a fearlessness and it creates the invitation to completely fail."
If you need a good laugh -- and puh-leeze, who doesn't? -- Chicago is the bomb place to call home. Comedy in Chicago is like the city's deep-dish pizza places: everywhere. From established powerhouse comedy venues like Second City or iO to smaller independent spaces such as Upstairs Gallery, live comedy is happening every night of the week.
There are so many great places to see a show that it's almost impossible to check out all the ones you want, but damn it, I can try. Here are mini-reviews (think fast-food drive-thru quick) of the shows I saw last week.
The lineup consisted of not only comedy, but also spoken word, dance, and even an act that involved a dog - yes, a real live dog. The show was hosted by the cooler-than-cool "Mitch Greene." I loved the energy in the room and everyone was really supportive of people trying out new things.
Rowland got started in comedy about six years ago after he saw a show at the Chicago Improv Festival called "MADtv's Writers on Hiatus." He liked the show so much that he looked into taking writing classes at Second City. From those classes -- and improv classes at both Second City and iO -- Rowland's comedy career has snowballed into him performing all over Chicago at places such as iO, Second City, the Playground and Chemically Imbalanced Comedy.
The first thing that I remember hearing about Rowland was that his impersonation of Barrack Obama was going to make him famous. Last May at Chemically Imbalanced Comedy I saw his show Barack All Night -- where he plays the POTUS in a late-night talk show format with special guests and "house band" -- and his performance more than lived up to the hype.
Coming off his recent trip to New York where he did a one-night show of Barack All Night at People's Improv Theater (The PIT), Rowland sat down with me and talked about flying hamburgers, performing in front of Lorne Michaels, and why performers should try to write their own material.
Chicago has some really f-ing funny women and a prime example of this can be found in comedy group the kates.
For the past four years the kates have found a home-performance-base at the Book Cellar in Lincoln Square. Last Friday, was the first time I saw the group - a rotating lineup of all female comedians. Local comedian Kelsie Huff hosted the evening - her emcee skills were definitely put to good use as she easily transitioned from each performer, keeping the energy high the whole night.
Because the kates perform in the bookstore -- with families sometimes walking in just to browse the books not knowing about the show -- Huff told the audience that the women weren't supposed to use the "f-word," but that it might happen anyway. In preparation for this, she had the audience practice "gasping in horror." This type of banter set the tone for an interactive and conversational show that really worked for the setting.
Comedian Jason Stuart told me that a reporter recently butchered one of his jokes. I promised that I wouldn't dare do such a thing to him - so here goes nothing.
"I was dating* this younger guy and he said, 'What are you up to' and I said, 'I was up for this new Barbra Streisand show' and he said, 'Oh yeah that was the gal who was in that Focker movie' and I said, 'Yeah,' and he said, 'I think she sings.' So I stabbed him."
Stories about getting older and dating younger are just some of the topics that audiences can expect when Stuart does five performances this week at the Laugh Factory. While he does shows all over the country, he hasn't performed in Chicago since -- as he remembers it -- 2006. It's about time we got our Stuart-fix.
"[The material] will be a mixture of new and old. I don't know if a lot of people have seen me there -- since it's been so many years -- so it will be a mixture. But it will probably be a lot more new stuff," Stuart said. "[My new material] is leaning closer to being who I am as an adult. [I'm excited about] the possibility of being more myself -- it's more of who I am, what's happening with me."
Hannibal Buress came to visit his hometown of Chicago during Pitchfork Music Festival weekend. A venerable writer for some critically acclaimed television series, namely 30 ROCK and SNL, Hannibal has earned his place in the entertainment business. The majority would not recognize him unless they have seen him play the apathetic co-host on Adult Swim's "The Eric Andre Show." His stand-up special "Animal Furnace" aired in May on Comedy Central, and since its premiere he has been on a national comedy tour.
Cole's Bar in Logan Square hosts a stand up open mic every Wednesday where one wouldn't expect to see an actual comedian dare set foot inside, but leave it to Buress to not only go onstage to do his bit, but stay until close to chat with fans, finally leaving with a crew to visit the infamous 4am bar, The Owl, just down the street.
The next day, as sirens blared in the background, Hannibal sat on his friend's couch, ordering steak tacos to-go. I asked him about his eating habits.
There's a new name in late night and that name is ...Barack Obama? That's right, with veteran improvisor Patrick Rowland hosting as a goofier, more laid-back version of the current POTUS, iO Chicago's new show Barack All Night! may be a traditional late-night talk show with monologues, desk pieces, special guests, and stand-ups, but it is far from staid. Seeing the prez dish out surprisingly biting topical jokes that one suspects, or at least hopes, get told behind closed doors in the West Wing is a dream come true. From his suggestion that the recent hugs the First Lady gave to the US Men's Basketball team in London mean that he has twelve new names on his "kill list" to his ideas for new Chick-Fil-A slogans like "Winner, winner, chicken dinner. Loser, loser gay marriage," Rowland's Obama is brazen and eager to show who the leader of the free world really is.
In a web publication called Gapers Block, it seemed quite appropriate to review a show in which six gals do some mimed burlesque and somewhat sexy twists on short-form improv standards in their bra and panties. At least that's what this guy was thinking on the Wednesday night he saw Underpants Improv at the Gorilla Tango Theatre. Of course, he brought a date along, lest he be viewed by the predominantly female audience as the leering guy who was a little too into games like "It's Not What It Looks Like," in which two performers mimed sex acts like toe suckling, salad tossing, and blow jobbing while trading explanations as to why, you guessed it, it's not what it looks like.
Two of the most universally joyous experiences in life are laughing and winning. ComedySportz has long been known for combining these elements of comedy and competition, but this summer they're taking it to the global level with the annual ComedySportz World Championship. This four-day event will feature as many as 21 teams from the U.S. and Europe who will fight for the last laugh in this winner-takes-all tournament of improv comedy.
For the uninitiated, ComedySportz is a brand of short-form improv comedy played as a sport. Two teams take turns creating scenes based on suggestions from the crowd and the audience votes on the winner. For the long-time fans of the red v. blue battles, this competition will feature the funniest faces from Chicago's stage throwing down against other cities from Manchester to Milwaulkee for the title.
W. Kamau Bell in The W. Kamau Bell Curve: Ending Racism in About An Hour at The Hideout during TBS Just For Laughs Chicago 2012 presented by State Farm; Photographer: Jeremy Freeman.
This past week, comedy invaded Chicago in a major way through TBS's "Just for Laughs"; with a mix of local standouts, as well as veterans, household names and newcomers from stand-up, television, film, and improv, this annual funny festival had something for everyone.
Saturday night, The Hideout, 1354 W. Wabansia, hosted one of the festival's highlights via W. Kamau Bell'sThe W. Kamau Bell Curve: Ending Racism In About An Hour, the comedian's one-man show that explores race and racism from various angles including the world of sports (Ben & Jerry's fortune cookie-laced [Jeremy Lin] "Lin-Sanity" ice cream), pop culture (The Hunger Games) and social media; however, it was politics that hilariously served as the central topic and the crowd pleaser, as Bell compared the GOP primaries to a "parade of 'Batman' villains"--with Michelle Bachman and Rick Santorum as "Two-Face" and "Mr. Frothy," respectively.
Brian Henson is chairman of The Jim Henson Company and an award-winning director, producer, writer and performer. His new live show, Stuffed and Unstrung, combines puppetry and improv in a way that has never been seen before, and is in Chicago for this year's Just For Laughs Festival. I spoke with Brian recently about his new show, his father's legacy and the future of improvised puppetry.
What was the impetus for this show?
Initially it was a workshop experiment that we were doing. I contacted Patrick Bristow to come work with me and a group of our top puppeteers on doing improv comedy. This was something new to our puppeteers and not something we'd ever done. We train our puppeteers in the technique of puppetry and character development, but never improv. It just felt like it could be a really great way to find the funniest that puppets can be. Initially it was just an experiment; it was workshops and they were going really really well, so we decided to put our puppeteers in front of an audience, just for fun. That organically grew into a show. There were presenters in the audience who invited us to comedy festivals around the world. So what was an experimental workshop for us to teach our puppeteers to be better improvisers, or as my dad used to call it, ad-libbers, organically became Stuffed and Unstrung.
