Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Monday, June 27, 2011

Friday, June 24, 2011

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Dept. of Corrigenda

Avec ou sans definite article: either way is fine, but pick a lane.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Just For Laughs: The closer

Steve Martin and Martin Short lit up the Chicago Theater last night for two hours to close out the Just For Laughs comedy festival, but one of the best lines came from a guy who wasn't even there.

Recounting the best ad libs he's ever heard, Steve Martin offered up the following: "The year Alec Baldwin and I hosted the Oscars, I went to the Vanity Fair party afterward. It was a lot of fun, but around 1 a.m. it was time to leave. As I was heading for the door, Russell Brand was just arriving. I enjoy his work and would have liked to talk to him, but it was so loud in there you couldn't hear anyone, so I just said to him, 'I'm making my way out as you're making your way in,' and he said, 'It's a metaphor.' "

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Just For Laughs: Bits

The Just For Laughs Chicago comedy festival wraps up tonight with a sold-out Chicago Theater show featuring two up-and-coming young comedians named Steve Martin and Martin Short. It's the first time the two have performed a stage show together.

Yesterday I talked to a Just For Laughs producer, in town from the festival's home base in Montreal, who'd just finished going over the running order of tonight's show. He told me it was going to be amazing. Quelle surprise!

I've had the good fortune of catching some choice shows over the past few days, dutifully recording for this blog a few of the hundreds of jokes that have been washing over me in a hilarious deluge.

Jeffrey Ross flew in from the Newark airport—which he described as "the Newark of airports"—to "roast Chicago" at the Vic Theatre, taking the starch out of every local celebrity, sports team, and in about ten cases, audience member. At one point he welcomed to the stage Ryan Dempster, the next day's starting pitcher for the Chicago Cubs against the New York Yankees at Wrigley Field. "Ryan has won 107 games at the major league level," Ross told the crowd to wild applause. Then: "He's also lost 107 games. That's like saying you have $8 million in the bank but you owe $8 million to American Express."

Opening for "Saturday Night Live" Weekend Update anchor Seth Meyers, "Chappelle's Show" co-creator Neal Brennan argued that our current president gets a lot of unfair criticism: "Obama is just another brother in the wrong place at the wrong time. When the cops show up he's like, 'It was George Bush and Alan Greenspan. They just left.' "

Meyers, in turn, delivered a confident hour to a fired-up crowd that cheered his every move. He mentioned that he used to live in Amsterdam, "but not for the reason you think. It was because weed is legal there."

Louis C.K., widely considered the best standup in the business, headlined two sold-out shows at the 3400-seat Chicago Theatre. Incredibly, the prolific C.K. throws out his entire act every year and comes up with an entire new hour of material. He scored with a very funny bit about how he frequently flies first class—then as an aside, "Who am I kidding? I always do. I don't need to try to relate to you people. I haven't flown coach in the past three years"—and sees soldiers on his plane returning from Afghanistan. The soldiers are never in first class, even the colonels.

He told how he often thinks it would be a nice move to give a soldier his first-class seat and sit in coach, but he never does it. "I've thought this literally hundreds of times, but I've never even come close to doing it. But I still think what a great guy I am. I give myself the credit as if I actually did it. Then I look around at the other people in first class and think, 'Look at these jerks. They didn't even think of doing it.' "

He tries to play Chicago only once a year, so he was reluctant to perform in this festival since he was just here last October. "They gave me a ton of money to produce this show myself and said I could make it different from the last one by hiring anyone I wanted to open for me. Their idea was like an all-star show. My idea was more like, I'm going to find the three lousiest guys I can who will work for nothing, then I'll just keep all the money."

What he did do was to bring in three big-name headliners to do about 10 minutes each. The show was billed as "Louis C.K. and Three Special Guests," the identities of which were a closely guarded secret. Each time he introduced one of them—in turn, Jake Johannsen, Richard Lewis and Steven Wright—the crowd went insane.

Of course, the secret was out by the time the 7:30 show was over. At the top of the 10:30 show, Louis admonished the crowd, "Do me a favor. Stay off of Twitter and Facebook so you don't find out who's opening this show. Don't ruin it for the people around you. Try to live your actual life for once, not the one on your iPhone. Look up here at the real world. The resolution is amazing. A lot more megapixels."

All four comics played to a huge response, the three openers also receiving warm introductions from Louis C.K. extolling them as formative influences. Particularly moving was Louis' description of a horrible show he played early in his career at a Boston comedy club in the mid-1980s. He was supposed to perform six minutes but made it only four because the show was a complete disaster: no one laughed, the crowd hated him, he couldn't figure out how to stop drowning, and he slunk off the stage in abject defeat.

