Interview: Drew Michael

Drew Michael is one of my favorite standups in the city, his incisive, thoughtful point of view could lapse into shameless provocation if he wasn't also incredibly funny. I Might Be Wrong, his new podcast, is an extension of his onstage explorations of taboos, morality, and his own personal idiosyncrasies. I talked to Drew about the show, as well as the acclaimed Comedians You Should Know showcase he co-produces, and his plans for the future (he's planning on moving sooner than later). I Might Be Wrong is available now on iTunes, you can read more about the show and check out his endless tour dates on his website.

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Interview: Danny Kallas

Danny Kallas recently announced he's planning to record his first stand up album in March of 2013 here in Chicago. Kallas is a guy like few others, he's intensely self-aware and a relentless champion of the local scene as one of the producers of Comedians You Should Know, not to mention one of the funniest, most capable performers in the city (and the subject of a fascinating episode of Wrestling With Depression).

I talked to him over email about his plans during these next few months leading up to his impending recording. You can catch Danny headlining tonight (Monday, October 29) at The Comedy Evening at Ace Bar, and should probably go to CYSK more than you already do.

The Steamroller: How long have you been performing standup?

Danny Kallas: My first set was in March of 2004 at the legendary Lyon's Den, which is now Globe Pub. I performed three more sets that month and quit for two and a half years until performing again in August of 2006 at Hoghead McDunna's, later known as McDunna's, and now Ace. That night is when I tell people I started performing stand-up. So, a little over six years.

TS: What led to the decision that it's time to start working on a record?

DK: I have been on the road 12 of the last 16 weeks and I'm not able to do all the material I want to do because not one person is there to see me. Not being able to do all the material I want to do becomes frustrating. I get the job done most times, but it makes me feel miserable inside. So, getting more fans is the only way to get to do all the material I want to do. Because I have no interest at the time of acting or podcasting or murdering a Kardashian, recording an album seems like the best way of getting those fans.

TS: A lot of people view their first record/special as a sort of best-of from their first several years of material, is that the approach you plan on taking or are you looking to write a lot of new material between now and March?

DK: I always said I would never record a full-length album unless I could go out the next night and do a headlining set (45 minutes) without using any of the album's material. Currently, I have 60 minutes I'm confident in and plan on burning about 35 minutes on the album. That leaves 25 minutes. So, I set the goal of recording in spring of 2013 with the main purpose of writing new material so I have enough left once the album is done. Writing 20 minutes in five months is easy. Writing 20 minutes that not only you like but most of your audience likes is not; however, I'm up for the challenge. 

Besides writing new material, I plan on really tightening up old material. Adding tags, more act-outs, dropping a line or even just a word that isn't needed, etc. Anyone who knows me knows I'm very honest with myself about my material. If I don't like a bit or can't get the audience to respond to it the way I'd like them to, the bit doesn't stay in my act and it most definitely ain't going on my album, which will be made up of 35 minutes I wrote from about a year into performing to the day before the recording.

TS: Are you planning on independently releasing the record or are you working with a label?

DK: We've talked about starting a CYSK label but at his time it's up in the air.

TS: Are you looking to some of your favorite records/specials as reference points?

DK: I honestly don't watch or listen to enough comedy specials/albums but to get some reference points, I definitely will within the next few months.

TS: Adam Burke recorded his first album at Comedians You Should Know earlier this year and it sounds great. Are you planning on recording yours there as well?

DK: Yes, I plan on recording at CYSK. The room is not only my favorite room in the city (and many others), but it's also my favorite room I've ever set foot in. The low stage, low ceilings, intimate setting, it's everything a comedian wants in a room and the most ideal place for recording.

CYSK has made me develop my act tremendously. We started the showcase in January of 2008 and I was a year and a half into performing stand-up and would go to shows at The Lincoln Lodge and Chicago Underground Comedy and watch comedians like Nick Vatterott and T.J. Miller and Brady Novak and think, man, they're really funny and their material was a little out there and I didn't think my material was weird enough to work in those "alt" rooms. Then I'd go to Zanies and see someone like Michael Palascak and think, yeah, he's really funny and has mass appeal and I didn't feel like my material had enough mass appeal to work in the clubs.