When it comes to Monique Madrid, the phrase "cuttin' up" could refer to her skills as a hairstylist--or her ability to make people laugh--or if you're lucky--both. Read on to learn all about this talented cosmetologist and comedian and her improv show, "Monica Barcelona: Bitch, I'll Cut You," one of the shows featured tomorrow night in the first annual Chicago Women's Funny Festival.
Comedy and hairstyling combine your two talents--when did you know they would make for an interesting show for performing arts? Was it just a given or was there one particular incident that sparked the idea?
Actually, a friend of mine was sitting in my salon chair and I was cutting his hair. I don't remember how it came about but he had the idea of "Why don't you do a haircutting show?" To me, it didn't necessarily seem like the most entertaining thing because that's what I do everyday and I don't even think about it. But he brought up the idea and the more I thought about it, I realized that it actually made a lot of sense because its kind of like "Taxicab Confessions"--people open up to me--I get to know them and they get to know me. We started thinking, "Hey--that might actually be something fun to do onstage." I know that I've never seen it done anywhere, so it evolved from that to become the show that it is now.
Janeane Garofalo is a standup icon, and is the primary reason that I was drawn to comedy as an adolescent. Her comedic style and her intellect were, and still are, like very few others I have ever seen. It has been a goal of mine to talk with her about standup for almost twenty years.
On June 13, Garofalo will join Chicago native Kyle Kinane at UP Comedy Club as part of this year's Just For Laughs comedy festival and she was gracious enough to allow me to pick her brain for a few moments. We talked about everything from standup to feminism to Lady Gaga. Here is what she had to say.
You are coming to Chicago soon, for Just For Laughs. How did the pairing with Kyle Kinane happen?
I don't know -- it's luck. When I've worked with him before it's because I like his act. But in Chicago, it's just a lucky break. I think somebody else made that choice... I know I didn't. But I think he's really funny.
You two have a similar commentary/storytelling style.
He's more economical with words than I am.
I feel like every time I've seen you live, you've come out with a giant notebook, set it down, and then gone off the cuff for two hours.
Well, I have things that I want to talk about, I just don't have the discipline to sit down and write it. I only hope that it's going to be cohesive and interesting.
As a '90s child and a cynic, I was apprehensive when I sat down in the front row at Gorilla Tango Theater to see Attend The Tale of Danny Tanner: A Full House Musical. The show, which runs every Wednesday through June 27 at Gorilla Tango, takes a creative and twisted look at what it might be like if TV's lovable super-dad had a dark side. When all was said and done, I was able to see the light, and quickly admitted that this show isn't just good, it's pretty brilliant.
Right out of the gate, we learn that Danny Tanner has a secret dark side that includes murder, lying and, like any good musical, singing. Tanner, played by Rob Speer, was delightfully creepy, and nailed the underlying OCD that all of us assumed Danny Tanner must have had. Nobody is that concerned with cleanliness unless they haven't properly dealt with their wife's death.
As part of the first annual Chicago Women's Funny Festival, Monique Madrid will debut her new show Monica Barcelona: Bitch, I'll Cut You. A mixture of comedy and hairstyling, Madrid's show will combine her talents as a performer and a licensed cosmetologist in a hilarious improvised show in which a lucky audience volunteer will get a makeover (including a haircut!). Madrid has been performing and working as a stylist for over 12 years, so it was a natural choice to combine those passions.
Monica Barcelona: Bitch, I'll Cut You will play on June 10 at 7pm at Stage 773, 1225 W. Belmont. Tickets can be purchased online at stage773.com or by calling 773-327-5252.
When it comes to comedy, Ohio native Gary Owen has brought it in every way; from hosting BET's "Comic View" to sold-out national comedy tours to television ("Tyler Perry's House of Payne" and "True Story") and movies (Think Like A Man), he definitely keeps audiences laughing. Here, the affable comedian and actor, who is coming to town this month as host of "Shaquille O'Neal Presents: All Star Comedy Jam," talks about his comedy, family and why we can expect to see him at a game for a certain Chicago sports team.
You were in the Navy and in your routines, you've often talked about that time, specifically, how and when you knew you weren't really cut out for the military. Tell us about that experience.
It sounds crazy, but I didn't join the military to serve my country or be some "proud American"; I just lived in a trailer park and wanted to get out. The recruiter came to our trailer and said he could get me out, so I was like, "Cool..." I didn't know where I wanted to go--I just knew where I didn't want to be. So, while I was in the Navy, I always wanted to be a stand-up but I didn't know how you did it--I was under the assumption you had to go to L.A.--I didn't know you could start in any hometown or any city. My whole thing was, "How can I get to L.A.?" And when I got a chance to get stationed in San Diego, I said, "Well, that's close; now I can get to L.A. and start telling jokes." And that's how it happened.
Humor Me Podcast is what happens when you get one comedy nerd and her friends together before, after and during shows and events. Each month, I will crash my talented friends and peers and force them to talk with me about, well, whatever I want. Listen to us nerd out about comedy, music, entertainment, life, and everything in between. Because forcing people to Humor Me is fun.
For my first podcast, I hung out with Kelsie Huff in the bathroom backstage at Comedy Sportz after 100 Proof Comedy. She headlined that night, and her bits about troll dolls and Moms resonated with me -- so much so that we called my own mother to talk about her new cookbook. We also talked about her new short film, Lucy, her frozen yogurt addiction, and her long-running, all-female show the kates. Listen below, or download the mp3.
"Animal Furnace," Chicago-born standup comedian Hannibal Buress' first comedy special, debuts on Comedy Central this Sunday, May 20 at 10pm. According to the press release,
[Buress] brings his celebrated deadpan wit to life's absurdities with stories of his three-cop jaywalking bust in Montreal, a bloodless airport shoot-out, and various late nights with questionable women. In front of a live audience at the Gramercy Theatre in New York, Buress re-imagines hardcore rappers as real estate agents, skewers grown men who can't hold their liquor, and, as an enterprising reporter actually wrote, performs "comedic jokes related to personal stories, current events, the streets, and even food."
An unrated DVD will be released on Tuesday, May 22. The DVD includes a short documentary, "A Week To Kill," which follows Buress around New York and Chicago the week before the show taping.
Shows will take place every third Friday of the month at 7:30pm, and feature six comics who have been invited to tell one story each. There are no rules except the story has to be funny.
The show will wrap with the funny story challenge, in which two audience names are pulled from a hat and each person will have 5 minutes to tell a funny story on any topic. The winner (by audience applause) will be invited back for a featured spot the next month.
Scheduled to perform at the debut are comedians Kelsie Huff , Chris Condren (Atomic Comics), Lisa Laureta , Peter-john Byrnes (Mayne Stage), Mollie Merkel (The Andy Kaufman Award) and Andy Fleming (Shine Box Comedy).
Admission is $5 suggested donation and doors are at 7 p.m.
More information here.
Through television, feature films such as First Sunday and Friday After Next and his nationally-syndicated radio show (heard weekday mornings on Chicago's "Power 92"), Rickey Smiley regularly brings on the laughs; this week, the multi-talented comedian is bringing his talents--and the laughs--to Chicago via an entirely different "experience."
Chicago Live!, the live news/radio show produced by the Chicago Tribune in partnership with The Second City, kicks off its spring 2012 season tonight at the UP Comedy Club on North Avenue.
Hosted by veteran Chicago reporter, author and radio/TV personality Rick Kogan, Chicago Live! is a weekly stage and radio show that gathers top news makers and guests from the arts and entertainment and pop culture worlds. The hour-long show features Chicago-centric news interviews as well as comedy sketches from The Second City.
Tonight's episode features guests like Lookingglass Theatre Company artistic director Andrew White, Chicago River Canoe & Kayak founder and director Ryan Chew, Forest Preserve District of Coook County superintendent Arnold Randall with River Trail Nature Center animal handler Ryan DePauw, members of the 2012 Chicago Tribune All-State Academic Team, and musical guests, The Blisters.