Louis was so demoralized that he started to consider giving up comedy altogether. Then someone came up behind him said, "Good job." He turned around to find his idol and the evening's headliner, Steven Wright. The compliment was enough to keep him at it for another two years.

Wright still stands as comedy's mind-bending poetic genius, and on this night he served up his umpteenth crowd-pleasing performance. Among his dozens of gems: "I got a new camera. It's so advanced, you don't even need it."

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Just For Laughs: Saturday

The Just For Laughs Chicago comedy festival wakes up today hung over, looks around in vain for a clean shirt, squints groggily into the bathroom mirror, shrugs at the stubble and missing tooth, and rolls up its sleeves for another nonstop night of comedy performance.

Here are my Saturday picks from Flavorpill Chicago:
True comedy aficionados might have already caught Seth Meyers' surprise appearance Thursday night at his fellow SNL writer Michael Patrick O'Brien's midnight showcase at iO Theater. In a like vein, O'Brien's 8pm show tonight at the Annoyance Theater—variously promoted as either Misled (his acclaimed two-man sketch attack with Peter Grosz) or T.J. & Pat O'Brien (improvisation with fellow master T.J. Jagodowski)—promises to be the sleeper show of the festival.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Just For Laughs: Friday

The Just For Laughs comedy festival continues tonight with a broad slate of mostly standup and improv shows.  Here are my Friday picks as previewed in Flavorpill Chicago:
Another show deserves a mention, The Chris Gethard Show at the iO Theater at 11:59pm. Chris is a stalwart member of the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre in New York City, a leading bastion of improvisation and sketch, where he appears in the all-star ASSSCAT show on Sunday nights. You might have also caught him with fellow UCB veterans Horatio Sanz and Chris Parnell in Comedy Central's "Big Lake." He is an excellent improviser, a winning monologuist and well worth seeing.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Just For Laughs: Thursday

Just For Laughs Chicago, this city's arguably biggest and inarguably best-funded annual comedy festival, rolls on.

Here are links to my Thursday picks as featured in Flavorpill Chicago:

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Just For Laughs: Wednesday

The Just For Laughs Chicago comedy festival kicks into high gear today with a full slate of standup, improv, solo and film presentation.

My pick of the day is 4 Square, a four-man improvisation master class. You might know Dan Bakkedahl from "The Daily Show," Rob Janas from The Second City, Peter Grosz from "The Colbert Report," and "Saturday Night Live" writer John Lutz as the creatively named Lutz on "30 Rock."

You might also remember them as four of the best improvisers in the city, back before they went coastal as comedy careers so often require. Tonight they're back in Chicago to revive the excellent improvisation show they performed in their old ImprovOlympic days. I highly recommend it.

My Flavorpill preview is here.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Just For Laughs Chicago

The third annual Just For Laughs Chicago comedy festival kicks off tonight with three shows, quickly accelerates to a frenzied blur of simultaneous hilarity with a dazzling array of local and national acts from Wednesday through Saturday, then eases to an A-list denouement on Sunday evening as Steve Martin and Martin Short take the stage together at the Chicago Theatre. (There's a third funny Martin in the mix too: Demetri.)

As usual I'll be covering the festival for Flavorpill Chicago, the city's only going-out guide, and posting links to my picks in this space throughout the week.

Meanwhile you can check out the official festival website here. Get out there, see something new, support live comedy and have fun!

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Mike Reiss

The current NPR Weekend Edition Sunday puzzle is by FOBB&B Mike Reiss, one of the six or eight funniest people alive.

Although he concocts great puzzles for both Will Shortz's radio show and the National Puzzlers' League, he's best known for his long career as a brilliant comedy writer for The Simpsons.

Here's Mike delivering some A+ material at his Harvard College 25-year reunion:

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

You don't say

"Please be aware that monthly payments of interest only will not reduce the principal owed on your loan."

Saturday, June 4, 2011

A farewell note

Now that the Oprah hype is finally dying down — and, I have it on good authority from a friend at Harpo, the Big O is currently unwinding on a yacht bound for points unknown — let's mark the Oprah Winfrey Show's finale with a memorable live performance from its Chicago studio.

From 2009, here's Charice Pempengco:

Friday, June 3, 2011


During a recent interview, NBC's Jimmy Fallon told Tina Fey her bestselling new memoir Bossypants is so omnipresent around New York City that it's "the Harry Potter of books."

Thursday, June 2, 2011