Monday, August 31, 2009

Not you too!

Song theft. It's not just for Coldplay anymore.

The evidence?

My fellow late-80s Nintendo Entertainment System enthusiasts may remember a 1987 Capcom game called Mega Man (known as "Rockman" or "Rokkuman" in Japan) in which the protagonist, Mega Man, a less cuddly equivalent to Mario or Luigi, must play his way through six levels, each named after its respective Robot Master whom Mega Man must defeat.

Each Robot Master's name correlates to his theme: Mega Man must dodge the knives of Cut Man and the grenades of Bomb Man, avoid getting burned by Fire Man or frozen by Ice Man, and, presumably, maintain a healthy level of digestive acid against Guts Man.

Enough background. Now let's start an international scandal.

Each Robot Master has his own theme music. For example, here's what you hear when you're playing against Elec Man:

Compare that to the work of noted rock group U2, who recently visited Letterman to play "their" "new" song I'll Go Crazy If I Don't Go Crazy Tonight:

I was alerted to this interesting coincidence by longtime FOBB&B and old Nintendo buddy Jason Horowitz. Unlike Jason I'm not a Harvard-trained piano virtuoso, music composer and mathematics PhD with deep insights into music theory.

I do, however, have ears, and the two songs sound pretty similar to me. By "pretty" I mean "completely." By "similar" I mean "identical."

Bono, any thoughts?

Thursday, August 27, 2009

The Moth flutters in

The Moth is "a highly acclaimed New York-based storytelling series in which people from all walks of life share real, first person stories on stage before a live audience."

I first caught their act years ago in Aspen, Colorado at the late, great U.S. Comedy Arts Festival, where such storytellers as erstwhile Letterman foil Teri Garr, noted metrosexual Greg Behrendt, Chicago monologuist turned HBO star Jeff Garlin, Sex and the City writer Michael Patrick King and former White House press secretary Joe Lockhart presented true tales from their own lives. It was bracing stuff, by turns funny, moving and riveting, and they played Aspen for several years running.

They also presented an impressive slate of comedians who set aside their usual comedy material to tell stories about their own most memorable moments. For example, Michael Ian Black recounted a road trip he took just after college in a van with fellow members of The State as their show was becoming a hit on MTV (the mission: "to fuck our fans"). Kirk Fox opened up about his failed marriage to Clint Eastwood's daughter Alison ("She wanted to marry her father, and so did I"; as the couple is breaking up, Clint calls Kirk a son of a bitch, and he thinks, "Clint called me son!"). Mike DeStefano, meanwhile, told the harrowing, deeply personal story of his own struggle with drug addiction recovery.

I am fortunate enough to visit New York City from time to time, and I have since caught The Moth at one of their regular haunts, the New York Public Library. Over time I have become acquainted with some of their directors and staff.

A few years ago, when The Moth launched a national tour, they were nice enough to invite me to help plan their first-ever Chicago show. It took place in April 2007 at the rock club Metro, where Andy Borowitz, Darryl "DMC" McDaniels, Jon Langford, Jonathan Ames and Amy Dickinson did a great job.

But that's all history. Here's the breaking news:

The Moth is returning to Chicago. Work is underway on a live stage show, not just a one-off this time but a limited series running monthly. Details will be announced shortly.

But first, to prime the pump, they're hitting our airwaves. Over the next five weekends their new program, The Moth Radio Hour, will air nationally on NPR, including locally on WBEZ 91.5 FM. It airs here at 7pm Saturdays and 5pm Sundays from August 29th to September 27th. Tune in and enjoy.

If you're not in a city where it's airing (click here for cities, stations, dates and times), point your browser to any of a number of NPR affiliate websites, such as, where you can stream it live. You can also hear some entertaining Moth tales by visiting

Try it, you'll like it.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

An awesome responsibility

Because not just anyone should do that.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Midweek blahs?

Then start hanging around the Second City comedy theater. They're providing a lot of weeknight laughs lately.

You're a little too late to catch Pat O'Brien's farewell show, which I attended on Wednesday evening along with countless friends and sixty (sixty!) O'Brien family members and guests in from around the country. The stage was also packed with well-wishers, who sent Pat off in style as he heads to New York to write for Saturday Night Live. Second City tradition holds that a cast member's final performance is a celebratory affair with the usual post-show improv set shelved in favor of the departing player's favorite sketches, peppered with loving anecdotes from their current and former castmates. Pat's curtain call was a warm goodbye for a beloved fixture of the Chicago comedy scene.

