Archive for August, 2008

The Berlin Heart

On July 29th Tiana Tillman, infant daughter of Chicago Bears cornerback Charles “Peanut” Tillman, became the first person in the state of Illinois to receive a device called the Berlin Heart. According to this article, the device is a small pump controlled by a laptop that allows more time for patients in need of a transplant. It has not yet been approved by the FDA. Tiana Tillman, who suffered from cardiomyopathy, received a transplant and was released from the hospital earlier this week. Today Charles Tillman held a press conference to raise awareness of the Berlin Heart, and to encourage organ donation.

I just thought it was a nice story.

MST3K in the CHI

Technically it’s not Mystery Science Theater 3000 (MST3K for the uninitiated), but, rather, Cinematic Titanic which is just as awesome.

Cinematic Titanic comes from the creator and star of MST3K, Joel Hodgson, and has MST3Ks cast and crew of Trace Beaulieu, J. Elvis Weinstein, Frank Conniff, and Mary Jo Pehl. They continue their amazing talent (and it is a talent) of hilariously talking over really bad movies. So far they have done three films as Cinematic Titanic, BUT they will not be doing those three movies. These guys will be riffing over three completely NEW unreleased movies when they come to Chicago in December!

You probably need to know the where and when. This will all be happening at The Lakeshore Theater on December 18th – 20th. Five shows, three movies, and lifetime of regret for any MST3K fan that does not attend at least one of these. I’m saving up my $35 per show so I can see all three. In the meantime, I’ll have to just watch this Cinematic Titanic preview over and over again:


Ted Butterman’s Cubs Dixieland Band

I was at the Cubs game yesterday doing video work for a project, and I grabbed a few moments of Ted Butterman’s Cubs Dixieland Band, who nearly brought a tear to my eye.

My late Uncle Jim Snyder, who lived and worked in Chicago for all of his adult life, was widely regarded as the best Dixieland trombonist in the world. He began playing as a teenager, joined the now legendary Salty Dogs at Purdue University in the 1950’s, toured the world for decades, and recorded dozens of albums. He was a very sweet man who passed away shortly before I moved to Chicago.

At his funeral, his fellow musicians testified that his love for his art was so powerful that simply playing with him made them all better musicians. At that time I was still struggling with a long-delayed desire to finally move from my hometown to Chicago pursue writing and comedy, and witnessing the effect that my uncle’s love for his music had on his life and those of others was very inspiring to me.

But I digress. Here’s a bit of Ted Butterman’s Cubs Dixieland Band:


As an added bonus, I’m going to include this 1991 clip of Uncle Jimmy performing at Fitzgerald’s in Berwyn, Illinois, with the Chicago Salty Dogs. As the videographer admits, the picture quality isn’t great, but I defy you to listen to this tune and not find your toes tapping a happy little rhythm:


Superior Dounts


I’m about to be a horrible tease — Superior Donuts is only playing at Steppenwolf through this Sunday (August 24) and tickets are very hard to come by. But it’s an amazing piece of theater and if there’s any way you can see it, you should.

Arthur Przybyszewski (Michael McKean) runs a donut shop in Uptown that his father opened nearly 60 years ago. In walks Franco Wicks (Jon Michael Hill), a brash young African-American man who talks himself in a job. With just a few other characters, a neighborhood is sketched in. The plot is minimal, and perhaps the few missteps of the play are when it tries too hard to give “stakes” to the action — I would have been happy to just watch those characters talk and learn about their lives. And, delightfully, it’s hilarious. And so very, very Chicago. I give it 10 stars and 5 thumbs up!

(Donuts photo by ReneS)

Two Chances to Laugh and Raise Money for Charity

What could be an easier way to contribute to charity then watch a comedy show? How about if that show has some of Chicago’s best stand-up comedians in it. Boom! I’m sold.

This Friday at 9 PM, amazing Chicago comedian Carrie Callahan will be hosting a benefit comedy show called “Easier Then Running a Marathon”. It takes place at the Lincoln Restaurant (home of the famous comedy showcase The Lincoln Lodge) at 4008 N. Lincoln. The cost is only $10 and all proceeds go to AIDS research.

Then, Saturday is “Angel’s Farewell Show”. This is a send off to much beloved Chicago comedy super-fan Angel Busque. The show will feature her favorite Chicago comedians which means for only $10 you can see Jason Fever [The Mockumentals], Brian Potrafka [Doug Stanhope’s The Unbookables, author of “Small & Wrong”], Dan Kaufman (The Bob & Tom Show), Sean Flannery (producer and co-host of the Internet radio talk show the Visitors Locker Room), David Kovac (Performed at the request of Mayor Richard M. Daley for the 73rd Annual U.S. Conference of Mayors), Ricky Carmona (HBO Latino), Brendan McGowan (Chicago Underground Comedy), CJ Sullivan (Visitors Locker Room, Chicago Tribune’s Red Eye), Renee Gauthier (Victoria Beckham: Coming to America), Cayne Collier (producer of Chicago’s longest running stand-up showcase, the Elevated), hosted by local favorite Bradley Fojas (NBC’s Stand Up for Diversity). Plus, all the money goes toward Lupus Foundation of America, Illinois Chapter. Doors for this show open at 7:30 and the show starts at 8 PM.

Want to see "Sexy Jesus"?

