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.