Monday, June 24, 2013


Since New York Times puzzle editor (and, more importantly, FOBB&B) Will Shortz declined to air this submission, it's good blog fodder:

Take a group of people who aren't around anymore, in 12 letters. Remove one letter and rearrange the remaining letters to spell a place they used to be found.

Get your thinking cap on!

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Just For Laughs: Saturday's best bet


Bob Newhart Chicago Theatre, 7pm.  There are many shows worth attending at tonight's crescendo of the Just For Laughs Chicago comedy festival. In fact, I've written about a number of them over the past few days. But if you're going to see one act this evening, make it the most peerless performer in this year's shebang: Bob Newhart. The former Chicago accountant (a nonpareil example of life imitating art) made his first foray into entertainment with the seminal standup comedy album The Button-Down Mind of Bob Newhart, an influential, Grammy-winning classic that hit #1 on the Billboard chart. A Peabody- and Emmy-winning television career followed, as did a New York Times bestseller and dozens of nights guest-hosting the Tonight Show. A towering figure in comedy, Newhart makes a rare visit to headline the Chicago Theatre.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Just For Laughs: He shoots, he scores


Nick Swardson killed at the Vic Theatre last night during the Just For Laughs Chicago comedy festival.  I particularly liked this story:
My agent calls me a few years ago and says he's having people over.  So I go to his house and I'm hanging out, having a beer.  A teenage kid comes up to me and says, "Hey, weren't you in Blades of Glory?"  I say yeah.  He goes, "Say that line!"  I'm like, "Sorry?"  He goes, "You know... 'I want to cut off your skin and wear it to my birthday.' "  So I say it.  He goes, "No, say it like you said it in the movie!"  I'm like, "What?!" but I say it like I said it in the movie.  Then he goes, "Say that other line:  'I want to wear your gold medal naked.' "  So I say it.  And he goes, "No, say it like you said it in the movie!"  So I say it like I said it in the movie.  He's like, "Awesome" and he walks away. I turn to my agent and I go "Who was that kid?" and my agent says, "We just signed him. He's going to be the biggest thing in the NHL. His name is Patrick Kane."

Just For Laughs: Friday picks

Just For Laughs Chicago hits the gas pedal tonight and accelerates into the weekend.

Here are my picks:

Doug Loves Movies Podcast  Stage 773 — The Cabaret, 7pm.  Since podcasts are by definition available on demand, it's an iffy move to single out a live taping during a festival packed with national talent.  In this case, however, amiable stoner Doug Benson has forced my hand by assembling a choice array of fellow comedians who only occasionally visit Chicago.  Brian Posehn, Kumail Nanjiani, Pete Holmes and Samm Levine join Benson tonight for his cinema-themed Internet favorite, where the lively conversation promises to touch on movies at least occasionally. Funny flint, meet funny steel.

Seth Meyers Chicago Theatre, 7:30pm.  Seth Meyers is a classic example of a guy who did it the right way. The Northwestern alum rose through the respected ranks of the iO Theater and Amsterdam's Boom Chicago, then performed "Pick-Ups and Hiccups," his two-person show with Jill Benjamin, at comedy festivals far and wide.  His Chicago Improv Festival performance of that very show caught the attention of an SNL talent scout and the rest is Lorne Michaels comedy factory history.  The host-elect of Late Night returns to Chicago for a big-time headlining gig at the Chicago Theatre with able standup support from Hannibal Buress and Al Madrigal.

Knuckleheads UP Comedy Club, 8 & 11pm (also Sat 8 & 11pm). Tim Robinson, Cecily Strong and Aidy Bryant are at a certain nascent stage in a comedy career; they've achieved their dream of being cast on Saturday Night Live, but have yet to break through to nationwide familiarity on the strength of a signature character. Strong may be the first to climb that ladder as the Girl You Wish You Hadn't Started A Conversation With At A Party, but they've all got the chops to make an upward move. Expect them to prove it tonight when they return to their Second City roots with a night of sketch and improv.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Just For Laughs: Thursday picks

The Just For Laughs Chicago comedy festival rolls on.  Tonight's slate ranges from clever TV quipsters to club scene hotshots to a Twitter sensation or two.

Here are my Thursday picks:

Nick Swardson, Vic Theatre, 7:30pm (also Fri 7:30pm).  Nick Swardson's appearances on The Showbiz Show with David Spade as the affected "Scotty Kangaroojus" told pretty much everything you need to know about his comedy. Presaging SNL's Stefon with inside dish and a self-involved fabulosity, Swardson wrapped hilarious material in a ridiculous, bitchy character that unfailingly livened up the program. Having worked his way up from appealingly whiny comic to frequent scene stealer in such films as Blades of Glory and host of Nick Swardson's Pretend Time on Comedy Central, he returns to his standup roots this week with two shows at the Vic Theatre.

