Interview: Steve Gadlin of Steve Gadlin's Star Makers

Steve Gadlin's contributions to the Chicago comedy scene are numerous: through his production company Blewt!, he's produced the well-loved talent competition Impress These Apes!, the comedy game show Don't Spit The Water!, and the call-in public access show Talkin' Funny, which gave regular people the chance to call in and hear themselves say "toilet time!" over and over again.

Blewt's latest effort is Steve Gadlin's Star Makers, a new biweekly TV show that airs locally on The U Too, WCIU-TV 26.2, with full episodes available on Youtube and as a downloadable podcast. Past guests include comics Ian Abramson, Martin Morrow, and Amber Gerencher, plus a belly dancer, some very emotive singers, and a professional rhythmic clapper. 

Check out this interview with Steve, along with some choice clips from SG Star Makers and be sure to contact the producers if you're interested in sharing your talent with the world!

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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.

Interview: Martin Morrow

You may know Martin Morrow as Farty Marty, a giggling comedic titan with a gassy catch phrase, or as Mar'son, the leader of the intensely rowdy Fuck Your Family rap crew. He's also a cast member at The Lincoln Lodge, competed in the latest season of Impress These Apes, and performs standup, sketch, and improv all over the city. Tomorrow night (11/10) at The Greenhouse Theater, Martin will be performing in his second one man show, entitled In My Head, produced by MPAACT.

I talked to him earlier this week about his background and the work that goes into building a one man show. Get tickets for tomorrow's show here.

The Steamroller: You're originally from Alabama, correct? What brought you to Chicago?

Martin Morrow: I am originally from Birmingham, AL. I grew up there, went to college in Auburn, AL and an opportunity led me to work for Ugly Betty in New York and I cut my teeth doing comedy there as well. The show was cancelled while I was there and I went back home for my graduation and a series of unfortunate events kept me in AL. A buddy of mine who I grew up and performed with named Cameron Gillette knew I was frustrated in Birmingham and was looking to go to a place with better comedic opportunities. He told me he had a room open in Chicago and I took it.

TS: So I know you predominantly from operating within the standup scene in Chicago, but you often perform in character. It seems like you're as interested in solo sketch/character work as you are in straightforward standup. Is that at all accurate? Where do you see yourself fitting into the weirdly disparate scenes of sketch, improv, and standup in Chicago?

MM: Yeah, I really bounce around. Sketch was the first thing I ever did so I'm happy to work with Second City in doing sketches and improv. Stand-up is what I enjoy doing the most though. It's therapeutic at times whereas sketch and improv is more of a leave it all at the door type of thing. I can put every emotion into a stand-up bit. I think character work for me is the middle ground. It gives me an opportunity to goof around and convey a different message or different feeling through a different voice.

I want to be able to build a following for all of it though to where people want to come to a show because they know they're going to get something different and unique with each style of performance.

TS: You finished in the top three during the most recent season of Impress These Apes, what was that experience like?

MM: Impress These Apes was fantastic. I was in first place for several weeks, finishing top 3 was awesome and it really opened my eyes to a lot of how to further develop my work. It was the hardest thing I've ever been apart of that I actually enjoyed.

TS: This is your second one man show with MPAACT, how did you start working with them?

MM: I had a coworker named Sati Word who works in the theater community in the city and knew of my work and approached me about doing a show with MPAACT and I put up Southern Discomfort which was mostly about growing up in the south, dealing with racism, and my relationship with my father before and during his death. The show went well and I got asked to do another one, which is In My Head.

TS: What do you see as the differences between a one man show and a straightforward comedy show?

MM: The difference in a one man show and a comedy show is in a one man show there are different things you have to oversee and adjust. In a one man, you become the director, producer, lighting designer, music- everything. For a stand-up show, you go on stage, tell your jokes for however long, and just try to keep people laughing or at least keep their attention. There is a lot more pressure in a one man show for everything to flow right because it's all on your shoulders

TS: What can we expect from this show?

MM: This show will have all the characters I perform and some new ones. I'll also tell stories in between about dating and various relationships as well as my family life. It's going to be a lot of fun and I hope everyone comes.