Think Tank presents Celebrity Intervention

The Chicago-based independent sketch collective Think Tank recently released Celebrity Intervention, an absurd, moody short film that explores horrors of identity. It features several Think Tank members, as well as the delightfully silly Chad Briggs. Think Tank will be performing their new sketch show every Sunday in June at the Den Theatre in Wicker Park. Check their website for more information as the shows approach!

The Year in Review

Now that the year is (almost) officially over, I figured a wrapup of some of my favorite things from 2012 would be something worth writing. The Steamroller was launched in September, but I've been a fan of the folks featured on this site for much longer. What follows is a list of Chicago comedy-related things that were great in 2012.

Best local comedy podcast
This one is a tie. My jealousy of the brilliantly simple concept behind the Standup Mixtape is on record in the Chicago Tribune and continues to this day. Co-producers Cameron Esposito and Justin Schwier brought comedy into the recording studio, Good One style, for great sounding half-hour sets from some of my favorite local acts to be podcasted and sold as limited run cassettes. They just recently wrapped up their first season, hopefully we'll see another run in 2013.

Shortly before James Fritz left Chicago for the greener pastures of Los Angeles, his podcast You Could Be Dead was regularly topping itself with each episode. The show's threadbare concept (Fritz and a couple friends riff on a handful of current events and news items) occasionally devolved into insane bits of transcendent silliness. The show's on hiatus for the time being, but there are some real gems worth checking out from the couple dozen episodes produced. Some personal favorites include episodes from 9/28/12 (with The Puterbaugh Sisters), 9/10/12 (with Chad Briggs), 7/16/12 (with Jet Eveleth & Erin Foy),  and 7/11/12 (with Joe McAdam and Danny Kallas). Though some of the topics discussed may be old news at this point, the bits make it totally worth it.

Best new standup album
Look, another tie! Adam Burke's Universal Squirrel Theory and Beth Stelling's Sweet Beth were two of my favorite standup albums without qualification this year. That these two are from Chicago speaks volumes for the depth of talent working in this city.

I'm sure we can all agree that the concept of "nerd comedy" is pretty repellent on its surface. That being said, Universal Squirrel Theory is comedy written by an uncompromisingly smart person, with highbrow references and turns of phrase free of any self-congratulation, making for a sort of best case scenario nerd humor. Burke's charm and smarts are unrivaled in Chicago comedy, and we're lucky to have him.

While Beth Stelling is technically an L.A. resident at this point, this record's too strong to go without mention in this piece. Sweet Beth showcases her endless likability and short form storytelling chops. The album's perfectly capped off with ten minutes of riffing with her former Entertaining Julia cohosts, The Puterbaugh Sisters, making for a charming close to a very strong debut record.

Best trend that should continue into the new year
2012 has seen a ton of new shows in nontraditional venues. While shows like The Lincoln Lodge and The Kates have been carrying the weird venue torch for years at this point, there's been a slew of awesome standup showcases popping up in places that aren't bars throughout Chicago.

The folks behind Congratulations on Your Success, The Funny Story Show, Performance Anxiety, and Creative Control (which I help produce [full disclosure]), have taken to bookstores, tea lounges, sex shops, and record stores, respectively, producing donation based, BYOB shows that are generally free of aggro douchebags and bar minimums. Keep it up, everyone.

Best festival that local club owners & talent buyers should learn something from
While Chicago is second-to-none in creating, developing, and fostering comedic talent, it's not exactly known for bringing through a lot of huge names after they've blown up. For two weeks in June, Just For Laughs approximates what it'd be like if Chicago clubs were actually interested in regularly booking unique, creative comedy shows.

If a character based panel show hosted by a conspiracy-obsessed Jesse Ventura (James Adomian) can sell out The Hideout with essentially zero advertising or promotion beyond the JFL website, there's no reason live podcast tapings and other idea-driven shows from medium-famous comedy folks wouldn't do just as well at venues like Lincoln Hall or Up with the proper promotion.

While I understand that a lot of these shows happen in NY and LA because the folks producing them live there and don't necessarily have to make a boatload of cash from each show, Just For Laughs has proved there is a base of comedy fans in Chicago willing to pay to see their favorite comedians (as well as unfamiliar faces) perform in nontraditional shows.

