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.

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Finish Your Dinner's preshow prayer

Two of the finest sketch teams in the city, Oh Theodora and Drew's Tumbler, have teamed up to produce a new monthly show at The Public House Theatre, an exciting new theater space catered towards sketch comedy. The show is called Finish Your Dinner​ and the show's seven producers sent over this exclusive look behind the scenes at their most reverential preshow ritual. The first Finish Your Dinner is tonight, April 4th, at 8pm; each ticket comes with a free can of PBR and can be purchased here.

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The Cool Kids’ Table

Oh Theodora's Trevor Martin is a five year veteran of the annual Chicago SketchFest, which just wrapped up it's 12th edition this past weekend. The city's independent sketch scene is small (but growing), so a festival boasting over 150 sketch shows in eight days is obviously going to be a big to-do amongst all involved. Some sketch folks sit it out entirely (like Brian from the Mike's Hard Festivade), and others fully embrace it. Trevor's sent over some thoughts about the festival and how his relationship with it has changed.

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The Telethon travels 8 years backwards

The Telethon is a semi-serialized nightmare/sci-fi/variety show. Sal Stevens, a Jerry Lewis/Gene Rayburn-esque professional host, and Marty Fleming, a squirmy, indecisive college kid, are forced by mysterious agents to host a fundraising telethon twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. It’s part The Prisoner and part Mystery Science Theater, but mostly it’s an excuse for us to do all of the silly things we want on stage. Our next episode, Bush to the Future is a particularly silly one; Marty uses a time machine and travels to 2004 to make sure John Kerry wins the election.

This one’s been in the works for a while. The real true impetus for it was a shared love of George W. Bush jokes among all of us in the group. There are no politics in that enjoyment really, and it’s hard to pin down why I enjoy it so much. But if someone makes a Rock Against Bush joke I am on board, absolutely, always. We wanted to highlight that humor somehow, so we decided to do an episode set during the 2004 election. The 2000 election is too contentious and too important. No, we insisted, if we’re going to have an episode where a Bush presidency has to be stopped, it must be in 2004.

Then there was a happy coincidence. We realized Marty Fleming was named after Marty McFly, and like Venus emerging from the sea, our Back to the Future show appeared to us fully formed. Marty would stand in for Marty, of course. Sal Stevens would be our Doc Brown. John Kerry would be George McFly and Bush would be Biff. It was all so obvious. Here is a madlibs synopsis of Back to the Future, with our own Bush to the Future changes inserted:

Marty Fleming uses an experimental time machine to travel from 2012 to 2004. There, he meets a younger version of his wacky friend Doctor Sal Stevens, and runs into wimpy John Kerry. John Kerry desperately wants to be noticed by Uncle Sam, but is constantly being bullied by George W. Bush. Things go from bad to worse when Uncle Sam shows a romantic interest in Marty Fleming. Marty desperately tries to fix everything at the Under The Sea Debate, where, with some luck, he’ll be able to get Uncle Samarty’s mom to kisvote for GeorJohn Kerry and change the future for the better!

We have some great folks joining us, too. Our old friend and fellow Bush-joke-lover Sean Rose will be playing Dubya, and Oh Theodora’s own Trevor Martin will be doing his best George McFly impression/worst John Kerry impression. The extremely funny Drew’s Tumbler will be performing a sketch set, and our favorite handsome man Joe McAdam has an all-2004 stand-up set all ready to go.

It’s going to be a great night of silly jokes and awful impressions. Hope to see you there!

Transient the Playground Theater, 3209 North Halsted Street, at Midnight,11/3, for $5.

-Stephen Winchell