Archive for the ‘Entertainment’ Category

Chicago’s Stand-Up Comedy Scene Keeps Getting Better

May I brag for a minute? By some cosmic twist, a reticent, relatively unambitious blogger (me) has become co-producer of arguably the best alternative stand-up showcase in Chicago (Chicago Underground Comedy).

Every Tuesday night, our show features four of our performers and two or three guests, including other promising up-and-comers in the Chicago stand-up talent pool, returning Chicago friends have found success on the coasts, and sometimes, comedy heroes whose resumes and upcoming projects are enough to make us stutter with awe when they take our stage.

Night before last we had what may be the strongest show we’ve ever produced. The lineup included our hugely creative and talented castmembers Dan Telfer (my co-producer, and a sometime contributor to this site), Sean Flannery, Prescott Tolk, and Adam Burke, and our pal Hannibal Buress, who’s dashing between appearances on Comedy Central’s Live at Gotham, Chicago Public Radio’s 848, the Craig Ferguson Show and a featured spot in the upcoming DC Comedy Festival.

Then there was the guest lineup, that had our packed house falling out of their chairs.

Get this: former Saturday Night Live writer Michael McCarthy (who’s moving to LA to write a pilot for Showtime), Chicago native Jimmy Dore, who’s about to have his first one-hour special on Comedy Central, and our pal John Roy, who comes home to Chicago every so often to sharpen up his bits for his latest Jay Leno or Craig Ferguson appearance.

Check out this ten minute highlight reel (edited by yours truly). If you’re at work, watch the audio, though, since the show included a tribute to George Carlin’s “Seven Words” bit (and because we’re comedians) there are a few naughty words included.

[revver]http://revver.com/video/991330/chicago-underground-comedy-highlights-june-24-2008/[/revver]

If you like what you see, pop into our show some Tuesday at the Beat Kitchen (2100 W. Belmont). It’s well worth the $5.

The Mysterious Elephant and the Terrible Tragedy of the Unlikely Addington Twins (*Who Kill Him)

Nobody does plays like the Strange Tree Group does plays. How do you define the stuff these guys do? Just listen to the title of their newest work, written by Strange Tree’s resident playwright Emily Schwartz:

The Mysterious Elephant and the Terrible Tragedy of the Unlikely Addington Twins (*Who Kill Him).

There’s just no pigeonholing a title like that. An Edward Gorey vibe permeates everything they do, certainly. Like last year’s extraordinary Mr. Spacky . . . The Man Who Was Continuously Followed by Wolves, The Mysterious Elephant features heightened dialogue and a Victorianesque setting juxtaposed with hilarious musical numbers and a sly awareness that the characters are in fact in a play. After just two full-length productions, the Strange Tree Group have created a style (shall we call it Schwartzian?) that, should anyone else attempt something similar, they would be accused of ripping off Strange Tree.

The Mysterious Elephant introduces us to the Addington Twins, Esther and Edward (the well-matched Carol Enoch and Matt Holzfiend). These orphans have inherited a mansion from their recently deceased Aunt Ernestine (Jennifer Marschand, hilariously severe in a 180-degree turn from her role in Mr. Spacky a year ago). At the house the twins encounter a strange Narrator (Weston Davis) who has been chronicling the fortunes of the Addington family for centuries. The twins’ adventure introduces them to a number of their dead ancestors, most notably Christoff, a re-animated corpse who just wants to be loved. Scott Cupper’s scene-stealing turn here is one of the highlights of the show.

And of course they meet the titular Elephant, a giant clockwork beast and family heirloom. The elephant (yes, there is an elephant on stage) is a hell of a creation, with a patchwork design that makes it look like a giant, well-loved stuffed animal. It is actor-operated by Thomas Zeitner, who also plays accordian as part of the musical ensemble. When you see the show (are you going to see the show? Go see the show!) take a moment during intermission or something and get a look at the elephant up close. The layout of the space does not allow a really good view of it during the performance.

I’m always a fan when a show chooses to embrace the knowledge that its audience is watching a play, rather than try to cover its tracks and pretend it is a movie or something. The plot of The Mysterious Elephant takes that notion and runs with it, with all of its characters being keenly aware of the fact that they are characters, and that their fates depend upon the twists and turns of the story in which they find themselves. Director Carolyn Klein reinforces this in her staging, as when Mr. Zeitner is added ceremoniously to the elephant contraption during the overture.

The Strange Tree Group is, hands down, my favorite company in Chicago right now. Go see their show. It runs at the Chopin Theatre until July 19th. You won’t see anything like it anywhere else.

Another Shameless Act of Self-Promotion

Hey, everybody! Do you like pirates? (Is there anybody who DOESN’T like pirates?) How about revenge, blood, and general mayhem and murderousness?

You DO?!? Then you should come see my show! There’s swordfighting, and swashbucking, and more swordfighting! And me, being British. Again. I KNOW!

