Interview: Lev Kalmens of Here Is Your Alibi

Lev Kalmens hosts and produces Here Is Your Alibi, a monthly comedy show that started last year at The Frontier, one of the few standup showcases in the Edgewater/Andersonville area. 

The next edition of HIYA is tonight, Friday 2/7, at 8pm. The show's free and BYOB, and features sets from Tyler Snodgrass, Tommy Mac, Peter John Byrnes, Ben Bergman, and Kristen Toomey. I talked with Lev over email all about the show's background and its unique venue in advance of tonight's show.

The Steamroller: Here is Your Alibi is a pretty unusual name for a show, where did you come up with it?

Lev Kalmens: It took me a while to figure out the name. I knew I wanted something that stood out, something that had a playful vibe to it. I like show names like “Congrats On Your Success” and “Put Your Hands Together”. A very early idea was “Comedy Revolution” but that sounds horrible and tacky so I decided not to have to word ‘comedy’ in the title.

I was reading some article, I don’t even remember what it was about, but it had the word ‘alibi’ in it and it’s not a word used often unless you’re on Law and Order or a murderer. It stuck with me. Then I had to choose between “This Is Your Alibi” and “Here Is Your Alibi” and the latter sounded more active. The show is an excuse for people to have fun.

TS: How did you come to work with The Frontier?

Lev: I got very lucky with The Frontier because I didn’t want to do a show at a bar. I wanted a space where I was in control. The Frontier belongs to Jackalope Theater Company, which is run by friends I went to Columbia College with. They formed a great theater company right out of college. I went to the grand opening party of the The Frontier early last year and thought it would be a great space for what I wanted to do and luckily they allowed me to have that freedom.

TS: What sort of shows did you draw inspiration from when first setting up HIYA?

Lev: I wanted to create a show with a loose and welcoming vibe, a show people could come to and hang out after. I love what my friends did with “Congrats On Your Success”. Besides doing a show at a non-traditional venue (Uncharted Books in Logan Square), their show is an event people look forward to. 

It was also important for me to develop a home turf for myself.  I’m big fan of Eugene Mirman and I was inspired by a show he used to run in New York called “Invite Them Up” in the early 2000s. It became a home to his comedy where he was free to do whatever he wanted. I hope this answer is pretentious enough.

TS: What do you keep in mind, if anything, when putting together a lineup?

Lev: There are certain things I always keep in mind. Most importantly a line up needs to have variety. I won’t book five white guys who talk about being single, even if all five are brilliant. At the same time all five performers need to complement each other in some way. It’s like casting a play, just because each individual performer is good, it doesn’t mean together they will make a cohesive show.

I studied theater directing in college. This is a good platform to prove to my parents all that money was well spent, right?

TS: Do certain types of standups do better at The Frontier than others?

Lev: The more I do the show the more I learn who my audience is. Based on that, I think, certain standups might do better with that audience than others. That doesn’t mean I won’t book a comedian who might not be a perfect match for that specific group of people. I whole heartedly believe that funny is funny.     

TS: Any weird/crazy stories from the first 8 months of doing shows? Heckler/onstage meltdown/etc? Feel free to not use real names.

Lev: Of course! Let me get my scroll of names out...

It hasn’t been too bad actually. We’ve had our share of hecklers who didn’t understand that stand up is not a conversation with the audience. But we were able to get them on board eventually. When you produce a free comedy show that hands out free beer, some people aren’t there for the comedy.

Only one time we had to forcefully remove an audience member. This was back in October. It certainly threw everything off but we were able to get back on track pretty quickly afterwards. 

TS: Do you have any goals for the show moving forward? Any dream bookings

Lev: Absolutely! I’m never fully content with anything even if it’s going well. It can always be better. There are many ideas and goals I have for this show. There will be some stuff happening in the coming months that I don’t want to give away. I’m into weird and silly comedy that isn’t just traditional stand up. I guess that’s what I can say about that.

As far as bookings go, I feel so lucky to have such a huge talent pool to draw from. I would definitely be interested in booking more out of town guests but that’s not a huge priority right now. The main goal is to keep on producing a high quality show that attracts a consistent crowd each month. And then to become a filthy rich famous millionaire.