Last Thursday night I had a show at the Congress Theater in Chicago. I lived in the Chicago area for a year and have a kind of love/hate relationship with the city. Thursday was a good example of this relationship.
The Congress is one of those big city theaters that has seen better days, but there’s so much original beauty from when it was built that it still has a lot of charm. The ceilings and balcony at the Congress are especially beautiful. Located in the Logan Square part of Chicago it is one of those areas where hipsters live right next to a gritty part of the city. Great setting for a once in a lifetime show.
So that’s the backdrop for the show. Over the past year on a monthly basis the Congress had brought in some top comics to perform at the theater. Todd Barry, Jimmy Pardo, Dan Cummins, Ted Alexandro, are some of the names that have come in over the past year. Here’s a secret that many people have no idea about. Just because you have had a comedy central special or been on all the late night talk shows, doesn’t mean you are going to be a big draw on just your name alone. This is especially tricky in a market like Chicago where it’s nearly impossible to get on the radio or TV to promote…their stations have so many big name celebrities coming through town and they have a larger audience, so they don’t give airtime out easily.
Knowing this I was a little nervous about getting people to show up. I have a decent fanbase/friends in the area, but a Thursday night in the city can be a little problematic for many of them who are spread out across the suburbs. I don’t think it helped that the biggest comedy festival the city has seen, Just for Laughs, had just wrapped up the week before. I tried like hell to get on a couple sports radio stations that I had some connections to, but got back responses of either no or we would like to bring you in during a slower time. (Sox/Cubs series was going on.)
I’m happy to say that the turnout was better than I expected. The lineup was a good one with Ryan Budds, Pablo Rodriguez, and Pat Tomasulo doing good sets before me. Comedian Scott King did a great job of hosting the show, as it was bit rowdy, especially during the beginning. The theater was pretty warm inside it, which combined with the lighting, had the other comics commenting about it being the hottest stage they had ever performed on. Considering I was doing more than double the time that they were doing, I knew I was going to be sweating like a Kinison brother at a Tulsa tent revival. Knowing this I brought a roll of paper towels on stage, which I used for comedic effect to occasional roll the sweat off my brow. I’m not above using props to cool me off.
Since it was so warm, the theater had opened the doors outside. This was a good idea, until the loudest thunder I’ve ever heard started cracking. Pretty hard to ignore, so I started incorporating it into my show. I tried to get punchlines in and then wait for the lightning to hit during the space, so I could comment on how God must not like that joke. I can’t say I have used weather as a straight man before during my show, but it was fun. Nothing I could say was going to be as funny as just commenting on God’s responses that was happening outside.
Just when the lightning strikes seemed to have subsided and I mentioned that I had worn God out, an incredible hail storm ensued. At this point, the doors had been shut, but the sound was the most deafening thing I’ve ever had on-stage. It made me wonder that the Congress Theater must have a tin roof, as it truly sounded like the ceiling was going to collapse from the mortar fire of the hail. It was so loud I had a hard time hearing myself think, so it was not a great 5 minutes of the show, as I knew the audience had to be distracted, as well. You know how athletes thank God for helping them win the game. Well, after the show one of the audience members asked me about it–like it was a postgame interview–and I told them I felt like I could blame God for my performance. God sent me a text later which read–Your standup was so funny that night I stopped watching 2 and Half Men. Don’t know if that is a compliment or not?
Thanks to Steve Scap for the video link!
Overall, the show was a success for me. The audience after the show was really enthusiastic and it was great getting to hang with some of the comics after the show. Scott King and Ryan Budds have become friends of mine and my good buddy Josh Alton came out to the show, so that added to my enjoyment of the night. Comedy is a super competitive business, as there are only so many gigs available, so it’s a rare show when you feel everyone is are rooting for the whole show to go well. It was a night of Comedians in Comedy Fly-Over Country being part of a memorable show.