Creative Control is a new series produced and hosted by Joe McAdam, of the popular Late Live Show. The show is produced at saki, a Logan Square record store and art space, and is off to what promises to be a strong start with an impressive first lineup.
Musical guests Mannequin Men join local comics Cameron Esposito, Joe Fernandez and Andrew Smerker, with videos and sketches curated by McAdam. There are no boundaries at Creative Control: artists and performers are given the freedom to express themselves however they choose, as long as it's funny.
The great thing about this show is that it's completely free and BYO. Producing a show of this sort in a record store is a new and welcomed change from the usual dive bar or theater. The show takes place the final Friday of every month, beginning this Friday, April 27 with doors at 7pm. This month, audience members will have the chance to win tickets to see Jon Benjamin and Kumail Nanjiani.
My recommendation: go see this show. More information on Facebook.
There's a new sketch group on the Chicago scene. Created by veteran Chicago writers, actors, producers and a few new faces, Dark Humor Productions is presenting its first sketch comedy show,Why the Long Facebook? at Stage 773.
The show is anchored on the platform of self-involved virtual interaction. The crew pokes fun at the absurdist online realm in which people share their every waking moment with the world, from the emotional to the mundane. Though punctuated with pithy one-liners about status updates, the show branches out beyond satirical Facebook posts to create a well-rounded production with some clever scenes that not only ridicule the ridiculous, but also reflect the humor in humanity.
The rhythm method as a form of contraceptive may be woefully ineffective, but the improv group of the same name is actually doing quite a bit for reproductive health this month. Rhythm Method, Chicago's premier rock 'n roll improv ensemble, is delighted to announce Chicago Women's Health Center as the charity partner for their April run of shows at the
Playground Theater. Rhythm Method performs with Bella and one additional improv ensemble as part of the Sandbox Improv Showcase on Mondays in April at 8 p.m. Tickets are $5 and available at the box office located inside the theater at 3209 N. Halsted St. in Chicago.
Reservations for Rhythm Method or any Playground show can be made at (773) 871-3793 or www.the-playground.com. All shows are BYOB for audience members age 21 and up.
If you want to hear a cast of gifted singers belt some classic showtunes, you should've gotten a ticket for "Showboat" at the Lyric Opera. If you want to experience a really fun, dysfunctional night of musical comedy, check out "Brunch Punkx" at The Annoyance. There may be the occasional off-key note, but the show is so bizarrely comical and the performers so talented that you don't even mind.
"Brunch Punkx" follows a rag-tag group of aspiring brunch chefs as they struggle to find their calling after their culinary school's brunch program shuts down. The group eventually establishes itself as the newest "it" craze in foodie circles, and word of their culinary prowess reaches a former child star who's locked up for a homicidal rampage, and wants the Brunch Punkx to cater her last meal. The plot is a little convoluted, but the hijinks of the group are so enjoyable to watch that you don't even mind how they got there because they're so fun to watch unfold. The songs are catchy and the lyrics sharp, and musical theatre aficionados will enjoy playing "Guess the Pastiche" with the musical numbers that lovingly pay tribute to other musicals.
WRITE CLUB Overlord Ian Belknap. Photo credit: Nathan Keay
It's a damp night at the Hideout; the sold out audience sits on metal chairs, and latecomers stand wherever there's room. The walls are covered in wood paneling and the occasional trophy fish, and a faint smell of wet dog permeates the room. Onstage, Ian Belknap introduces the audience to WRITE CLUB: Chapter 22: Race War. "Ladies and gentlemen, let's get ready to WRITE CLUB!"
Tonight's categories are: Black vs. White; Cat vs. Dog; and Gay vs. Straight. In addition to a miniature trophy (The Loving Cup of Deathless Fucking Glory,) the winner of each bout gets a percentage of the admissions donated to the charity of their choice.
The first two competitors are called to the stage: Daniel Shapiro (Cat) vs. Natalie Edwards (Dog). Shapiro hunches over the mic and reads from a prepared text on behalf of cats, using persuasive language like: "A cat's anus has a sweeter and mellower flavor than a dog's, but we all knew that." "A cat would rather play with a bag or a box than with you." And "Cats in resting homes can tell when the next person is going to die, and that's kind of awesome." After his seven minutes are up, Edwards tries to outdo him with her piece on dogs, astounding the audience with little known facts that include: the first patents were held by Lhasa Apsos; and Chihuahuas invented Spanish. Her piece runs long, and she hears the dreaded chime of a bell being struck by a hammer, signaling the end of seven minutes, the maximum amount of time allotted to each competitor. The audience is called upon to choose a winner based on applause, and the winner -- determined by a panel of three judges, is Shapiro, whose winnings go to The Wounded Warrior Project.
After writing an article about local stand-up comedy for a Chicago magazine, Adam Burke started performing himself and is now a fixture at comedy showcases across the Chicago and the Midwest. Born in Australia and raised in Northern Ireland, he is known for his distinct accent and his verbose, clever wordplay on subjects ranging from Mick Jagger to the word "callipygian." In addition, he has opened for comedians such as Jeff Ross, Maria Bamford, Bo Burnham, Brendon Burns, and Jake Johannsen, and co-hosts the popular Cole's Bar comedy open mic on Wednesdays with Cameron Esposito.
Growing up, were you interested in writing or comedy?
Growing up, I was the one - I have two brothers and a sister - but I was the one that everyone thought was going to be a writer...and I think that's just 'cause I was the most pretentious kid. This is an apocryphal tale that I deny of my sister catching me at night with a flashlight just reading the dictionary. So yeah, I think everyone thought I was going to be some sort of writer. I think my mom really wanted me to do something with that. But my brother's a really good writer, too.
The tone in Chicago comedy these days feels like one of change and transition. New theaters like The Laugh Factory and Up are opening, and an interest in high-brow comedy and stand-up seems to be on the rise. I will be the first to admit that I was skeptical when I learned that Second City, legendary for improv and sketch comedy, was opening a club that would feature stand-up, sketch and improv, among other mediums. I was unsure of whether or not UP could cross all of those boundaries in one theater, but I wanted to keep an open mind. While I was hesitant going in, I left the theater feeling optimistic and excited for things to come.
Second City's Improv All Stars was the first show to bring me around.
(L-to-R Kellen Alexander, Cody Dove, Chelsea Devantez, Hans Holsen)
For those who love musical numbers in their intergalactic adventure, Chicago-based improv group Octavarius presents Stars! Wars! The Musical!
Join Luke, Leia and the gang of robots for this one-night-only showing at Mercury Theater on Friday, March 9 at 8pm. After its premier in November, the musical is back by popular demand, telling the story of Star Wars: a New Hope with original song and dance numbers, accompanied by a live band.
Following the musical, attendees will get a bonus improv set from Octavarius, joined by R2D2 who will be playing himself.
Tickets are regularly $10, but discounted admission of $7 will be offered to audience members who dress like their favorite Star Wars character or bring a light saber - like you wouldn't have done that anyway.
The top-ranked troupe will have just come off one of the longest running independent improv shows at ComedySportz where they perform on Sundays at 7pm, with a final show on February 26. To learn more about the group, view videos and listen to their weekly themed podcasts visit their homepage.
TJ Jagodowski and Peter Grosz aren't too proud to beg. The Chicago improvisers and erstwhile Sonic spokesmen have set up Those 2 Guys! to use as a public platform to ask for their Sonic commercial gig back. Sign their petition, like them on Facebook, or do whatever you can to be part of the grassroots movement to get these talented dudes back on the air!
Ben Lerman has been entertaining Chicago audiences for years, and Chicago audiences love him. Lerman graces us with his presence a few times a year and is in town this week for his Valentine's Day show at Mary's Attic, Heart Doctor; An Evening of Music and Comedy. Ben also brings with him local comics Adam Guerino (Queer Comedy at Zanies) and Meredith Kachel (Side-Mullet Nation)
How does it feel to be back in Chicago? Are you from Chicago?
