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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A Jangleheart Circus in review

A Jangleheart Circus: The Upstairs Gallery Goes Galactic took over The Den Theatre this past weekend, putting up three days' worth of sketch and improv shows from very talented and eclectic teams.

As the weekend progressed, I started thinking of Jangleheart as Chicago sketch/improv comedy's Pitchfork Fest. It's a more niche-oriented, community-driven event that provides a much-needed counterpoint to Sketchfest's populist, unwieldy Lollapalooza. Granted, Pitchfork is as gross and corporate as Lolla at this point but you know what I'm getting at, right?

Jangleheart was a great way to see a bunch of team's I'd heard of but not yet seen (Sand, Dead $$$, who had two of the best sets I saw at this weekend) as well as some familiar faces going extra hard and extra silly (like Tim Baltz, Superhuman, and Cook County Social Club, all of whom totally destroyed in front of packed audiences).

I'm not one to speak in big, sweeping language, or to point out generation defining moments, so I'll just say that in 10 years, a bunch of nerds are going to look at the lineup of this festival and be super jealous that they weren't there.

Check out a bunch of pictures from podcaster, filmmaker, and all-around multimedia expert Mark Colomb below.

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The Shrek Is Real

Mark Colomb, a Chicago-based writer, filmmaker, and friend of The Steamroller, sent over this new clip he produced with Conner O'Malley. Together Colomb and O'Malley make up Coozehound, they've collaborated on a bunch of videos, including the infinitely re-watchable Fleetwood Mac Men.

Check out The Shrek Is Real, featuring O'Malley at his maniacal best as a Shrekhunter in search of some support.

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A letter to Will Smith from his agent by Mark Colomb

Hey Big Willy,

This is the hardest part of an agent's job. It’s the morning after (pardon the pun) and it looks like After Earth isn’t going to "get clear” at the box office. As much as I want to blame this one on bad Thetans I really think our issues had more to do with that script. Yikes. Also, now that the film is out, I think some of the blame can be laid at the feet of M. Night; I think we are well within our rights to declare him and all eight of the screenwriters as suppressive persons. Let me break this one down for you Big Willy, we just need to stick to The Cause and to the teachings of L. Ron and everything is going to turn out OT. We need to continue to walk The Bridge to Total Freedom.

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A Letter from Apple CEO Tim Cook by Mark Colomb

Good Day Consumers,

It's Tim Cook here. I hope this letter finds you well. Are you working hard and saving your money for a new iPhone 5S or the next iPad Maxi that we plan to release this summer? Our manufacturing partners are working day and night to bring you the the slightest of upgrades on all your favorite devices. Figured I would just drop you a line about some market research we have been doing about our Apple end users.

You know all those cameras on your phones, iPads, and computers? We had them set up to send us pictures of you every two minutes for the last five years. That's right, we know exactly what you've been doing and who you've been doing it with almost every minute of every day for the last five years. It's been a fascinating project for us. Trillions of terabytes of data on how you use your phones and what you do while you use your computers. Let me share some of it with you.

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An annotated response to the response to A Letter to the C2E2 Organizers by Mark Colomb

Earlier this week, I posted a letter written by Mark Colomb that was the product of an ongoing creative project he's working on.

The letter detailed the clearly fake struggles of ​a clearly fake person who was declined entrance to the Chicago Comic & Entertainment Expo last weekend because he was dressed like a giant scrotum. A local nerd themed bar posted it on their Facebook timeline, initially thinking it was real, and asked their fans for some thoughts on the implications of the piece. As is often the case on the Facebook pages for local businesses, things quickly got out of hand and the post was soon removed.

Unfortunately, Mark was unable to respond to the controversy directly on the post before it was deleted, but was, thankfully, able to save a series of screenshots of the comments. Mark sent over an annotated version of these screenshots, offering his response to the numerous concerned nerds. Read More

A Letter to the C2E2 Organizers by Mark Colomb

​​Dear C2E2 Organizers,

Congratulations on another successful comic book convention in Chicago. My name is Craig Anders and I used to really enjoy attending your convention. The previous convention in town, Wizard World, was near the airport and it was difficult to attend in costume as people on the Blue Line train would often rob those of us dressed up as characters from popular culture. At many a Wizard World I saw a Dr. Who (usually Tom Baker's Doctor) bloodied and crying on the train while his companion (usually a zaftig Rose Tyler) cried out for help as the villains escaped with their wallet and swag bag. By moving the convention downtown you have saved many a life and given the large and varied fan community in Chicago a place to rally around.

That is why it is with great sadness that I am writing to let you know I will be unable to attend the show in the future. You see, I was denied entry into C2E2 this year. When asked why I was told that my costume was deemed "inappropriate" and that I should be "ashamed of myself" and that "why would a grown ass man think that any part of this was ok?" What about me was so inappropriate? I was dressed as a character of my own creation. I was dressed as Scrotie the Sexual Avenger. He is the star of a very popular web comic.

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Poor Choices Presents: Seasick

I began listening to Mark Colomb's Poor Choices podcast almost immediately after moving to Chicago in 2010. His interviews with local performers were a great way of finding out about shows and learning more about the scene. Colomb retired the show after releasing its 200th episode, an incredibly engaging conversation with The Annoyance's Mick Napier, in the Fall of last year.

Seasick, Colomb's newest project, features a variety of segments, like interviews, reviews, and sketches all based around a single theme. The first episode explores the difficulties, limitations, and volatility of following a dream. The show's most prominent and thought-provoking component is a conversation with Beth Melewski, whose career priorities have shifted over time to something more unique and nuanced than the pie-in-the-sky aspirations of many other performers. Other segments include a pair of Scharpling and Wurster-inspired phone conversations and a short discussion about Scorsese's oddly predictive film The King of Comedy

There's no set release schedule for upcoming episodes of Seasick, but I look forward any more that are produced. Click here to subscribe to the show (and download past episodes of Poor Choices) on iTunes.