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Laughs Week

Friday, June 15, 2012

Miracle workers: Scott Adsit and friends improvise at iO

Posted By on 06.15.12 at 12:42 PM

Present at the creation: Scott Adsit
  • Present at the creation: Scott Adsit
There's a great load of mystique surrounding improvisation. The long-form version in particular has its legends and its saints, its temples, commandments, and arcana based on the magic of spontaneous creation. Sometimes you've got to wonder whether that's all just spin to keep the pews filled and the workshops running, the way it is in any religion. But then somebody goes and delivers a miracle.

I saw a miracle or two last night at iO, where a group led by Scott Adsit contributed an evening of long-form improv to the TBS Just for Laughs comedy festival.

Gainfully employed now as a star of NBC's 30 Rock, Adsit used to play at both iO and the Second City. He was joined in the show I saw by fellow Chicago improvisers-turned-TV-entertainers Jon Glaser and Kevin Dorff. But there would've been no sacred event without the participation of Dave Pasquesi and T.J. Jagodowski, a prodigious pair who remain based in Chicago and perform together in a celebrated weekly late-night show called T.J. & Dave.

Last night's odyssey started as simply as could be, with Pasquesi standing maybe 15 feet from Glaser and grinning amiably at him. Joined by a buddy (Adsit), Glaser confided that he was creeped out because the grinning had been going on for a full 30 minutes. The setting, it developed, was a bar, and Pasquesi was just a nice-guy conventioneer with a tendency to grin amiably at people. The scene soon split focus as Pasquesi got into bar talk with Adsit, and Glaser struck up a conversation with Jagodowski. We heard snippets from each pair in nicely orchestrated turns. This one was in bike sales, that one bred dogs. There was some patter about the Bible. Pasquesi was in mourning because his wife had "burned down."

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Thursday, June 14, 2012

Janeane Garofalo is still around

Posted By on 06.14.12 at 02:36 PM

Looking good with a little help: Janeane Garofalo
  • Looking good with a little help: Janeane Garofalo
Standing in a line that started at the doors of Up Comedy Club and stretched three stories down to the ground floor of Pipers Alley—and that wasn't moving even though those doors were supposed to have opened a half hour earlier—I realized I wasn't exactly sure why I wanted to see Janeane Garofalo so much. I thought she was great in The Truth About Cats & Dogs and Romy and Michele's High School Reunion, and I remember wishing I could get in to a sold-out performance she gave when I was in college. But I hadn't heard much about her in the last ten years or so, and neither had any of the friends to whom I mentioned this TBS Just for Laughs show at Up Comedy.

Plenty of people obviously remember her, though. Up Comedy wasn't just sold out but, from the looks of it, oversold. The organizers appeared to have crammed an extra row of chairs into the room, creating seating that was uncomfortably close to both the row ahead and the chairs on either side and that forced many of us to crane our necks to see. I was already tired and a little cranky because of the delayed start of the 11 PM show, and the crick I quickly developed in my neck didn't help things.

Garofalo shared the bill with peripatetic stand-up Kyle Kinane, and a coin toss determined that she'd go first. As she started talking, I was reminded of an interview I'd come across in Vulture while trying to figure out what she'd been up to since the 90s. In it she talked about getting Botox, losing weight, and wearing Spanx, and somehow I still liked her. Garofalo doesn't defend her actions—they're just things she's done. "I fucking sold out. That is absolutely a fact," she told Vulture in response to a question about her weight loss. "I was heavier and it really gets you almost nowhere, you realize quickly." One of the first bits in Garofalo's JFL performance concerned an Allure magazine piece about Jessica Biel that claimed her beauty has hindered her career. "No one's beauty has ever hindered their forward motion in entertainment," Garofalo declared.