I am from South Bend, Indiana. Still, I have a lot of friends and family in Chicago because when you're from South Bend, Indiana, you want to get the hell out of town, and Chicago is the nearest, likeliest migration point. It's far enough that you don't have to watch a percentage of your schoolmates become meth heads and close enough for minimal drive time on national holidays. Not that there aren't meth heads in Chicago or that I don't want them at my show. If you've got $10, you're welcome at my show. But don't ask to borrow money from other audience members or wash their windshields. That's the rule.
They say the opposite of Love is Hate. But this Valentines Day at the Logan Square Auditorium, the opposite of Love is Hilarity, Charity and possibly Intoxication.
Thanks to the love-filled partnership of the Chicago Reader, 2nd Story, WBEZ and Empty Bottle, Chicago will be graced with the Third Annual Anti-Valentines Day Party on Tuesday 14 February. Chicago comedians Seth and Kellen will be hosting this shindig and will also be the night's official demolisher of ex memorabilia; everything from T-shirts to love letters to saved nail clippings will destroyed. In between the destroying (and healing) 2nd Story will be regaling the audience with the best bad date stories.
Chicago is a breeding ground for viral videos, but rarely do they gain traction as quickly as Holly Laurent's (Second City Mainstage, The Reckoning) "Hunger Games" music video. The video, directed by local filmmaker Steve Delahoyde, is a parody of Lana Del Rey's "Video Games," rewritten from the viewpoint of Katniss, the protagonist of The Hunger Games. The video was just posted yesterday, but already Rolling Stone has picked it up and called it "the perfect pop culture sweet spot." Check out the collision of pop culture phenomena below:
Directed by Joe Avella, local improviser Patrick Raynor's one-man show at the Annoyance Theatre, Come On! We're All Adults!, is a collection of solo pieces (with a couple guest appearances by Nat Topping) mostly featuring characters in absurd situations.
Starting off with a scene of a newscaster launching into increasingly specific tangents about the local community, the show jumps from one character to the next, ranging from a South Dakota man trying to win his love back at the airport, to a substitute dry cleaner manager who can't stop talking about his weight loss.
Local stand-up comedian Sean Flannery (voted the best stand-up in Chicago by the Chicago Reader in 2010) is returning from a comedy-hiatus and bringing his critically acclaimed one-man show (Never Been to Paris) and his new show (Blackout Diaries) to Chicago audiences.
Never Been to Paris is Flannery's one-man show, in which he recounts all of the car accidents that almost cost him his life. Yes, he has been in enough car accidents to warrant an entire show about it. In Blackout Diaries, Sean and his comedy friends tell their best drinking stories to a room full of strangers and then field questions from the crowd. Both shows feature a unique perspective, one that explores the darker, less flattering aspects of life, a refreshing change for many comedy fans.
From a pair of prickly old women to a dense architect to a tough-as-nails Russian mail-order bride, Duffy and Rich are skilled at creating and portraying outrageous characters with humanity and nuance. The two start out with familiar characters, then turn them on their ears with hilarious quirks and situations. The hungover Mass-hole who passed out in a sheet cake turns out to be a lawyer who's still dealing with feelings for an ex. The crotchety old wedding guest reveals that she wants to be cremated and "tossed only in fun places." The pair playfully skews the audience's expectations in a series of unpredictable scenes, and director Marquette weaves them together seamlessly.
Both Duffy and Rich are accomplished sketch and improv comedians (Second City, iO), but both women are also talented actresses. The pair can deftly switch from accent to accent, and though some of their characters can be quite broad, their portrayals are always grounded and never over the top. Duffy, in particular, has a vulnerability that makes her characters especially enjoyable to watch.
The Mary Kay Letourneau Players Present... runs Sunday nights at 10:30pm at iO, 3541 N. Clark St., in the Del Close Theatre. Tickets are $5 and available online, over the phone at 773-880-0199, or at the box office.
After a successful first season, Queer Comedy at Zanies will return on Tuesday, January 24 in it's new 7:30 time slot. Season one featured the best queer and straight comedians in the country who have appeared on Comedy Central, BET, TBS Just For Laughs and Last Comic Standing, and season two is off to a strong start as well.
As MTV announces that they'll shoot their new series "Underemployed" in Chicago this spring, let us not forget "Funemployed," the plucky, hilarious local web series that came first. While MTV may try to pass a sub-par facsimile of the show off as its own (MTV hasn't acknowledged any similarities between "Underemployed" and "Funemployed") , "Funemployed" came first and given MTV's programming, we can only assume it'll be the funnier of the two shows. "Funemployed" has all of their episodes up on their website, so start at episode one and watch all the way through.
Ever wonder what would happen if the casts of the Harry Potter and Twilight series battled each other in the style of West Side Story?
Local sketch/improv group Octavarius will magically create that experience right before your very eyes in their aptly named show, Harry Potter vs. Twilight. This wizard's duel of epic (comedic) proportions will take place Sunday, January 22 at 7pm at ComedySportz (929 W. Belmont Ave.). As with their previous weekly themed shows, Harry Potter will feature videos, improv, sketches and music inspired by the twin young adult fantasy juggernauts to create an experience sure to warm up your cold-hearted muggle soul.
Tickets are $10, but if you dress like your favorite character or bring a sign rooting for your favorite team, you will get a special discounted admission price of only $7.
Two local duos, three troupes, and a musical trio rounded out my experience on Day 3 of Chicago SketchFest 2012. So without further ado...
Chicago sketch/improv group Honorary Degree opened their set with a brilliant skewering of improv comedy conventions ("Can we get a suggestion for a Gary Sinise movie?"), before launching into sketches involving a list of weird babysitter demands, pillow factory job hazards, and a hilarious take on film noir.
As it so happens, my experience at Day 2 of Chicago SketchFest 2012 resulted in me seeing two very different musical acts and two sketch acts with completely different formats. All of the acts I'm about to review will be performing again this evening, so let's get right to it.
Armed with a guitar, ukulele, accordion, tambourine, and fake southern accents, New York's Reformed Whores launched into several country/folk/Americana-style songs about the tribulations of love and lust from a woman's perspective, including the follies of drunk dialing, staying on birth control, confronting a boyfriend's porn habits, and a friendly reminder to ladies to remove their tampons every once in a while.
With four acts performing on different stages at any given moment, the opening night of the 11th annual Chicago Sketch Comedy Festival left me with some difficult decisions to make -- especially after walking in with no idea what I wanted to see. By chance, I happened to pick performances by three active Chicago improv groups/performers, and ended up witnessing three very different interpretations of "sketch comedy."
Impress These Apes 2011 season winner Jo Scott will be doing a one night only remount of her solo show "Thankful" this Thursday on a double bill with Chemically Imbalanced Comedy's Artistic Director Farrell Walsh's "A Happy Ending." It all goes down this Thursday night at iO, 3541 N. Clark St., at 8pm in the Del Close Theater. Scott's solo show "satires who we love, what we love, and the things we do to them," while "A Happy Ending" is a sketch exploration of darker impulses. Tickets are available over the phone (773.880.0199) or in-person at the box office.
Chicago comedy duo Awkward Spaceship is on the front page of BuzzFeed today with their newest video, "Doctor Who Yo Mama Jokes." They drop jokes about Time Lord technology, Captain Jack Harkness, and even the Face of Boe. If those references mean nothing to you, you can go back and watch Awkward Spaceship's "If Computer Problems Were Real," while you add all of the David Tennant episodes of "Doctor Who" to your Netflix queue.
Candy Lawrence is everywhere: from Chicago Underground Comedy, where she is a regular cast member, to queer showcases across the city: her rubber face is becoming increasingly recognizable among Chicago comedy fans. The best part about Candy Lawrence isn't any of her performances; it's that she doesn't seem to have any idea how good she is.
Last month's Queer Comedy (Contest) at Zanies narrowed ten contestants down to three winners. Joel Kim Booster, who won first place, will return to stage tonight in his Zanies debut. I talked with him recently about the contest, being a queer comic and Louis CK.
Winners from last months Queer Comedy (Contest) at Zanies, L to R, Joel Kim Booster, Caitlin Bergh, Homer Mars, with host Adam Guerino. Photo by Alexandra Moskovich.