However, the comedy revolving door continues to spin, and even as people graduate from Chicago's proving ground to industry jobs in New York and Los Angeles, so do others come back. This week, for example, Second City alumni Frank Caeti (MadTV, Reno 911) and Matt Craig (The Office, According to Jim) return to the Pipers Alley institution to mount their fast-paced sketch show, FrankenMatt. The critically acclaimed two-man comedy attack, playing Tuesday and Wednesday, should be just the thing to cure your midweek blahs. My Flavorpill preview is here.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009


Pat O'Brien appreciation week continues.

You may have heard of parkour, the French-bred art of incorporating the urban landscape as a springboard for balletic, gymnastic self-propulsion. It looks a little something like this:

What you may not have known is that there is a newer American variant known as pratkour. Here are Pat and friends to tell us more about the "theater of falling":

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Almost Pimps

There aren't enough would-be players on television, but two FOBB&Bs are doing what they can to change that.

Direct from the Second City mainstage cast -- for one more day, anyway -- here are Brad Morris and Pat O'Brien in Almost Pimps:

They've got an impressive 91% approval rating over at Funny or Die, but we can bump them up from an A- to an A. Click an almost-pimp above, then click "funny" on the laugh-o-meter to support two good guys.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Breaking news

Michael Patrick O'Brien, better known and widely beloved as POB, has been hired to the Saturday Night Live writing staff, reports Darel Jevens of the Chicago Sun-Times.

This is wonderful news. Pat is just a great guy, thoughtful and kind. More importantly for comedy audiences, he's endlessly creative, wildly original, deeply committed, slightly crazy, and constantly hilarious.

Setting aside his years of exemplary work on improvisation stages, he proved his writing mettle when he put on a one-man tour de force last summer at Second City that I wrote about here. Along with Dratch & Fey and Piñata Full of Bees, it was one of the flat-out best sketch comedy shows I've ever seen, and I've seen a lot of them.

I went through a year of improv classes with Pat at the iO Theater (né ImprovOlympic) and loved every hour we spent together there. Among many fond memories, the single best improvised scene I was ever in was one between Pat and me that I can practically recite word for word eight years later. It blew the roof off the Del Close Theater, drawing a series of explosive laughs from the hundred-odd people in attendance, and it was all because of Pat. I'm not being falsely modest, it was all his brilliant idea and I just played along. What's more, he literally dragged me onstage by the cuff of my shirt to start the scene, so much did he want to include me in the moment. I'm still grateful.

Pat was deserving of the big league callup to his current job, that of Second City Mainstage player, as I noted in my review of their current show. Happily, he did get the call, and the Pipers Alley institution marked the occasion with a video interview of Pat that you can check out here.

The Mainstage is the highest you can rise in the Chicago comedy scene. In a like fashion, Pat has earned the nod from Lorne Michaels and co., and it's hugely gratifying to see a really, really good guy get such an exciting opportunity. Just the next step among many more to come.

Congratulations, POB!

Thursday, August 13, 2009


An era is ending. Broadway's funny, dirty, life-affirming puppet show, Avenue Q, will close its award-winning run on September 13.

It's a big loss for the Great White Way. Six years after opening on Broadway, Avenue Q remains a completely entertaining, surprisingly moving ride that sends contented crowds smiling into the New York night. It's become one of the 25 longest-running Broadway musicals of all time, a beloved pillar of the American theater scene that will leave a major void in its wake.

Regular readers of this space will recall that one of the show's co-creators, the talented Jeff Marx, is a college buddy of mine. So am I biased? Probably. But does that make the show any less awesome? No.

Don't take my word for it. Ask one of the literally millions of people who've seen it in New York, Las Vegas, London, on its U.S. tour, or in its many foreign-language incarnations around the world. Or heard its hilarious, catchy soundtrack. They can't all be Jeff's friends, though you might think so if you judged by Facebook.

For that matter, Avenue Q beat Wicked for the 2004 best musical Tony award. The Tony voters didn't all go to school with Jeff either. In fact, the Wicked composers and stars were far more established in Broadway circles than the then completely unknown Q team. But the better show won. (Even if I'd seen Wicked I would still feel that way.)

Avenue Q is going out in style with a celebratory final month, including performances this morning on Fox TV's Good Day New York and this evening on NBC's Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. Check it out.