That is not to discount the work already being done here in the city; it's absolutely great that weird, conceptual shows like Impress These Apes, Shame That Tune, and The Late Live Show exist. They help local performers stretch their muscles in ways open mics and showcases don't and are generally a shitload of fun.

The folks from the Tomorrow Never Knows festival are leading the charge in 2013 for more nontraditional live comedy shows from recognizable names, by welcoming back the Delocated Witness Protection Program Variety Show after a ridiculous JFL show, as well as a Low Times Podcast taping and a straightforward standup show featuring Kurt Braunohler and Cameron Esposito. I, for one, am planning on hitting up all three. Maybe I'll see you there.

42 x 42 #2

The folks behind the Two Hour Comedy Hour, a weekly showcase at the Gallery Cabaret in Bucktown, are hosting a second round of their insane 42 x 42 showcase, which offers 42 comics the chance at 42 seconds of stage time. I love this idea, it's like a handpicked open mic night that puts the performers in a really strange position, forcing them to adapt or completely reinvent their sets to fit into this narrow time frame.

The full lineup is far too long to list here (check the Facebook event for that), but includes some Steamroller favorites, including Anthony McBrien and Katie McVay from Yell You Better, Joe McAdam and Charlie Bury from The Late Live Show, and Caitlin Bergh from The Funny Story Show.

The count will be bumped up to an even 50 by the evening's hosts and co-producers, Emily Lake and Andy Fleming, and the five headliners, Chad Briggs, Danny Kallas, The Puterbaugh Sisters (they count as two) and Katie McVay, each performing for a less ADD-friendly amount of time.

The show is next Saturday, November 3rd at 7pm and has a $5 suggested donation.

Creative Control: October

I'm happy to play a small role in the production of Creative Control, the monthly variety show Joe McAdam's been producing at saki (the record shop/distro in Logan Square that I call a workplace) since earlier this year. Joe has brought in of my favorite performers and does an incredible job setting the tone for a loose but engaging show each month. October's edition is next Friday, and, in observance of the Halloween season, will be an all-character showcase, featuring performances from some of the biggest weirdos going.

The lineup is as follows:
Chad Briggs
Rebecca O'Neal
Martin Morrow
Jamie Campbell
Joe Fernandez
Kris Simmons
Angela Vela
Sketches from Think Tank
Musical guests Soft Candy

Paul Hornschemeier, an artist and graphic novel author whose work I've been a fan of for years, designed the poster for the show. You might recognize his work from the intro to IFC's Comedy Bang! Bang! The fact that this dude works with us totally blows my mind, and if you're lucky you might be able to pick up a copy of the poster at the show. Paul also has shirts featuring the delightfully cryptic Creative Control logo for sale at his webstore. You should buy one and support this fantastically talented dude.

Below is a clip from an earlier Creative Control, featuring Joe squaring off against Dr. Nick Chicken, and is a pretty perfect example of why I love this show.

IMBG: The International Movie Betting Game

I like game shows. Now, honestly, I don’t watch many these days, but I definitely like the idea of them. My favorites are the panel-style shows (Hollywood Squares, Match Game, etc.), where the game itself takes a back seat to the banter from the celebrity guests.

That's why I’m very excited to be involved with IMBG: The International Movie Betting Game. I help produce events at saki , a record store in Logan Square, and next Thursday, October 18th, we’re presenting the show in the luxurious Schubas Upstairs Lounge. It's a game show inspired by a series of events we've had at the store in the past called Predictive Gaming for Substandard Films, but has been tweaked to the point that a name change was in order.

The gist of the game is this: we’re screening a terrible rock’n’roll themed movie (it is presented by a record store, after all), and several times throughout the screening, we’re going to pause the movie and pose a multiple choice question to our two contestants about what’s about to happen onscreen. A panel will offer their advice to the contestants, who will then give their answer, along with a point wager. The answer will then present itself onscreen, to the delight/despair of everyone. This process will repeat itself several times.

IMBG is hosted by Joe McAdam, a frequent collaborator with saki (he also hosts and produces the store’s monthly variety show, Creative Control), and features a panel of local funny people, including Chad Briggs, Cullen Crawford, Bill Cruz, and Katie McVay.

The show is at 7pm next Thursday, October 18th, in the Schubas Upstairs Lounge, and is totally free.

If you’re interested in being a contestant, write us at