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Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Last night: Jeff Garlin, Hannibal Buress, and others killed it at the Beat Kitchen

Posted By on 06.13.12 at 10:36 AM

Jeff Garlin popped in, along with several others
  • Josh Alder
  • Jeff Garlin popped in, along with several others
When Mike Birbiglia canceled his shows at the Victory Gardens Biograph Theater late last week because of "insurmountable technical difficulties," I was tasked by the Reader overlords to select one of the remaining four Tuesday shows to review. I didn't think it was necessary to check out The Conan Writers Live because I was already seeing Conan on Monday, and, duh, he'd be channeling them anyway. And because I was in the mood for real live humans, Henson Alternative's Stuffed and Unstrung sounded too puppety. DuPage County's own Kyle Kinane was performing at Up Comedy Club, but that was scheduled for 10:30 PM and I felt like writing this post before two in the morning, relatively unhammered.

So I went with the $5 local comedy show at the Beat Kitchen, christened Chicago Underground Comedy Presents: Secret Big-Time Local Comedy Showcase.

I made the best choice.

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Tuesday, June 12, 2012

An appraisal of Conan O'Brien at Just for Laughs

Posted By and on 06.12.12 at 06:17 AM

Conan OBrien Chicago bobblehead just for laughs
Conan O'Brien began his four-night residency at the Chicago Theater last night, and editorial assistant/Tweetmaster Asher Klein and staff writer Kevin Warwick were there to take it all in. In this Gchat, they discuss the merits of Conan's style, Mayor Emanuel's guest appearance, and making fun of you, the average Chicagoan.

Asher: Kevin, thank you for joining me tonight for the Early Afternoon With Asher Klein Show! [hold for applause]

Kevin: Wow, that's how you're starting this. OK, I'll take it.

Asher: Hey, this whole endeavor is "Just for Laughs," amirite? OK, I'll stop. So. Conan. What was your first impression of the live experience?

Kevin: All in all, I thought it was fun. I mean, I've been a Conan fan since I was in undergrad in the early aughts, staying up every night to catch his opening bit and then falling asleep in some abnormal psychology text. So, it was cool to see him live, even though I can't fathom the ungodly amounts of makeup they cake on his face.

Asher: It's true, he really is made up. I went in expecting that, and maybe it's just the baseline pastiness of his skin, but it really looked like the makeup artist was laying it on thick. He's not at all a bad performer though, and it's tough, given the longish commercial breaks where he and Andy have to stand around looking awkward while the band plays. Even with all the makeup.

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Monday, June 11, 2012

Laughs Week: chuckling through the pain

Posted By on 06.11.12 at 06:23 AM

He who will not be present: Mike Birbiglia
  • He who will not be present: Mike Birbiglia
Did you feel it? The ripple of sorrow that pulsed through the Reader office when it was announced that Mike Birbiglia had canceled out on what was supposed to be a five-day stand as part of this year's TBS Just for Laughs comedy festival? The comic whose Sleepwalk With Me has gone from one-man show to book to 2012 movie release is said to have experienced insurmountable technical difficulties. There was a wailing and a gnashing of teeth behind certain cubicle partitions here. People were stumbling around like, well, sleepwalkers, shaking their heads and tearing up whenever they happened to make eye contact with one another.

Well, we'll survive. (Oh yes, we will.) Birbiglia is due back to perform at the Victory Gardens Biograph Theater, October 25-29; if that actually happens, we may even learn to trust again. Meanwhile, there are 146 other comedians and troupes listed on the Just for Laughs roster, a bunch of whom Reader intern Rebecca Cohen saw fit to highlight in her judicious preview of the fest. A few of us will be out there this week, at the clubs and theaters, trying at least to laugh on the outside as we take in shows featuring Conan O'Brien, Janeane Garofalo, Scott Adsit, and a whole slew of locals such as Adam Burke and 2010 Reader pick for best stand-up Junior Stopka. We'll share our responses here during what we're calling Laughs Week because it hurts too much to call it Mike Birbiglia Isn't Coming Week.

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