If you haven't seen the show, you've got one more month. Go. It's so, so good. If you aren't completely satisfied, I will personally refund your money. (Offer only applies to people I actually know. Sorry, Internet randoms.)

Congratulations to Jeff, who remains a loyal friend and one of the best guys I know despite his world-beating success; his co-creator Bobby Lopez, another terrific guy; and the whole Q crew. You did it your way and triumphed beyond anyone's wildest dreams, and you so deserve it.

It's been gratifying to watch it all unfold and a privilege to come along for the ride as you generously shared the experience with so many of us. I'm just one of countless friends who are deeply proud of you. Way to go!

Les Paul 1915-2009

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Lost your marbles?

Then get some more tonight at Marbles the Brain Store as they celebrate the opening of their newest location in Lincoln Square with guest speaker Mike "the Walking Calculator" Byster.

All three Marbles locations offer brainy toys and games for kids and adults, plus advice on anti-aging brain maintenance from a smart staff.

Marbles Lincoln Square opening party tonight, 5:30 to 7:30 p.m., 4745 N. Lincoln Ave., Chicago. Wine, food, giveaways and general merriment. Admission free. More info here.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Why newspapers are dying

Sure, there are lots of reasons: Craigslist killed the classifieds; struggling automakers and department stores aren't buying full-page ads like they used to; dwindling circulation and advertising rates are trapped in a self-perpetuating death spiral; electronic reporting has compromised newspapers' primacy; people have come to expect free news delivery online; readers gave up after thirty years of waiting for Ziggy to become funny; etc.

But let's simplify things and blame Neil Steinberg of the Chicago Sun-Times.

Take, for example, his sloppily edited full-page column of October 27, 2008, which I set aside for ridicule at the time, forgot about, and just rediscovered. There are no fewer than four errors on that one page of newsprint:

1. The main headline reads, "Noise! Noise! Noise! The closer the presidential election draws, the louder the claims and counterclaims grow, until you just can't stand anymore"

They meant "any more" as in "any more noise." "Anymore," one word, means any longer or from now on. They could also have said "until you just can't stand it anymore."

Or maybe they meant the crushing weight of all the claims and counterclaims makes it impossible to stay on your feet.

2. A photo caption reads, "Who says their are no good new love songs? 'Falling Slowly' from the film 'Once' (above) won an Academy Award." Aside from the fact that no one is saying there are no good new love songs, I've been to Oakland and there's no their they're.

3. Steinberg refers to a rock band as "the Handsome family", then in the next paragraph names the band as they're actually known, "the Handsome Family."

4. Neil demonstrates his good taste by praising the music of the Magnetic Fields but compromises his critical authority by calling the band's frontman "Stephen Merritt." The singer spells his name Stephin.

Nobody's perfect, and I'm sorry to nitpick, but come on. I've been writing this blog for almost two years and I invite anyone to try to find four typos or grammatical errors in the whole thing. Neil's got four of them on one page.

And yes, I know there's an editorial staff that edits or even writes the headlines and captions and is responsible for copy editing throughout, but the buck stops at the guy whose name is in big capital letters at the top of the page. He gets the glory so he takes the blame.

Four errors on one page. Who'd pay for that?

Congratulations, Neil Steinberg. You've destroyed the newspaper industry.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Headline of the week

Second witness names C-Murder as killer
[New Orleans Times-Picayune]

Yo, I'm Innocent released from custody.

Thursday, August 6, 2009


Bill Clinton got two women. What else is new?

Too high to get over

Tributosaurus, the Civil War reconstructionists of pop music, have performed a full live set as a different rock act every month for the last seven years. They're serious musicians and they bring whatever is necessary to play the show: extra keyboards for Genesis, a chorus of angels for Pink Floyd, surplus dry wit for XTC, etc. They're also seriously good, doing justice to their source material no matter how complex.

Every August, "Tributo" plays a superstar set in homage to a giant performer in the world of rock: Zeppelin, the Stones, Mandy Moore. This year, in a decision made months before death, headlines and hoopla, they elected to play as Michael Jackson. Predictably, given Tributo's extant popularity and all the M.J. hype, the two shows sold out immediately and became a much-discussed must-see around Chicago.