Backstage Theatre‘s Bloody Bess: A Tale of Piracy and Revenge opens next Friday, June 13th, at 7:30 at Gallery 37, 66 E. Randolph Street. Here are the complete details:

Bloody Bess: A Tale of Piracy and Revenge
conceived by Stuart Gordon
written by William J. Norris and John Ostrander
Directed by Geoff Coates

June 13-July 20, 2008
in association with DCA Theatre
The Storefront Theatre @ Gallery 37
66 East Randolph Street-Chicago

Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays @ 7:30pm
Sundays @ 3pm

To reserve tickets please call 312-742-TIXS (8497)
Or visit www.dcatheater.org

Tickets are $15-20.

Help me get on Comedy Central!!!

Don’t Spit the Water is going to Hollywood, CA to audition for Comedy Central. That’s right! We are an amused programmer away from being on basic cable which is my glib nonchalant way of hiding the excitement of possibly doing comedy for a living.

However, traveling to LA is expensive. And we don’t make any money doing the show in Chicago, and we don’t make gobs of money working for a (from left to right in the picture) homeless shelter, Chicago public radio, and the Chicago public school system. In case you were wondering, I’m the guy in the lucha libre mask sans shirt.

That means we need your help to make this trip less expensive for us. All you have to do is join us for drinking, eating, and karaoke at Trader Todd’s this Thursday 8pm-10pm for Blewt! Sings! Your $40 will help send us on our way to stardom and on your way to all you can drink and eat and sing. The crazy characters from Don’t Spit the Water (recently featured on WGN morning news) will be there performing special songs just for the night.

If you can’t make it out on Thursday, then go our website anyway and donate what you can to help us out. Help Chicago’s favorite live comedy game show become America’s favorite live comedy game show!

Volcanoes and Dragonflies — a review of Eddie Izzard: Stripped

On behalf of the city of Chicago I’d like to apologize to Eddie Izzard. Honestly, I don’t know what kind of show the crowd at the Chicago Theatre thought they were at Thursday night, but I don’t think Mr. Izzard intended it to involve quite so much audience participation. From the dork up in the balcony yelling out addendums to jokes told ten minutes earlier to the drunk woman somewhere on the main floor hollering punchlines to old routines now available on DVD, the crowd kept Mr. Izzard on his toes for the hour and forty-five minutes he held the stage.

Seriously, people. Shut the f**k up.

Mr. Izzard played along for most of the performance, but by the end of his main set the frustration was beginning to show. The energy and enthusiasm that powered early routines about giraffes communicating via coughing had visibly waned by the time he whipped out his iPhone to look up a word on Wikipedia. And while he did return for a very brief encore, his desire to get the hell off the stage was palpable.

Now, before you go thinking the show sucked, let me stop you right there. I laughed my ass off. The giraffe bit alone will make you wet your pants. And the iPhone gag was priceless. And pretty much every time God and Jesus had a conversation (you Eddie fans know what I mean) I drew dirty looks from the three old ladies in front of me. (I have a rather loud laugh. I will not apologize for it.)

Mr. Izzard’s social commentary grows more daring with each tour. This time around he basically admitted to being an Atheist (yay!), and much of his act focused on the absurdities of creationism (God spending the first four billion years making nothing but volcanoes) and the properties of evolution (Darwin’s book: “MonkeymonkeymonkeymonkeyYOU!”) If I had a criticism it would be that Mr. Izzard returns to specific subject matter from previous work too frequently. I’ve already heard Mr. Izzard talk about Noah’s ark, Europe’s crappy space program, America’s fascination with guns, and how the Greeks and Romans had stupid gods. He even brought up Noah’s big room for poo, and astronauts climbing ladders (again, Eddie fans know all about this). Perhaps this is why the audience feels comfortable shouting out old jokes: He’s not that far from telling them himself.

In Mr. Izzard’s defense, he did avoid a number of old standards. His James Mason and Sean Connery impressions did not make appearances, and his usual French segment was replaced by Latin, which over the course of the bit degraded to a hilariously unintelligible mishmash of various European languages. His trademark loose, making-it-up-as-he-goes delivery allowed him to weave the various audience interruptions into his act, usually with great success. And he tossed off the one plug of his show The Riches in such a comically ridiculous manner that nobody in their right mind could hold it against him.

No review of an Eddie Izzard show would be complete without answering the most important question: What was he wearing? Mr. Izzard’s penchant for women’s clothing is well-documented, but it only warranted one brief mention during Thursday’s performance. Instead he appeared in jeans, a t-shirt, and what I think was some sort of tuxedo jacket, complete with tails. In other words, he looked his normal groovy self.

In summary: It was a very good show, but not the great show I dreamed it could be. Part of that was the material, part of it was the audience. And in the audience’s defense, it wasn’t like everybody was shouting out stuff non-stop. But the few who did feel the need to be part of the performance definitely made their presence felt.

And maybe I’m wrong. Maybe Mr. Izzard thrives on such interaction. But that was not the vibe I got Thursday night.

And, if I may insert one other teensy-weensy little gripe right in here: If your ticket says Main Floor, Row D, you’d assume you were pretty close to the front, right? I know I did. So did the people sitting near me. So did the little map on Ticketmaster’s website that showed where my seat was. But it lied.