Sean Cusick (L) and Dave Urlakis (R) met while both were cast members of the critically acclaimed religious satire, The Best Church of God. Already seasoned veterans of comedy, the two got together and created a two-man show in which they discuss everything from parenthood to death. The show opens this Saturday, November 12th, at Stage 773. Here's what the two had to say about finding time to write, parenthood and comedy.
Cameron Esposito combines stand-up with special guests and hand-drawn animation to create a world-class quality yet personable storytelling experience. Side-Mullet Nation was commissioned for inclusion in TBS' Just for Laughs Chicago and has played to sold out crowds in Chicago and New York. Garnishing such acclaim as Time Out Chicago "Critic's Pick," Time OutNew York "Critic's Pick," The Onion's AV Club Chicago "Best of the Fest" and Chicago Reader "featured show." The show runs Thursdays through Dec. 15 The Comedy Bar, 157 W. Ontario St. Tickets and more information can be found here.
The women of Teatro Luna* have brought Latina theatre to Chicago's stages for 10 seasons, and as they kick off their eleventh they're even venturing into new territory with the launch of Marimachas! A New Latin Comedy Series. For years Teatro Luna has offered an outlet for local Latina theatre artists, and with this new venture the company hopes to expand their support to the comedy arena.
Teatro Luna Artistic Associate Christina Igaraividez, who is also one of the performers this Friday, describes Marimachas as, "a safe place for the performers. Everyone performing just wants to have a good time with the audience. It isn't a transaction type of environment where the performer tells joke then audience provides laugh. We are sharing, commiserating, hoping, loving, laughing all the way through with you." Marimachas is this Friday at 7:30pm at Calles y Sueños (1900 S. Carpenter). Tickets can be purchased online or at the venue for $20, and the price of admission includes an "Ay, Virgen!" Teatro Luna's signature cocktail.
*Whom the author has worked with before and thinks are the cat's pajamas
Amanda Rountree has been performing, teaching, directing and producing comedy in Chicago since 2007. Her one-woman show, The Good, The Bad and The Monkey, is running this week and next, in a very short but very anticipated re-launch. I recently chatted with her about all things comedy, and monkey. Here is what she had to say.
At the Queer Comedy Contest at Zanies on Tuesday, OutLoud Chicago is on the lookout for queer comedians who are ready and willing for the next stage of their careers. Adam Guerino will host as eight comedians take the stage in hopes of being booked at the next Queer Comedy at Zanies show, and winning a selection of other prizes to boost their careers. At the end of the night, stand-up vet and contest judge Cynthia Levin will headline the show while the votes are tallied. The contest winners are decided based upon audience and judge vote.
The contest will be held on Tuesday, Oct. 25 at 9:30pm at Zanies Comedy Club, 1548 N. Wells St. Doors open at 9pm. Tickets are $10 in advance and $15 at the door with a two drink minimum.
The Mo Show has been a safe haven for many of Chicago's most eccentric performers of all disciplines for the last two years. Stand up comedian Mo Welch, the show's creator, producer and host, is leaving Chicago this week and taking the show with her. Your last chance to see The Mo Show will be this Wednesday, Oct. 19.
Jimmy of Nazareth, currently running at the Annoyance Theatre, is the true story of performer Jimmy Pennington's (Co-Ed Prison Sluts, Splatter Theater) travel to the brink of permanent institutionalization and (half-way) back. Directed by Irene Marquette (Lights Out Alma, 40 Whacks), the show "follows Pennington from his humble beginnings as an unemployed college graduate living with his fiance in Nazareth, Pennsylvania on an epic journey of depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and emergency psych wards -- a darkly funny tale of resurrection after the death of innocence."
Jimmy of Nazareth plays its final performance this Thursday, Oct. 13 at 9:30pm. Tickets are $10 and may be purchased online or by calling the box office at 773.561.HONK. The Annoyance is located at 4830 N. Broadway.
"The hot cow's back!" my friend whispered to me about 30 minutes into Octavarius: Trial of the O'Leary Cow.
It's odd for a man dressed in a cow suit to be called "hot," but the costume worked for improv performer Nick Mikula. A member of comedy troupe Octavarius, Mikula played the title role in the show, staged on October 9--the 140th anniversary of the Great Chicago Fire.
Chicago's Deon Cole, part of the Emmy-nominated writing staff at "Conan," is interviewed in a recent clip on "CNN Comedy"; in this funny feature, the comedian tells how he first hooked up with Conan O'Brien, being the staff's only black writer and how O'Brien uses his guitar to let his writers know if their joke and sketch pitches are a hit or a miss.
Elizabeth McQuern producing at Chicago Underground Comedy. Photo Credit: Tripp Watson
When I was given the opportunity to write about women in Chicago comedy, I knew exactly whom I wanted to feature. These five women were my first choice, not because they are better or more deserving than any other women in comedy, but because each of them has had a significant impact, in some way, on my own experience. Some of them are performers, some producers, some teachers, but they are all equally important, to me and to comedy as a whole. This is my homage to them.
Elizabeth McQuern was one of the first people I met after moving to Chicago. If not for her, I wouldn't have met most of the people that I did the first year I was here. She co-produces Chicago Underground Comedy, one of the longest running and most popular stand-up showcases in Chicago and freelances as a video editor, among other things. As a producer, writer, photographer and filmmaker, she is one of many unsung heroes of Chicago Comedy.
Dan Telfer is one of the hardest working people in Chicago: he co-produces Chicago Underground Comedy, his comedy album, Fossil Record, went to number one on iTunes in 2010, and he has performed on stage with some of the most respected comedians of this generation. This weekend, Dan is opening for Maria Bamford at the Mayne Stage Theater, and he recently took some time out of his day to chat with me about comedy, superheroes, nerd culture and the A.V. Club.
You opened for Garfunkel & Oates this past weekend and you're opening for Maria Bamford this weekend: how has working with talent like that affected your perspective and performances?
It has made me terrified of @humblebrag on Twitter. I am very grateful. If I ever make a decent living from this it will be because of the generosity of other comedians who have taken me on the road like Maria and comedy bookers like Chris Ritter at the Mayne Stage. But since you ask specifically about Maria, Ricki and Kate, I will say something to that effect. I hate nothing more than when I'm on the road and I have to open for someone who insults my lack of masculinity the entire time. Two weekends of opening for laser-witty comics who don't play shitty status games with me? Yes please. I mean I can say that about Garfunkel & Oates because we just finished our weekend. Maria might betray me this weekend and just beat the shit out of me with a tire iron in the green room for two nights. Probably not. We'll see.
Garfunkel and Oates, who may be best known for the youtube sensation Pregnant Women Are Smug, will be performing their musical comedy at Chicago's Mayne Stage Theater on September 30 and October 1. I recently had the opportunity to spend a few minutes on the phone with Riki Lindholm, or as her fans know her, Garfunkel.
I recently spoke with Robert Buscemi, who is best known for his offbeat standup as well as the many characters that he showcased on the local hit game-show, Don't Spit The Water. Buscemi is returning home to Chicago next Sunday, Oct. 2 for his one-night-only show at The Annoyance Theater. Here is what he had to say about it.
Welcome back to Chicago. How does it feel to be performing on the old stomping grounds?
Great. I love seeing who the cool new stand-up kids are, what the new hot shows are, and seeing some old friends whose talents and experience are paying off. And I love hitting the Annoyance again, which is the coolest comedy venue in America. And hitting Chicago Underground Comedy at The Beat Kitchen is like coming home.
Birth control commercials are the worst. It's bad enough that birth control is a culprit behind hormonal outbursts, weight gain, breast tenderness, and blood clots amongst its users, but to add insult to injury, birth control commercials are often packaged as saccharine sweet, sexist ads that treat women as though they're too delicate to handle a straightforward birth control commercial. But the silver lining of the birth control commercial rain cloud is that it provides plenty of fodder for comedians to tackle.
Some of the talented women at Second City recently put together a hilarious commercial for the Birth Control Ninja, what could very possibly be the next advancement in birth control technology. The prospect of having a tiny ninja in your cervix is actually slightly less unnerving than the prospect of having a birth control-induced stroke!
