The Steamroller's best of 2013

My favorite part of doing this website is getting to spotlight the work being done by the most talented people in the hugely exciting and talented Chicago comedy community. I reached out to a bunch of these people and other friends of The Steamroller to share their top five favorite people, places, and things from Chicago comedy 2013. Check out a huge list of top fives, as well as my personal list, below!

Matt Byrne

Favorite thing: The Late Live Show

This shouldn't be a shock to anyone familiar with The Steamroller. The Late Live Show was the best comedy show of any kind in Chicago, and now it lives in L.A., where Real Actual Famous People are guests (like Mad Men's Rich Sommer and Freaks and Geeks' Samm Levine). The final run of shows earlier this year at iO were some of the funniest, most well-executed nights of comedy I've ever seen; it was so exciting to see a collective with such a strong, specific comedic voice come into their own in front of packed houses week after week. They're coming back next month for a handful of shows at iO and SketchFest, and I couldn't be more excited.

Favorite festival: A Jangleheart Circus

I can't believe how perfect A Jangleheart Circus was. On paper, a three day festival of improv and sketch from over 100 (mostly local) independent teams and performers might sound well intentioned but ultimately unrealistic. In real life, it was electrifying proof of the power of Chicago's underground improv comedy scene. Endless congratulations are due to the festivals' organizers, Alex, Walt, and Caitlin, the folks responsible for making the Upstairs Gallery the palace of comedy it is. Jangleheart packed an unbelievable number of friendly, clued-in comedy people (performers and fans alike) into one venue, filling out shows on three separate stages, distilling everything that's cool and energizing about SketchFest into one no bullshit Summer weekend.

Favorite one-off/concept show: Henry Soapfloats' Funeral/HIJINKS November (tie)

I've written a whole bunch about both Hijinks (the monthly show produced by Two Bunnies Eating Flowers and Sovereign at the Public House Theater) and Henry Soapfloats' funeral (organized by local standup Ian Abramson) on here, so, again, this should come as no surprise. Ian Abramson's Funeral For A Prop Comic was a delightfully absurd, fully realized vision put on in a death trap of a basement, featuring some of the funniest, strangest up-and-coming standups in the city flexing their solo sketch muscles.

I posted a breathless wrapup of The HIJINKS Trolley Show earlier this month, and want to reiterate one last time that it was one of the most delightful things I'd ever seen, made all the more special considering of the pitch-black darkness the two teams behind HIJINKS are generally known for. It felt like one of those shows that, in 15 years, 300 people will talk about as if they were there. They weren't.

Favorite internet thing: Garfbert

Yes Yes Garfbert Yes!

Favorite audience member: Fard Muhammad/Katie McVay (tie)

Fard and Katie are two of the biggest assets to any audience in Chicago. The effect of Fard's tremendous, purely delighted laugh, which can be heard soundtracking most, if not all footage from the Late Live Show (normally punctuated by Andrew Smreker's shrieks of joy), is amplified tenfold by his unwavering proclivity for grabbing a seat in the (normally vacant) front row at every comedy show.

It goes without saying that Katie's one of my favorite comics working in Chicago right now, with perspective that perfectly vacillates between crippling self-consciousness and a total lack thereof. As an audience member, she's often struck by fits of boisterous laughter so ridiculous and sincere, that fellow audience members are enabled to comfortably indulge in their own unhinged enjoyment, which is an incredible thing to watch happen.

First Annual Steamroller Honorary Lifetime Achievement Award: The Lincoln Lodge

Had the window for best of submissions not closed a few days before it was announced that The Lincoln Restaurant was closing and thus The Lincoln Lodge was suddenly cast out into the void, in search of a new home base, most of the lists below would look a lot different.

I'm working on a longer thing about The Lodge's enduring influence and continued greatness, but for now, I'm going to have to speak for all those on this list and beyond: The Lincoln Lodge was (and is, it's not dead) an incredibly important, reliably awesome home for weird, interesting comedy in Chicago throughout the 21st century. Lodge Papa Mark Geary, along with his myriad cast members, worked to create something wholly unique and good. I'm confident that they will find a new home and continue to support and create great comedy well into the future.

Read More

Interview: Brian McGovern of the Mike's Hard's Hard Laughs Festivade Sketch Comedy Festival

Brian McGovern, formerly of the popular local sketch team The Other Other Guys, is one of the curators behind the Mike's Hard's Hard Laughs Festivade Sketch Comedy Festival, which takes over the Upstairs Gallery tomorrow, (Saturday 1/12). The lineup features performances from Sovereign, TV Screams, Morgan Lord & Anthony Oberbeck, Claire Mulaney, Gary Richardson, and John Reynolds, plus drink specials from mixologist Carmen Christopher.