Sure. Why not?

Then head over to Stage Left Theater on Saturday at 12:30am to see comedy group pH Productions show pHRENZY pHUCKED which will be hosted by Sexy Jesus from the new movie Hamlet 2.

Tonight, the talented cast of pH will begin their Hamlet 2 theme by doing their hit comedy show pHamily The Musical as the West Mesa High School Drama Department from the movie. The Friday show starts at 11pm at Stage Left Theater (3408 N Sheffield Ave), and both shows are $10.

Private Karaoke

Lincoln Karaoke

I’ve been hearing for years about private room karaoke – establishments where instead of singing your favorite AM hits in front of a group of drunken strangers, you have a small room all to yourself, so you’re singing in front of five or six drunken friends. But it was only just a few weeks ago that I was finally dragged into one by a friend’s birthday.

I’ve never been a big fan of regular karaoke. I mean, I’ve been cajoled into getting up and singing before, but it’s not an activity I’d choose for an outing. But somehow when I was in a tiny room at Lincoln Karaoke (5526 N Lincoln), I was punching songs into the karaoke controller with wild abandon.

That’s one factor to the appeal of the karaoke room, I think. Instead of being at the mercy of a karaoke DJ and waiting for hours to sing a song, you’re programming in a set list yourself. And with just six people in the room, you’re singing every fifteen minutes or so. And with no dull stares from strangers, even the worst introvert can be persuaded to get up and sing a Britney song or two.

Lincoln Karaoke has small, medium, and large rooms. We were in a medium, which meant we had a couch and two love seats, a big screen TV with a Korean karaoke computer attached, and a party-lights ball near the ceiling. The songbooks featured a large selection of Korean songs, a modest section of English-language tracks, and then a hefty J-Pop section, which included another random six to ten English songs on each page. There’s a full bar (try the Soju!) and a selection of Korean foods from the kitchen. I had an order of kalbi (Korean short ribs) which were tasty, but slightly over-priced for the amount, I thought. On Fridays and Saturdays, renting a medium or large room comes with a minimum bar tab, but they’re willing to negotiate — we were there earlyish on a slow Friday night and they waived the minimum.


ATM working
I think there’s really just a person inside making beeping noises and handing out $20s.

Bernie Mac, 1957-2008


Chicago comedian Bernie Mac died this morning of complications from pneumonia. He was 50 years old.

The comic born Bernard Jeffrey McCullough could cut an imposing figure. He stood 6-foot-3, was built like a fullback and carried himself with a bouncer’s reticence. But perhaps the strongest weapon in the Chicago comedian’s arsenal was that voice, that amalgam of thought and a delivery that could rise like a tidal wave, outpace a Gatling gun and remained, to his last days, loud and unapologetic.

He wasn’t scared, he told us time and again, to tell anyone what he thought, to say what others were afraid to say. That fearlessness wasn’t always welcome, considering Mac didn’t get his big break until his 30s. But when he did, the comic skyrocketed to success in stand-up, television and the big screen. [Chicago Tribune]

(Video via Maximum Fun)

Who the Heck is Caleb Hanie?

The Bears’ first preseason game ended in a 24-20 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs. Of course, being preseason, the final score is less important than individual and situational performances. Judging on this one game, we’ve got a little ways to go.

Our first-team defense was awfully shaky, giving up a touchdown on the first drive. This in spite of safety Mike Brown’s return after his third season-ending injury.

The big question of the night was which QB would win the starting job? Neither Kyle Orton nor Rex Grossman did anything to distinguish themselves as the front-runner. Orton showed a little more poise, completing 7 of 10 passes, but fumbled the ball on a scramble. Grossman got tripped up once by his own guard, but did manage to get a touchdown. In fairness, however, running back Garrett Wolfe did most of the work on that play.

Of the Bears quarterbacks who received playing time last night, the one who really caught my attention was Caleb Hanie, a rookie out of Colorado State. He played the majority of the second half and showed a great deal of awareness in the pocket. I was impressed by his instincts on a few scrambles after the pocket collapsed. He managed over a hundred yards passing, although his completion percentage was just over fifty percent. However, I believe that percentage would have been improved had he been throwing to first-team receivers. If the Bears’ starting QB job really is an open competition I hope this guy gets a shot at it. At the very least, given the nature of the position in this city, I would not be surprised if he got some decent playing time this season.

The other important event for the Bears yesterday was, of course, the trading of Brett Favre to the Jets. This is significant to us only because Favre, who has a 22-10 record against the Bears, is going from a team that plays the Bears twice a year to a team that isn’t even in the same conference. There will be a lot of talk for a while about how stupid the Packers were to let him go, but frankly I feel like it was Favre’s prima donna antics that got him shipped to New York. A massive amount of work, time and money go into preparing a team for an upcoming season, and for the last several years Favre has toyed with the Packers management, playing will-he-or-won’t-he come back for one more shot. You can’t wait until a couple of weeks before the season starts and then expect a team to drop all their plans for you, even if you’re Brett Favre. Couple that with his unreasonable expectations regarding his input in the management of the team (he threw a hell of a fit when the Packers ignored his advice and did not sign Randy Moss a year ago), and I can see why the Green Bay organization was ready for a change. And hey, the fresh start might be good for Favre, too.

It’ll be a relief not to have to face him twice a year anymore.

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