So, I really didn't know where I fit. CYSK (the showcase) was started by my comedian friends and me with the purpose to produce the best weekly showcase possible. We never wanted it to be considered "alt" or mainstream, we just wanted to showcase the funniest comedians in Chicago. We've built an audience that gets that funny is funny is funny, which is why a comedian so out there like Junior Stopka does just as well in our room as a comedian who has mass appeal like Sean Flannery. (Note: In no way was this an insult to any comedians I mentioned. I love all their acts and they're all better than me.)

Five years after starting CYSK, I still don't know where my comedy fits. Some alt crowds find me too mainstream while some mainstream crowds find me too alt-y. I guess I'm a "CYSK comedian" and I'm fine with that. We have proven there is an audience for that. Without CYSK, I probably would've quit doing stand-up years ago, go back to my dead end job, moved to Palatine, married some broad I hate, and have ugly kids.

Here's 5 shows worth checking out

There's a lot of great shows coming up in the next handful of days. These are just a few of them:

Tonight (Wednesday October 10th)

Comedians You Should Know (James Fritz, Drew Michael, Clark Jones, David Drake and Danny Kallas, plus a special guest)
Timothy O’Tooles. 9pm. $5 advance/$10 doors.
CYSK is probably the most professionally run and consistent weekly standup show there is. This is Fritz’s last week in town before moving to Los Angeles to become a very famous standup comedian (Kallas, the evening’s host, had a solid point about this phenomenon) and the promise of a special guest is not to be ignored, they’re known for rolling out surprise national acts on the regular.

Tomorrow night (Thursday October 11th)

The Funny Story Show: The Bro Show (Shannon Cason, Mikey Manker, Anthony McBrien, Jason Earl Folks, Goodrich Gevaart, Daniel Sharp, Zak Baker, Michael Ortiz, and Caitlin Bergh)
Looseleaf Lounge. 7:30pm. $5 suggested donation.
Produced by Caitlin Bergh, The Funny Story Show is a place for folks from the storytelling and standup comedy scenes can come together to share true, personal stories. Bergh’s an aggressively honest comic, whose storytelling chops are unmatched on the standup scene, which makes her the perfect person to run this sort of show. Cason, the evening's headliner, is a Moth GrandSLAM champion and a staff writer for WBEZ's Paper Machete show

The Lincoln Lodge Industry Showcase (17 local comics)
The Lincoln Lodge. 8:30pm. $5.
This is what it’d be like if open mics were more like showcases. 17 very funny people will perform a hot 5 minutes for a room full of agency scouts and regular folks. Consider this local comedy speed dating, it’s a perfect way to get exposed to a lot of personalities at once, a few of whom will probably get some very good news as a result of this show!

Friday night (October 12th)

Urlakis & Cusick: Questionable Lullabies (Dave Urlakis and Sean Cusick)
Stage 773. 8pm. $15.
Two-man sketch troupe Urlakis & Cusick returns to Stage 773 after last year’s self-titled revue, which was praised for its relentless, cerebral dark humor. Both dudes have a strong sketch background, having worked, directed, and taught at The Annoyance, Second City, ComedySportz, and WCIU-TV. The show runs weekly through November 16th.

The James Fritz Reverse Hello Show (James Fritz, The Puterbaugh Sisters, Joe McAdam, Junior Stopka, Chad Briggs, Mike Lebovitz, Danny Kallas and more)
ComedySportz. Midnight. $10.
As mentioned before, James Fritz is moving to LA next week, and this show serves as a final farewell to the best comedian and podcaster on the scene. Produced by, this late night show has one of those lineups that will look INSANE to a specific type of nerd in three to five years.

Listen to Danny Kallas

TJ Miller's new Comedy Central show, Mashup, premiered last night. It's a novel concept that's reinforced by really strong comics, many of whom have roots in Chicago. Danny Kallas is a producer of Comedians You Should Know and an incredibly hardworking and down-to-earth (as well as funny) dude.

Here's a thing Danny wrote before the Mashup premiere last night, which had folks proclaiming him the "Mayor of Chicago Comedy."