Chelsea Peretti, Stage 773 — The Pro, 8:30pm (also Fri 8:30pm, Sat 7pm and 8:30pm).  Chelsea Peretti is a comic for today, purveying solid jokes and plenty of attitude in pretty much every venue available to a professional comedian in 2013. She writes for and appears on leading television comedies (Louie, Parks and Recreation, The Sarah Silverman Program, Kroll Show, The Burn), hosts a weekly podcast and monthly UCB LA showcase, and writes a widely followed Twitter feed. But credentials are built on talent, which Peretti has in spades; her sophisticated, sarcastic persona shines through all her material.

@DadBoner and Friends, You Guys, Stage 773 — The Thrust, 10pm. The most fully realized comic character this side of Borat Sagdiyev and Dwight Schrute, Karl Welzein is a Michigan working-class hero delivered joke by joke to the smartphones of the comedy cognoscenti.  The brilliant Twitter-based Welzein is beloved by a six-figure following for his "power moves," "finger guns," and enthusiasm for cold ones, Bob Seger, muscle cars and sticking it to the man; appropriately for the age we live in, he's also attracted considerable attention around Hollywood. Tonight his creator, Mike Burns, hits the stage as Welzein in all his blue-collar glory, with standups including Al Madrigal and Kyle Kinane in tow.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Bonus pick!

Don't miss the Bear Down Podcast, in which Chicago comedy expats Matt Walsh (Veep), Horatio Sanz (Saturday Night Live), Brad Morris (Seeking A Friend For the End of the World) and friends talk football. Expect funny conversation about Coach Ditka, Tim Tebow, Manti Te'o, and maybe even Brad's commercial with Brett Favre. Tonight at 10:30 pm, UP Comedy Club, Pipers Alley.

Just For Laughs: Wednesday picks

Wednesday is hump day for the American working stiff, but the Just For Laughs Chicago comedy festival is just getting into gear.

Here are my picks from tonight's busy slate of national and local acts:

Moshe Kasher, Stage 773 — The Pro, 7pm (also Thu 7pm). Some standups write unusual material; others are themselves unusual. Although he works as a writer on NBC's The New Normal, Mr. Kasher is anything but.  His well-regarded memoir Kasher in the Rye, documenting his struggles with incarceration, mental illness and drug addiction, hints at the different path he's walked. More to the point of tonight's standup exercise, he's funny.

Second City Alumni, UP Comedy Club, 8pm. Improvisation in the hands of lesser talent carries a notoriously spotty success rate. But left to the professionals, it's at least as good as sketch: anything can happen and often does, and more thrillingly as it unfolds live.  Few practitioners are as able as this fine quartet of alums from Chicago's venerable Second City comedy theater: Kevin Dorff (Conan), Scott Adsit (30 Rock), T.J. Jagodowski (those beloved Sonic commercials) and David Pasquesi (Boss).

The Todd Barry Podcast, Stage 773 — The Cabaret, 8:30pm.  Todd Barry's sense of humor is so dry, you could moisten it in a sealed bag of rice and talcum powder. The seasoned veteran of high quality television (The Larry Sanders Show, Dr. Katz) brings a withering, world-weary sensibility that would be dispiriting if it didn't inform his first-rate material and patient, dead-on crowd work. Tonight's podcast features special guests John Hodgman, Brendon Walsh and Vanessa Fraction; Barry also performs standup Fri-Sat at 10pm, Stage 773.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Just For Laughs: Tuesday picks

The Just For Laughs Chicago comedy festival kicks off tonight with a nice array of talent.

My picks:
  • A free screening of The Heat, a new buddy-cop comedy from Parks and Recreation writer Katie Dippold.  Featuring Sandra Bullock and Bridesmaids scene-stealer Melissa McCarthy. At ShowPlace ICON Theater, 6:30pm.
  • Pete Holmes, the popular Chicago-bred standup who became a frequent presence on VH1's "I Love the..." shows en route to his own Comedy Central special and a busy touring schedule. At UP Comedy Club, 8pm and 10:30pm, plus Thursday 8pm.
  • Wrestling With Depression Podcast, in which Marty DeRosa takes an unflinching look at the loneliness, career uncertainty and outright rejection that working comics face. An original approach to an infrequently discussed topic, other than among comics themselves.  At Stage 773 — The Cabaret, 10pm.

Elsewhere, local favorites T.J. (Jagodowski) and Dave (Pasquesi) present their usual improv master class at Stage 773 — The Box at 7 p.m., but it must be noted that they play frequently at iO Theater. If you're an infrequent comedy-goer, consider checking out an act or two that rarely visit Chicago.

Comedy Christmas comes only in June ... enjoy!

Monday, June 10, 2013

Serious funny


If it's the second week of June, it's time once again for Chicago's most adored new tradition this side of Stanley Cup hockey, "the Bean," and the downtown water taxi:  the Just For Laughs Chicago comedy festival. The cavalcade of hilarity plays tomorrow through Sunday at venues around the city.

