By Jason Heidemann
Special to the Tribune
2:32 PM CDT, March 11, 2014
"Is it hard to be a comedian?" asks Nick Gaza at "The Nasty Show" at the Laugh Factory last Saturday night. "No, it's hard not to be a comedian."
It reminds me of something Mel Brooks once said, that "life literally abounds in comedy if you just look around you." But the difference between Gaza and Brooks and everyone else is that while some of us — if we're lucky — might be able to find the ridiculous in everyday life, comedians turn these observations into smart, polished jokes. That is something few people can do well.
For example, many among us are at our at our wits end with this Chicago winter, but Gaza manages to package it into a solid one liner. "There is a pothole on my street that has more square footage than my apartment," he says.
Megan Gailey hits the Laugh Factory fresh from Friday's Miley Cyrus show at Allstate Arena. Being surrounded by 18,000 pubescent teenagers sounds nightmarish to me, but Gailey find the humor in it. "It was a little embarrassing being the oldest and drunkest person there," she says. "I felt like there were a lot of 15-year-olds looking at me like, 'Is that our future?'" Even funnier is her night on the town afterward. "We were waiting in line at the bar and the girl behind me got very impatient and she yells out, 'I shouldn't have to be standing here, I used to be in pageants,'" to which we all let out a collective groan. "Well, well, well," says Gailey, "we did not know that you have a fat mom."
Nobody pulls comedy out of misery better than Drew Michael. A Chicago comedian currently based in New York, Michael is back in town after opening for Aziz Ansari Friday night at the Morris Performing Arts Center in South Bend, Ind. Borderline bleak in his worldview, he nevertheless might just be the most essential comic voice to emerge from the city in recent years. He opens with an explanation of a recent date with a pretty girl that was very ho-hum. Didn't you have any fun, his roommate asks.
"It was fun, but it was fun because I was there," says Michael. "I made it fun. There were all these awesome things said, but I said them all."
If Michael comes across as conceited, we're not the only ones to think so. "My shrink says I'm a devaluing narcissist," he says. "That's tough to hear especially from a worthless piece of [junk] whose obviously jealous of me."
"White people are dying breed," says comedian Martin Morrow to a mostly Caucasian crowd at the UP Comedy Club last weekend. "How many of you have gluten allergies? It's killing you people off left and right. It's like the white man's sickle cell." I don't know how Dan Ronan, recently back in Chicago after a year in Los Angeles, is so easily able to turn his obsessive compulsive disorder, drug problems and recent admission that's he's bisexual into comedy, but he is skillfully doing just that. "Recently this yuppie 'bro' guy came up to me after a show and was like, 'Hey. Is that thing about you being bi true?" Says Ronan, "No, I was just trying to relate to the all-bisexual crowd." Ronan talks openly about his struggle with heroin, including an incident in L.A. where he's down and out, homeless and still shooting up. "I found this driveway next to this house, so I had my syringe loaded up, I'm crouched down and wrapped an iPhone cord around my arm. You know, because I'm a junkie but still a spoiled white kid."
Our headliner at UP is Brent Morin, who I first saw last summer at the Just for Laughs festival in Montreal. A star of the upcoming midseason show "Undateable" on NBC, Morin excels at taking about the things that shame him most. A former staffer for the short-lived "Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien," Morin does a masterful job recalling his heterosexual man crush on guest Bradley Cooper. "I'm not gay, but if he tried to kiss me I'd wait like three second before I said, 'No, no, no, we can't do this." There's something endearing and even essential about the way in which Morin openly acknowledges how flattered he would be to be hit on by such a handsome superstar. "You could have Jared Leto, why would you want me?" he would coyly ask an advancing Cooper.
A special musical performance at the Beat Kitchen for Mardi Gras means that "Chicago Underground Comedy" has been relocated to the venue's upstairs bar. Attendance is sparse due to Fat Tuesday celebrations around town, but smart comic observations abound. "I don't work hard," says Nate Simmons. "I just sweat enough to give off the impression that I do."
But it's comedian Matt Riggs who nails it in his headlining set. A bigger guy, Riggs does a marvelous joke about walking around the city with his middle fingers extended so that news cameras will avoid him. That way he doesn't have to worry about turning on the news and seeing himself as the poster child for a rise in diabetes. This reminds me of another quote, this time from late humorist Erma Bombeck. "There is a thin line that separates laughter and pain, comedy and tragedy, humor and hurt." Isn't that the truth?
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