Comedy Cares is a non-profit fundraising organization founded by Chicago comedian Ever Mainard that utilizes comedy as a source of revenue for programs and individuals in need of assistance. This months event will raise revenue for the Broadway Youth Center and the services that it provides.
The show will take place on September 23 at 8pm at the Lucky Shamrock (2723 North Halsted) and will be hosted by Mainard, who is best known for her podcast Dates with Ever and as a member of Chicago Underground Comedy.
The lineup features the best acts in Chicago and includes: Lisa Laureta (the people under the stairs), Kelsie Huff (the kates, Bruiser, Boulder International Fringe Festival) Bill Cruz (host of Gutter Mouth open mic) Ryan Walker, Gwen Laroka (winner of Last Loca Standing) Adam Burke (host of Coles Open Mic, Chicago Underground Comedy) Caitlin Bergh (Cameron Esposito's Side Mullet Nation), and Jeff Gandy.
Get ready for lots of laughs at this year's Chicago Comedy Film Festival (CCFF), the annual festival that celebrates the art of comedy via feature length and short comedy films.
In addition to being the nation's first Chicago-based film festival totally devoted to comedy, the CCFF also boasts a variety of films starring iO and Second City alumni, as well as notable names including Steppenwolf Ensemble Member and Chicago-area native Gary Cole (Dr. Limptooth) and John Larroquette (Sudden Death!). The festival also includes the screening of Bright Day!, featuring funnymen Bill Maher, Michael Cera and Richard Belzer.
The Chicago Comedy Film Festival runs Friday and Saturday, Oct. 14th and 15th at the ShowPlace ICON Theater, 150 W. Roosevelt Rd. And for even more laughs, CCFF features "Laugh Out Local," a bonus hour of shorts followed by Mick Napier's newest feature film Bandicoot!,on Sunday, Oct. 16 at the Annoyance Theater, 4830 N Broadway. All tickets are $8; contact email@example.com for all ticket-related questions. For a complete schedule and other information, visit the festival's website.
Brian Posehn, best known for his involvement in The Comedians of Comedy, is performing at the Cubby Bear this Saturday, Sept. 10. I recently had the opportunity to talk with him about comedy, fatherhood, the Insane Clown Posse and pot smoking. Here is what he had to say.
I was just re-listening to your most recent album, Fart and Wiener Jokes, in preparation for our call, and I was literally crying.
Nice. Out of laughter, right?
Definitely laughter, not sadness or regret or anything like that.
Things are looking up for women in comedy. As a society we seem to be over the whole "Are women funny?" debate, and for the most part we've collectively come to the conclusion that indeed they are. Movies and sitcoms written by and starring women are proving to be both critical and commercial successes, and slowly the tides seem to be changing for the better. However, women still have a ways to go. Here in Chicago it's still the norm to see a ten person improv group with only one or two token female members, and a recent Comedy Central "Comics to Watch" showcase didn't include a single woman. Enter Chicago Ladies in Comedy.
Chicago Ladies in Comedy (CLiC) originally took shape as the Chicago Women's Improv Forum and has evolved into an organization that fosters and supports women involved in not only improv, but any type of comedic performance. When discussing the need for an organization like CLiC, founding member Rebecca Grossman shared her own experience, "I was feeling safer in a place of all women because I was used to the way women communicate, so I could learn the skills needed to be onstage with women or men easier and faster and in a stronger way, when it was all women. And I thought if this is working for me, it might work for other women too." Grossman has a background in theatre and sketch/improv, and other members also come from stand-up, burlesque, music, and other genres.
Since its inception, the group has transformed from weekly improv workshops into an organization that offers workshops in a variety of disciplines, a stand-up showcase, networking events, and more. This weekend the organization is hosting a panel discussion titled, fittingly, "Ladies...in Comedy!" The discussion will be moderated by Deanna Moffitt, and the panelists include Tara DeFrancisco, Cameron Esposito, Jet Eveleth, Anne Libera, Rachael Mason, Susan Messing and Katie Rich. They're a venerable "who's who" of beloved and respected Chicago comedy players who have experience that runs the gamut from improv to stand-up to sketch to directing. The forum is open to both and women and men, and is sure to be an insightful event for both novices and veterans of the Chicago comedy scene.
"Ladies...in Comedy!" is this Saturday, September 10 at 3:30 p.m. at Comedy Sportz (929 W. Belmont). Following the forum is an all-women ComedySportz improv show at 6 p.m. To keep up with other CLiC happenings check out their website or follow them on Facebook.
When a Chicago improvisor and former Second City employee went to New York for the Del Close Marathon (an improv comedy festival) and cluelessly shared the story of when he sexually assaulted a female customer, the internet took notice. Today a variety of comedy blogs, women's sites, and freelance writers have picked up on the story and word has spread like wildfire. Internet sleuths have identified the man in question as Eric D. Angell, who is no longer employed at Second City and has moved away from Chicago. Jezebel.com contacted him for comment but have yet to hear back.
Kellen Alexander and Seth Dodson bring the latest in worthless ideas to NEDTalks. Photo credit: Zach Dodson.
If anything deserves to be spoofed, it's the TED Talks, the brainy group who, in their mission statement, explain that they are "a nonprofit devoted to Ideas Worth Spreading." Originally formed as a conference bringing people from the Technology, Entertainment, and Design worlds together, (hence the acronym TED), they have been meeting in Silicon Valley and elsewhere since 1984, showcasing smart people who have better ideas than you do.
Still life with Jeff Garlin, tree, and mysterious rodent. Photo credit: Robert Trachtenberg
Jeff Garlin's short-run show: "No Sugar Tonight", which runs at the Steppenwolf (1650 N. Halsted) is like spending an hour and a half hanging out with Garlin at his most relaxed. His routine -- which he claims has no arc, consists of relating various real-life stories, riffing off the audience, and a short Q&A with the audience at the end.
The title of the show comes from Garlin's struggle with diabetes and weight loss; two and a half years ago the comedian cut sugar out of his diet, and it shows -- he's significantly smaller now than he was in earlier episodes of "Curb Your Enthusiasm", the HBO series for which he is best known.
He drinks water from a ladle in a plastic jack-o-lantern rather than a bottle because, as he puts it: "it adds visual excitement;" the same reason he gave for the ukelele sitting on stage left that never got referred to in any way during his performance. Garlin's humor is self-deprecating and inclusive, but he doesn't hesitate to take the audience into potentially dangerous territory
Chicago's Cell Camp gets dirty in their latest sketch show inspired by late-night Cinemax movies and the Illicit Dream series. Expect raunchy language, nudity, gay sex, regular sex, cartoon violence and the return of Tifty the Cybercrime and Rape Fighting Mouse.
Cell Camp After Dark will take place at 10:30pm at Stage 773: 1225 W. Belmont Ave. Tickets are available via the Stage 773 website and in person at the box office.
Everyone knows who Bobcat Goldthwait is. He's the 'guy from Police Academy, right?'. Yes, he is that guy from Police Academy, but he is also a stand-up comedian. A very funny, endearing, surprisingly underrated stand-up comedian. I had the pleasure of seeing the first of his two sets at Mayne Stage last night, and it was well worth the time and ticket price.
Jim Norton, who is best known for his brutal honesty on stage and self-deprecating style, recently took some time out of his busy Just For Laughs and Anti-Social Network schedules to answer some questions for us, and to reveal his secret love for Lady Gaga.
Octavarius, a Chicago comedy group and headliner for closing night of the Chicago Improv Festival, takes the stage on Sunday, June 19 at 7pm, at The ComedySportz Theatre Chicago (929 W. Belmont Ave.) for opening night of a 35-week run.
Lots of laughter is in store as TBS's Just for Laughs hits town this week; the comedy festival, which boasts a diverse range of comedians, has something in store for everyone, including laughs from the ladies. Here, Chicago native and comedienne Kellye Howard, host of the festival's "5-Star Leading Ladies," talks about women in comedy and what it means to be part of one of the largest comedy festivals around.
How does it feel to be the host of the festival's only all-female lineup?
It is huge! Last year I was a feature on this show, so to come around this year and be selected as a host is amazing. It just shows I've grown a lot in my career which means a lot to me.