Since 2009, when the Montreal-based Just For Laughs comic empire teamed with the "very funny"-rebranded TBS cable network to present live comedy festivals in several American cities, JFL Chicago has quickly grown into the largest annual comedy festival in the United States, and easily one of the best.

Last year's go-round, for example, featured Aziz Ansari, Louis C.K., Jeff RossMegan Mullally and husband Nick Offerman, Patton Oswalt, The Office creator Stephen Merchant, Vince Vaughn, Kevin Smith, Amy Schumer, and a week of Conan O'Brien tapings at the historic Chicago Theatre.

This year it's another rock star lineup headlined by Bob Newhart, Bill Maher, Seth Meyers and Russell Brand, with ample support from standups Todd BarryNick SwardsonKumail Nanjiani, Al MadrigalHannibal Buress and more. Variety acts include the popular Whitest Kids U' Know sketch ensemble and the Bear Down (as in Chicago Bears) Podcast.

Conveniently, most of this year's club shows will play in the newly renovated Stage 773, a four-theater complex on Belmont Avenue in Lakeview.  Four stages under one roof mean shorter commute times for populace, performers, producers and press alike.

As usual, the intelligently curated smaller shows are highly anticipated.  Of particular note is a connoisseur's dream at iO Theater late Sunday evening. First it's expert improv from an all-star team of Second City alumni: T.J. Jagodowski (TJ and Dave)Kevin Dorff (Late Night with Conan O'Brien), Jon Glaser (Delocated), Scott Adsit (30 Rock), plus a famous friend or two.  Topping the bill is a buzzed-about one-man show by another Second City veteran, Saturday Night Live writer Michael Patrick O'Brien.

Another can't-miss is Karl Walzein (@dadboner), the fictitious tweeter whose Michigan working-class bravado, "finger guns" and love for "cold ones, you guys" has amassed 143,000 Twitter followers.  Creator Mike Burns will have solid shtick up his blue-collar sleeve at Stage 773 on Wednesday and Thursday.

I'll once again be covering the festival this year so watch this space (plus Facebook and Twitter) for updates.  The full festival lineup is available at

It's the funniest week of the year. Get out there and catch something (ideally a show)!

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Dept. of Prognostication

Looking ahead at Cory Booker's career...

• 2016: Runs for and wins the late Frank Lautenberg's old Senate seat

• 2017-19: Repeatedly reaches across aisle in gracious but futile attempts to work in comity with Senate Republicans

• 2019: Announces bid for White House in stirring Newark oration attended by President Obama and Caroline Kennedy

• 2019-20: Has patriotism questioned when Wall Street Journal reports that his American flag pin was made in Korea; is denounced by an angry Donald Trump as not having reported $2 income on scratch-off lottery ticket in 1987; is alleged not to have heroically rushed into a burning house to save people; eventually releases two forms of his birth certificate to moot allegation that he was born in Africa; is accused by Tea Party of fomenting class warfare and secretly plotting to secede North New Jersey from the United States

• 2020: Is elected by healthy margin despite being outspent $10 billion to $2 billion on campaign trail by mild-mannered Republican CEO, who then immediately disappears from public life

• 2021-23: Against long odds, uses White House bully pulpit and 68% approval rating to shepherd several landmark pieces of progressive legislation through Congress

 • 2024: Handily wins reelection despite not even campaigning against Republican nominee Sarah Palin

 • 2025-28: Stands by helplessly as Republican Congress passes no new laws and feverishly attempts to unwind progressive legislation from his first term

 • 2029: Moves to Denmark

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Attn. Chicago poker players!

Memo from the Shoe:

SATURDAY, JUNE 15, 2013 AT 11AM 
Buy-in: $450+$50. Structure Sheets are available in the Poker Room. 
We will be giving away 10 free satellite seats between 8:30AM and 10:30AM. 
Good Luck!

Whither the Basstard?

As careful readers of the space may have noted, there has been a certain lack of new content here lately. After five solid years of banging away at BB&B several times a week despite increasing burnout, I hit the wall last December and took a much-needed break. That I didn't have any idea how long it would last probably explains how long it lasted. But what's six months among friends?

I've since directed my creative energies, such as they are, into an incessant stream of "humorous" Facebook and Twitter posts. If you are one of those unfortunate souls who connects with me there, or despite all odds still comes here to follow the Twitter feed at right, you'll know what I mean.

I'm resurrecting BB&B primarily because Flavorpill Chicago, the culture guide for which I cover live comedy and theater, is on hiatus during a major site rebuild that will take most of the summer. But the summer comedy and theater season marches on unabated.

So until Flavorpill returns better than ever — and it will; I got a preview in our New York office in November, and the redesigned site looks amazing — I'll be writing in this space about the best live entertainment around town, starting with next week's Just For Laughs Chicago comedy festival. It will come as little surprise that I might also have a few other things to say.

Stay tuned!