Last night I caught the early Michael Jackson show and it was excellent, packed with faithful note-for-note recreations of all the hits you'd expect, not just from Thriller but also Off the Wall and elsewhere, plus the soulful, introspective material you rarely hear on the radio. (The Jackson Five catalog was left untouched, as that will be a future show of its own.) The appreciative crowd was dancing and singing along as Tributo blew the roof off of Martyrs, their longtime base of operations.

At one point I counted 22 people on stage, including full string and horn sections, two drummers, five background vocalists, and more people playing guitars than you'd find in the parking lot at a Dead show. I won't reveal what songs they played, but if you asked me whether an adult woman ably sang one number as a 9-year-old Michael Jackson, much in the way that a grown woman provides the voice for Bart Simpson, I won't deny it. In fact, six different people in turn handled the lead vocals, each competent and interesting in his or her own way.

The Martyrs shows sold out so fast that the band decided to add another night to give more people a chance to catch this special go-round. Tributosaurus plays again as Michael Jackson at 7:30 tonight at FitzGerald's, 6615 Roosevelt Rd., Berwyn (if that sounds far away, don't worry, it's across the street from Oak Park).

The show will play outdoors under a big tent, an appropriately festive setting for a celebratory night of great music. Children are welcome with adult supervision. More information is here, tickets here.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Theater watch

Want something fun to add to your calendar? Already seen The Hangover and Harry Potter? Here's a look at some shows currently or soon playing around town.
  • Spring Awakening opened its two-week Chicago run tonight at the Oriental Theatre. The story of sexual maturation among 19th century German teenagers (yes, that old cliche) won eight Tony Awards and received widespread attention for its rock soundtrack by Duncan Sheik. I caught the opening and enjoyed it. My Flavorpill preview is here.
  • The Black Ensemble Theatre continues its run of A Tribute to the Black Crooners (Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow), a musical celebrating decades of soulful love songs and burning slow jams. I liked it and if you're into the music of artists like Maxwell, Johnny Mathis and Luther Vandross, so will you. My Flavorpill preview is here.
  • The Second City e.t.c. has rolled out its 33rd revue, Studs Terkel's Not Working. After taking on national politics in their last few shows during the presidential election cycle, the reigning masters of sketch comedy strike again with new material focusing on regular people and their foibles. I found it funny and accessible. My Flavorpill preview is here.
  • Speaking of Second City, a couple of its talented alumni return soon with a two-man sketch comedy attack. Frank Caeti, a veteran of the Second City e.t.c. and star of Fox's MadTV, and Matt Craig, a onetime Second City mainstage player, team up for FrankenMatt, playing at Second City's e.t.c. space in Pipers Alley on August 25 and 26.
  • Even as The Second City prepares for its 50th anniversary, another Chicago comedy institution marks a milestone. The Hot Karl, a dirty, filthy late night improv show, has been running for ten years at ComedySportz Chicago. It celebrates its 10th anniversary this Saturday night with a midnight performance and party at the ComedySportz Theatre, 929 W. Belmont.
  • Steppenwolf Theater is running its fifth annual First Look Repertory of New Work, featuring three plays by emerging young playwrights. Honest by Eric Simsonson, Ski Dubai by Laura Jacqmin, and Sex with Strangers by Laura Eason are playing in rotation at Steppenwolf's Merle Reskin Garage Theatre, 1624 N. Halsted St., through August 9.
  • Elsewhere on the new play front, LiveWire Chicago Theatre is readying its second annual festival of short works. VisionFest 2009: Six Worlds on One Street Corner presents a range of comedic and dramatic premieres, all with a shared location. The festival runs from August 6 thru 15 at the Chemically Imbalanced Theater, 1420 W. Irving Park Rd.
  • Not all touring extravaganzas that play huge tents in the West Loop are Cirque du Soleil shows. Cavalia, for example, a high-concept celebration of the relationship between people and horses, features acrobats, aerialists, dancers, riders, and live musicians, plus horses of 13 different breeds. The "spectacular equestrian odyssey" recently extended its run (gallop?) through August 16.
  • RedEye humor columnist and FOBB&B Mark Bazer hosts a variety talk show on the first Friday of every month. The Interview Show with Mark Bazer is like the Jay Leno show, but funny. Mark's next installment features a strong guest lineup including celebrity chef Rick Bayless and the brilliant Onion writer Nathan Rabin. It's 6:30pm this Friday at the Hideout, 1354 W. Wabansia. Only $5!
Get out there, support live theater and have a good time.