Best known for her work with the Wood Sugars and her podcast Dates with Ever, as well as hosting The Starving Artist Project, Ever Mainard is a rising star of Chicago comedy. Her mother, Mary Mainard, has fallen ill and cannot afford the medical care she requires, so Chicago comics, producers, performers and fans have joined forces in an effort to help raise money and lend support.
When I walked into Gorilla Tango Theater to see You're Being Ridiculous, My First Time, I was admittedly skeptical; a show with that premise could go very wrong, very fast. Much to my delight, what unfolded was an endearing, funny, well written and well produced show, worth the $15 ticket price.
Undoubtedly, Chicago has produced some of the best comics around; from many famous Second City alumni to the late Bernie Mac, the Windy City has definitely cemented its place in America's comedy landscape. Perhaps no one knows this better than Comedians You Should Know (CYSK), a six-member comedy collective of some of Chicago's funniest stand-up comics.
Photo courtesy of: Jon Cole.
CYSK debuted at Fizz Chicago in 2008 and after gaining a devoted fan following complete with rave reviews there, the comedy sextet relocated to Timothy O'Toole's in the city's Gold Coast area last year, and performs weekly shows every Wednesday, along with other top talent from the city. Through the weekly show, as well as through videos and tours, CYSK is setting out to "shine a light on the often overlooked, yet immensely talented Chicago stand-up comedy scene," said group member, Danny Kallas.
Despite producing some of the nation's most successful entertainers, at times, according to Kallas, the comedic talent in the city often goes unrecognized. "Comedians You Should Know is out to prove that Chicago stand-up comedy is not only as relevant but of an even higher caliber and quality than that found in New York and LA," he said.
To find out more about Comedians You Should Know's schedule of weekly Wednesday shows, tours and other performances, visit their website.
If you're looking for some good, independently produced theater, Gorilla Tango Theater is a great place to start. Known as the "producers theater", GTT has a constantly-rotating list of shows to choose from every month.
The women of Improvised Jane Austen: Kate Parker, Mel Evans, Colleen Breen, Kyna Lenhof,
Sarah Beckman Mobley, Natalie Tinaglia, Rachel Grandi, Kristen Parise, Annie Rijks, and Steph Jones.
As part of the 14th annual Chicago Improv Festival, Chicago's very own Improvised Jane Austen did their thing last Saturday at The Playground (3209 N. Halsted). All I knew of the troupe was their name, and the fact that they'd be appearing alongside the NYC troupe Hell Buffalo. As an adopted Chicagoan, (I've lived here almost 20 years, which I'm pretty sure gives me Official Native Status), improv comedy is as natural a form of entertainment to me as hot dogs are a form of protein and snow is a form of weather. Still, improv has always been a kind of nursery rhyme gamble: when it's good it's very, very good; and when it's bad, it's horrid. I figured that the chances that IJA would pay off were decent since they'd made it into the CIF lineup; I'm glad I took that gamble.
The ten woman company manages to deftly and hilariously improvise any suggestion from the audience into a 30-45 minute spoof of a Jane Austen novel (the night I saw them the audience suggestion was "beer.") There are so many things that are great about them, here are just a few:
Anyone who has seen live comedy knows one of the biggest hurdles to enjoying a show can be hearing the comic over the inevitable presence of the (hopefully singular) drunk, loud, chatty audience member. If you can't think of who that person was at the last show you went to, it was probably you.
Two of Chicago's most up-and-coming comics shared their thoughts with me recently, in an effort to shed some light on the question that is (and should be) looming in everyones mind: 'How can I be a good audience member?'.
Margaret Hicks is objectively awesome. In the past few years she's gone from working an office job to owning and operating her own tour guide business, and now on top of that she's a published author. As both a font of Chicago knowledge and an improvisor, Hicks was just the person to pen "Chicago Comedy: A Fairly Serious History."
Hicks was leading one of her Second City-themed tours when a rep from History Press was along for a tour and asked if she'd considered writing a book. She took his card, but assumed he wanted a book about Second City and didn't reach out to him. A few months later he contacted her, saying that she could pick something to write about but that he'd wondered why there had never been a history of comedy in Chicago. "I looked into it and saw that there hadn't been anything written about it," said Hicks. Why did Second City and iO (Improv Olympic) happen in Chicago and not New York or someplace else? That was it. I needed to figure out what happened before that." And so she did.
Kelsie Huff may be the hardest working woman in Chicago comedy. Whether she is producing the kates, a rotating cast of all-female comedians, developing comedy-focused outreach programs and workshops for children, or preparing for the opening of her new one-woman show, Bruiser, Huff manages to keep it all together with a smile on her face and the energy of a hummingbird.
Second City's new show, South Side of Heaven, directed by Billy Bungeroth, is a goofy yet unapologetically irreverent pastiche of comic bits with themes ranging from local sports and politics to death and bigotry, all in keeping with Second City's Chicago-centric proclivities. The show is surprisingly dark, and pulls no punches--always returning to the old Buddhist mantra that life is full of misery and pain (so why not make fun of it?). There is plenty here to offend, but the offensive material is executed so damn strangely, we're left furrowing our brows in confusion rather than anger. And I mean that in a good way. It certainly catches you off your feet.
Chicago is known for its DIY culture, and comedy and theater are no exceptions. The options can be overwhelming, and not always a sure-thing, so I have compiled a list of five of my favorite shows that are currently running, in no particular order.
Denzel Washington, Bill Cosby and Chris Rock--all in Chicago this weekend? Not exactly, but if you were to attend one of Reggie Reg's shows, you just might think you were in the presence of these superstars.
Chicago native Reggie Reg is a stand-up comedian and impressionist who has been amazing audiences for years; his impressions of famous folks (his "Denzel Washington" is spot-on) has landed him appearances on several shows, including HBO's "P.Diddy Presents the Bad Boys of Comedy" and during "Impressionists Week" on the "Late Show with David Letterman."
See Reggie Reg Friday and Saturday, April 8-9, at Jokes and Notes, 4641 S. King Dr. Show times both nights are 8:30pm and 10:30pm; tickets are $15-$20 and can be purchased at the box office. For more information, call 773-373-3390.
Devin Keast wears many hats- comedian, improvisor, hockey announcer- and now he can add another: talk show host. Sunday nights at the Pub Theater (3220 N. Lincoln, above Fizz Bar and Grill) he'll be hosting "The Latest with Devin Keast." Join him, along with a rich assembly of correspondents, for this Sunday evening comedy hour which tips its cap to everyone from The Smothers Brothers to Dick Cavett in such topical and occasionally controversial fashions. This Sunday's guest is Chicago Police Officer-turned-author Martin Preib. The show is at 8pm, and tickets can be purchased at the door.
Dixie Longate wants to make one thing clear: she's throwing a REAL Tupperware party. It's the gimmick that makes her show, the aptly named Dixie's Tupperware Party, unique, bold...and a little odd. Is it a comedy show where you can buy the props, or a Tupperware party where the host is in drag and loaded with jokes?
Part salty satire, part comic infomercial, Tupperware Party started off-Broadway and comes to Chicago as part of a national tour. Tapping into the spirit of party-shows like Tony n' Tina's Wedding, Flanegan's Wake, or Late Nite Catechism, Dixie (an alter ego of performer Kris Andersson) spends the minutes before the show passing mints around and meeting her guests. She can greet them all by name, because everyone is asked to don a nametag immediately after walking into the theater. There are no programs, just Tupperware catalogs, complete with order form. Once the show begins, Dixie wastes no time before showing us her true colors. She demonstrate how her sheet cake caddy can double as a tote for jello shots. We learn the benefits of drinking Jack Daniel's from a sippy cup. And we hear the story of Brownie Wise, the inventor of the Tupperware party -- an uplifting story that contrasts with the raucous, raunchy humor that dominates the show-- returned to each time things start to get a little too silly.
Comedian Rodney Perry, who is also Oscar winner Mo'Nique's co-host and sidekick on BET's "The Mo'Nique Show," returns home for a full weekend of stand-up comedy.