The Steamroller: What's your relationship with the Chicago comedy scene (and the sketch scene in particular)?
Brian McGovern: I love the sketch scene in the city. It's a deceptively small group of super hard-working people. When you see 10,000 performers from 2,000 groups are performing at Chicago Sketchfest it makes it seem like sketch is this booming, over-saturated thing. But then you look at the lineup, and see the people and groups that are out there hustling for the 50 other weeks in the year, maybe like a dozen stick out from that list. I want the sketch scene to be more vibrant and be populated by 10,000 people, but it seems like a lot of performers need a big festival, or a contest, or an audition to feel motivated to write anything.
That's the real scene to me. And admittedly I'm excluding what might be just as awesome of a community by not including whatever is happening in the minor leagues of Second City, but I'm most interested in people who are at it all the time, pushing past singing about relationship clichés, or performing sketches called "Crazy Blind Date" and "The Third Thing I'm Going to Say Is Going to Be the Funniest, I Promise You." Not that those can't work. I mean guys, blind dates ARE crazy... and the third thing is ALWAYS the funniest.
TS: You were a member of The Other Other Guys, a team that a lot of folks were fans of, what was the reasoning behind your dissolution last year?
BM: Two founding members, Eric Roth and Eric Siegel, moved to L.A. I think it was good timing though. We had been developing a style and voice since we started working together and we really hit our stride while doing The Other Other Show at iO. Every month was new and the shows became less about making sketches and more about trying to pull off these absurd, sprawling narratives. I loved it, but it felt appropriate to retire that before it destroyed us or got stale.
TS: What are you working on these days?
BM: I am working on a show with Devin Bockrath (also from The Other Other Guys) that will run at iO in February. It will be crazy. I'm also directing a show by the sketch duo Sovereign that starts on Jan. 18 at CIC. There will be nudity.
I am also the least funny and confident cast member at Holy Fuck Comedy Hour at Annoyance and I run a weekly sketch variety show at CIC called All of It All the Time with Mike Klasek. I haven't really contributed much to this site, but you can see my headshot at
TS: You work for Jellyvision writing for You Don't Know Jack, what's an average day for you like over there?
BM: Sorry, I just got distracted thinking about how crazy blind dates are. Think of all the personality quirks that person might have! And you wouldn't know until you get to the restaurant! Not only that, but there could be a waiter that is both unrealistically sassy AND attentive!
Anyways, an average day at Jellyvision consists of reminding people they can play YOU DON'T KNOW JACK on Facebook and their Apple Devices!!! Lately though I've mostly been working on this new game that everyone will love.
TS: What was the inspiration for Mike's Hard's Hard Laughs Festivade Sketch Comedy Festival? Is there a common thread connecting the various performers on the lineup?
BM: I brought up Sketchfest earlier and the only reason I'm bringing it up again is because the common thread of this show is that nearly all of it's performers had to politely decline the opportunity to perform at Sketchfest. We would have paid the $50 it costs to apply. We would have bugged our friends to pay $14 to see us play. We would have sold out shows for multiple years in the past only to be denied from performing at this year's festival. We would have done all of that, but then I got a call from Mike's Hard Lemonade.
TS: How did you come to work with Mike's Hard?
BM: Mike's Hard Lemonade is a great company. Mike's Hard is really dedicated to supporting local artists who exhibit the same HARD EDGE and BITING ATTITUDE that is consistent with their brand. All of the performers at the Festivade (including John Reynolds, TV Screams, Sovereign, Gary Richardson, and Morgan Lord & Anthony Oberbeck) all perform refreshing and thirst-quenching sketch comedy that leaves you feeling as good as you would feel after taking a shot of grain alcohol filtered through a stack of tangy Airheads.
So when their head of alternative-marketing, Margaret Demonvessel, called me up I was honestly surprised at being surprised. It really is the perfect fit for a perfect night of comedy. So they graciously gave us the funds to put up the show at Upstairs Gallery ($10,000) and the rest is Hard-story (which is Mike's Hard Lemonade's edgy-revisionist view of history).
Anthony Oberbeck said it best when I approached him about performing, "If life gives you hard things, make hard lemonade." And let me tell you, this Festivade is going to be standing at attention, ready to chip a tooth.
TS: What can an audience member expect when coming out to the show this weekend?
BM: Because of Mike's Hard Lemonade's generous ($10,000) donation, people can expect to see FREE comedy at Upstairs Gallery starting at 8 p.m. They can also expect a couple of folks from the Mike's Hard Lemonade company popping in to talk about the product and why it's always been the most important part of the alternative comedy scene, even if no one has known it.
The head of mixology from Mike's Hard Lemonade, Carmen Christopher, will be there teaching everyone how dope mixed drinks can be once they get hard, Mike's-style. Also the P.R. extraordinaire, Margaret Demonvessel (who looks an awful like local comedian/improviser Claire Mulaney) will also be there. Basically it will be the best night of sketch comedy this two week period in January has ever seen. And that's a hard promise.