Congratulations on Your Success is a new showcase at Logan Square's Uncharted Books. After an overwhelmingly positive response to the show's first edition last month, their second show is tonight, December 6, at 8pm. I talked with three of the show's six producers, Sonia Denis, Rebecca O'Neal, and Charlie Rohrer about the show's background and where they hope COYS will go in the future.
The Steamroller: A used book store isn't the first place my brain would go when looking for a place to do a standup showcase, how did you end up at Uncharted Books?
Sonia Denis: Rebecca was really in charge of finding the venue. She was adamant about having an unconventional space for the show that wasn't a bar and hadn't yet been used for a comedy show. I didn't get why until our first show.
Rebecca O'Neal: I contacted Uncharted while I was looking for a new venue for my old Friday open mic (Happy Medium at J Bar). Ruth, the events coordinator, wasn't interested in doing a mic, but was receptive to hosting a booked showcase. I knew her writing from the internet and was familiar with the space and somehow convinced them our show would be a good fit.
Charlie Rohrer: Uncharted is a great space. At first glance you might wonder how we could fit a comedy show in there but the owner's have a lot of experience with various types of shows so they knew exactly how to set it up and make it comfortable for our audience and for us.
TS: There's a pretty large group of producers on this show. How'd you all start working together?
RO: Once I nailed the venue down, I knew I'd need help. Promoting a show would take work to get an audience and put it together so I wanted to work with people whose company I enjoyed and whose comedy I respected. So naturally, I asked ALL of my comedy friends to co-produce with me, which was an awesome decision.
We all have different strengths (Charlie is an artist, we all design a bit, I have a background in writing and PR, Bill Bullock is the DETAILS guy, Justin Covington keeps us sane and organized in meetings, Sonia did our promotional video this month, Odinaka Ezeokoli can pull off a scarf no matter what the temperature) and we rotate hosting and performing duties every month.
SD: Prior to starting stand up, none of us really knew each other that well. But we all were and still do go to open mics 4-5 times a week. When you're starting out open mics are very intimidating because there are all these people who've been doing it for months or years and they all know each other, but at some point everyone eventually finds a group of friends.
I think we all gravitated towards each other because we had similar senses of humor and were all clearly dedicated to stand up. Our showcase has 6 producers, which is unusual, but it works because everyone brings something different to the show.
TS: What sort of process do you go through when organizing a lineup other than just putting up acts that you personally enjoy? Is there an ethos or motivation in the back of your heads when putting together this show?
CR: Right off the bat we all agreed that the show should mostly feature other comedians through the city with one of us hosting, one of us opening, and then 4-5 local comedians. On top of wanting to mostly show people outside of our group, we wanted to show newer comedians. A lot of us are relatively new to the comedy scene so we know how hard it is to get booked when you first start.
RO: To get the venue, I told Uncharted that we were a "diverse and literate" bunch, which is true for the most part (ha!). So I keep that in mind while we're booking at least the first few shows. Diversity is very important to me and the rest of the CoYS producers, I think it makes sense for the show to reflect everything the scene has to offer. We also have a spreadsheet of people who make us laugh broken down into openers, features, and headliners.
SD: A big thing for us is having a diverse line up. That applies not only to gender and race but also to style of comedy. We also try to book newer comics as openers. Which sounds sort of ridiculous coming from a group of people who on average have been doing stand up for less than 2 years. But we remember what it's like to be starting out and how getting booked on a showcase means everything.
TS: Are there any local shows that you drew inspiration from when talking about starting up COYS?
CR: I suppose we drew inspiration from all local showcases but I don't think there is one in particular. It seems pretty intimidating but you attend these showcases and they're great and you realize that they're just in the back of a bar with folding chairs.
SD: Stand Up Stand Up always makes it point to have an interesting and diverse line up. I think they've been doing a show at Crocodile for less than a year but already they're one of the best showcases. Creative Control at saki was also one we thought of when we started CoYS because it's in a record store, it's BYOB and the shows always have a really fun weird vibe.
RO: I liked that Double Shot in Evanston booked underage comics because they weren't a bar. Uncharted is a bookstore, so we plan on doing a fair share of that. There are a number of comics under 21 who you see at ComedySportz and the Second City mic who definitely would get booked tons more if not for their age.
TS:Were your expectations of what you'd hope the show to be met during that first edition last month? Was there anything you learned from the experience?
SD: The first showcase was terrifying. Our expectations were very low. If people showed up then we won comedy. But not only did people show up, people none of us knew showed up. One thing we should have done is ask these people how they heard about the show. We'd campaigned online with event pages and promo videos on YouTube, we'd covered Chicago with our flyers, posted on Craigslist, Reddit, etc. So we weren't sure if one or more of these methods worked or if people just happen to be walking past Uncharted and decided to see a show.
RO: I was genuinely shocked at the turnout of the first CoYS event... especially when we asked all of the co-producers and performers who brought whom and figured out that none of us knew the majority of the audience.
CR: Every seat was filled and we had people standing in the back. Everything felt perfect. Then, of course, during and after the show we noticed all the things we hadn't thought of. We had no music playing before the show or in between comics and we were scrambling to make a donation bucket while comedians were performing. But some little flaws aside, the show was still amazing and we learned from every little mistake.