The Chicago native, who has appeared on various stand-up comedy shows including "Martin Lawrence Presents 1st Amendment Stand-Up" and HBO's "Def Comedy Jam," will also appear in Tyler Perry's Madea's Big Happy Family, due out next month.
Catch Rodney Perry, along with comedian D.L. "DeMarco" Monroe and host "Baldhead," Friday and Saturday, April 1-2 at Jokes and Notes, 4641 S. King Dr. Show times both nights are 8:30pm and 10:30pm; tickets are $20 and can be purchased at the box office. For more information, call 773-373-3390.
In his debut one-man show, Tim Paul's Retarded, Annoyance Theatre veteran Tim Paul reveals what happens behind the closed doors of a group home. Supplemented by pop-cult video segments to add context, he recounts true (and horrifying) stories from his years working at a group home for adults with developmental disabilities and behavioral disorders, exploring society's all-too-comfortable relationship with the r-word. The result is a challenging piece of theater with its fair share of tongue-in-cheek laughs.
Tim Paul's Retarded opened last Sunday and will run every Sunday at 9:30pm through April 3 at The Annoyance Theatre (4830 N. Broadway). Tickets are $10 and can be purchased at theannoyance.com or by calling the box office at 773-561-4665.
Chicago native Esther Ku is making her mark in the world of stand-up; with appearances on NBC's "Last Comic Standing," television commercials and even as a finalist in Howard Stern's "Hottest/Funniest Chick" contest, this up-and-coming comedienne is entertaining audiences all over the country with her bold style. Here, the former Rogers Park resident discusses women in stand-up, "dirty" comedy and her penchant for performing in front of black audiences.
I read that your comedy career was born after you were fired from a job for laughing too much--was there a "no laughing on the job" policy there?
[Laughs.] I was working for a Chicago-based pen company and they let me go for laughing too much. When the recession was just starting, pens were the first thing to go because everything is on computers, people were using styluses or whatever, and I was there selling pens. I guess it was like, "Okay, the laughing Asian girl has got to go."
Well if ever there were an example of when getting fired works out...
It did. I'm happy now--well, that day I cried--but it all worked out in the end.
Criticallyacclaimed comedy troupe Octavarius is premiering a new show series titled "Octavarius: Battle for the Belt," tomorrow night (March 13) at 7pm at Stage 773. Additional performances will take place on March 20 & 27. Colt Cabana, former WWE and current Ring of Honor superstar, is a special guest of the series, making an in-person appearance on night two (the 20th) and video appearances on night one and three. "The Ego" Robert Anthony, CZW Heavyweight Champion, will make a surprise appearance on the final night of the series (the 27th). The stage will be transformed into a wrestling ring, complete with ropes, turnbuckles and a Jumbotron. Tickets are $15 per show, or $25 for a ringside pass to all three nights. Audience members are encouraged to make a sign cheering or jeering their favorite Octavarius superstars, and receive tickets at a discounted rate of $12. For more information, visit Octavarius.com.
Local comedian Mo Welch debuts her "one woman show", Weird Girl, at the Lincoln Lodge tonight. For the show she combines her trademark characters from "The Mo Show" with her real life upbringing. Welch also adds her original short films, making the show both multi-media and interactive. Although "The Mo Show" is nascent, it has already received a good amount of press, with appearances by some of Chicago's top comedians. Welch's Weird Girl: One Human Show promises the same wacky abandon.
Weird Girl debuts at 9pm tonight at The Lincoln Lodge, and runs again tomorrow (March 4)-- same place, same time. Tickets are $10. More information can be found at mowelch.com. Buy tickets ahead of time at thelincolnlodge.com.
Flannery is both a warm and hilarious storyteller; the show spins what seem like tall tales but in fact are real-life experiences of the baffling number of ways Flannery has nearly killed himself (or friends, or siblings), as well as other just plain dumb things one does when drunk and lives to tell about (don't we all have a Taco Bell parking lot story?). The show also features the only acceptable use of a Power Point presentation.
I sat down to my laptop last week to ask Sean a few questions about the show and comedy in general.
Tonight at the Playground Theater (3209 N. Halsted), the players in Geek Show will take the stage at 10pm for the second-to-last Friday of their run. Geek Show is Justin Howard, Jeff Murdock, Tim Reardon and Jo Scott, showcasing their comedic chops in a fast and funny sketch revue. According to the group, Geek Show "simply chases and bites the heads off of the various idiocies in our modern lives." Before they bite the heads off of idocy, improv group Boyish will open the night. Tickets are $10 and can be purchased at the door.
Starting February 8 and continuing through February 28, Chicago will be home to a new comedy open mic. Lincoln Lodge has joined forces with Gorilla Tango Theatre for "Open Mic Tuesdays," which will welcome stand-up comedians, sketch, and musical comedy. Members of The Lincoln Lodge are set to host.
The show is a welcome addition to a surprisingly sparse Chicago open mic scene. Should it prove successful, the event might be extended beyond February.
"Open Mic Tuesdays" will be held Tuesdays at 8pm, February 8 - 28, at Gorilla Tango Theatre, 1919 N. Milwaukee Ave., Chicago. Entrance is free.
Chicago is a comedy Mecca, so it can be difficult to decipher what shows, out of the vast sea of options, are deserving of your precious time and money. Allow me to make it a little easier for you: go see Batterymouth.
The duo's new show, Batterymouth: It Burns, opened last night and is running every Friday until February 18. Inspired by a single suggestion, partners Zack Whittington (also of sketch group Long Pork) and Dave Urlakis (of ComedySportz, Best Church of God) proceed to create a long-form improv riff, a single scene demonstrating the nuances of a relationship between two people. The beauty part is that as the audience learns about these two newly-minted characters on the stage, Whittington and Urlakis are learning about them for the first time too. Great improv requires a lot of attention to detail on the part of the performers, and these two don't seem to miss a beat. The result will vary drastically from week to week, but is sure to be fascinating and beautiful every time. Oh, and funny, too.
If you've seen Batterymouth before, you may remember them as a trio. But when member Mark Walkley left to pursue a graduate degree, Whittington and Urlakis retooled their format. Their hard work has clearly paid off; It Burns is a testament to the men's emotional and physical mastery of their comedic art form.
Batterymouth: It Burns is directed by E.J. Scott. It runs Fridays at 7:30 p.m. through February 18 at Second City's deMatt Theater, Piper's Alley, 1616 N. Wells. Tickets are $12 and can be ordered by calling (312) 337-3992 or by visiting secondcity.com, and are available at the deMaat Theatre's box office.
"It would be pretty cool if mermaids were real, because I could stop fucking all these manatees."
3159 N. Southport
First Sundays of the month, 8pm sign-up, 9:30 show
"You're not funny," says the skinny, lisping frat spud. He breaks into my birth control joke. This guy is not a comedian. Normally, open-mic comedians love "civilians," real audience members who show up just to watch. Civilians are few, and they're a better litmus test for material, for many complex reasons, than fellow comedians.
But this drunken asswipe has been antagonizing us all night. I first noticed him downstairs, after I signed up and during the long wait before showtime. His voice carried as he shouted at his friends about "bitches." Now, he's breaking into everyone's set and refusing to leave or shut up.
And after he breaks into mine, everyone else finally wants blood. Another group of civilians lays into him about his striped shirt and wallet chain. He offers a fist bump, as though it's all good and we're all buddies. His fist bump is declined. Another comedian tells him to go choke himself. It is now the heckler versus everyone else in the room. I've lost the room's attention. My set is totaled.
The last days of Sketchfest are dwindling down and it's now or never if you want to catch any of the remaining groups at the Festival. Clever sketch groups are in abundance at Sketchfest, but a surefire pick is Sunday's Nose Complaint show. Nose Complaint consists of two best friends, Dave Caro and Nicholas Schaefer, directed and choreographed by David Montgomery, in a show that dives right into the fun and exciting world that revolves around their friendship. A departure from standard sketch comedy fare, Nose Complaint features a grand finale that would be fitting for even a Vegas stage.
Nose Complaint is playing Sunday, January 16th at 4 p.m. in the North Theater at Stage 773 (1225 W. Belmont). Tickets can be purchased online or over the phone at 773.327.5252 for $12.