Huzzah! (For Now)

According to Sun-Times columnist Jim DeRogatis’ blog, the “Event Promoters ordinance” has been tabled, at least temporarily. Alderman Eugene Schulter, Chairman of the City Council License Committee, decided not to present the ordinance to the full council after meeting with members of the Chicago Music Commission and local promoters and venue owners. According to Mr. DeRogatis’ blog the ordinance will return to committee for at least another month, during which time the committee will hear more input from the public.

I note that it is the local music community that has taken the reigns here, and I applaud them for it. I would like to remind the theatre and stand-up scenes that they have a stake here as well, and they need to make sure their representatives have a place at the table while this ordinance is reworked.

Well done, everybody who voiced their concerns.

City Council Votes on Event Promoters Ordinance Tomorrow!

The Event Promoters ordinance will go before the city council at 10:00 AM, Wednesday, May 14th. I received an e-mail about a campaign to flood city hall with opponents of this ordinance. The campaign is being organized through The Point, and the goal is for 100 people to commit to attending the council meeting tomorrow. Save Chicago Culture will present a petition opposing the ordinance at the meeting.

Because the proposal was fast-tracked through committee, the Chicago arts community has had very little time to respond. I, for one, will be attending the council meeting tomorrow. If you care about preserving Chicago’s theatre, music and comedy I expect to see you there too. If you can’t make it, please e-mail your alderman today and express your opinion.

Otherwise, I suppose you could just pay a hundred bucks a pop and go see Wicked again.

The Event Promoters’ Ordinance

Well, this is appalling.

This Wednesday the city council votes on the so-called “Event Promoters’ ordinance.” If this thing passes it could mean that any artist wishing to produce or promote his own work would have to pay up to $2,000 for a license. He or she would have to be over the age of 21, must get fingerprinted, submit to a background check, and inform the police seven days in advance of an event. This ordinance is aimed directly at small venues and new artists who have yet to develop an audience. Larger spaces that seat over 500 — in other words, places that can actually afford the license — are exempt.

The weblog Save Chicago Culture is collecting signatures in opposition to the ordinance. On their site you can find a .pdf of the complete text of the ordinance, as well as links to the city council site, and your local alderman. The Sun-Times’ Jim DeRogatis has an in-depth analysis on his blog.

The problem is, blogs are the only place this thing has gotten any attention. So, if you don’t want to lose the Double Door, Schuba’s, Martyrs’, the Vic, the Riv or the Metro, get a message to your alderman at once.

I Can’t Hear You! I STILL Can’t Hear You!

My ears are ringing.

Last night at the House of Blues the wife and I finally saw the Ministry concert I wrote about getting tickets for a few months ago. At that time it was the first of two final U.S. shows for the band; it became the first of four. For those of you who are interested, there are apparently still tickets available for Sunday.

I must confess, I am getting old. No more jumping around in the pit for this guy. We found comfortable seats along the rail in the mezzanine section, near the bar. We had a great view, and managed to avoid all the crap getting thrown around down on the main floor. Being slightly removed from the action did not stop me from getting up and doing a little headbanging when the moment called for it though. Now, of course, my neck is sore. Like I said, I am getting old.

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Campaign Supernova!, or How Many Democrats Does It Take to Lose an Election

Last night I saw a preview for the new Second City e.t.c. show, Campaign Supernova!, or How Many Democrats Does It Take to Lose an Election. It was Friends and Family night, ’cause that’s how I roll. (Actually, my wife works there.) I have a number of friends who are involved with Second City in some capacity, so I find myself seeing shows there on a semi-regular basis. Last night I saw probably the best SC show I have ever seen.

In the late ’60s my dad went to high school on the South Side and he used to go to Second City shows all the time. He told me once that he regretted never auditioning or taking classes there himself. When he comes into town nowadays we try to get over there and see whatever’s going on. He still loves it, but he has often wondered what happened to their “edge.” I wasn’t sure what he meant. I mean, all of their shows are topical, address current politics, whatever.

Then came last night, and suddenly I think I know what my dad has been talking about.

The lights came up, they grabbed the crowd by the balls and did not let go. It was relentless. I hurt myself laughing. But even better, there were moments when this cast dared not to be funny. One scene involved the female cast members jumping back and forth between a trio of Lincoln Park trixies at a gym and three Middle-Eastern women torn by war and oppression. The overall effect made the whole wide-eyed audience sit up and say, “Yikes.” But in a really, really good way.

The theme of the evening focused on normal Americans’ desire to do good in the world, and how that desire is tempered by the temptations and necessities of living in modern America. A stand-out scene centered on a couple on their wedding day, their relationship strained by the effort of making everything socially conscious, while secretly they yearn for overpriced-yet-useless knickknacks from Crate and Barrel.

The cast worked together with a precision rarely seen in sketch comedy. The musical moments and choreography were sharply executed, and every performer had stand-out moments. The closing moments in particular held moments of poignancy and hilarity combined.

Also, there are paper mache puppets. You know you don’t want to miss that.

Campaign Supernova!, or How Many Democrats Does It Take to Lose an Election officially opens Thursday, May 8. (Yes, I copy-and-pasted the title just then. I’m not typing that beast twice.)

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