Can a live lit show about all things current find happiness in a jazz club steeped in a century of history? That’s what Christopher Piatt aims to find out this weekend as he moves The Paper Machete to the storied music club.
Piatt, a former Time Out Chicago theater editor, launched the magazine-style revue in January 2010 at Lincoln Square bar Ricochet’s. The weekly show of original essays about hot topics—which has included a lineup of guests like actor Michael Shannon (“Boardwalk Empire”), comedian Julia Sweeney and Weather Underground founder William Ayers—eventually outgrew the small venue, and Piatt moved it up the street to the Horseshoe.
We caught up with Piatt to find out more about the series and his plans to integrate the show into its new home at The Green Mill.
How does The Paper Machete differ from the storytelling scene?
In the storytelling scene, the performers talk about their lives. In the Machete, they talk about what's going on in the world. It's a show about current events and pop culture. We call it a “salon in a saloon.”
Every week the material is made fresh from the headlines, the same way hotshot chefs work with only fresh ingredients. Plus, we mix in vaudeville characters and some improv. And we have a bird puppet. And really hot bands.
So aside from people standing at microphones, we're not really like a storytelling event.
How does your journalism background inform the tone of the show?
The main ingredient in the show is essays written in third-person prose—I know that doesn't sound too sexy, but people really like it—that’s a heavily journalistic influence. Plus, I’m always obsessed with whatever’s going on right now—I'm a huge cable news junkie—and how we can incorporate that into the show. I try to treat my job like that of an editor-in-chief.
How has the show evolved since its inception?
The very first Machete back at Ricochet’s had no comics in it. It was all spoken-word and performance-art types. But we eventually assumed the identity of a comedy show. The Reader named us “Best Comedy Series” and we've worked with many of the city's best talents from the improv, sketch and stand-up scenes. The show has plenty of serious content, but the best shows are the best ones because of the laughs.
What prompted the move to the Green Mill?
Long story short, we asked them and they said yes. It's a spectacular venue and I’d frankly dreamed of eventually moving there when I first started the Machete. So it’s a pipe dream that came true.
What influence do you hope that this new venue will have on the show?
At the Mill, the musical possibilities are endless. We now have access to a piano and an organ, so we can feature jazz, cabaret, classical and gospel in the mix. We also have two stages to play with, which is great for us. Content-wise, we'll still have great comic essays about the news, but now it will seem like they're being performed by gangsters.
From the beginning, it’s been held on Saturday afternoons in bars. Had you done any market research into optimum times for Chicagoans to get drunk and discuss current events?
[Laughs] We’ve never done research, but I can say with authority that you don't have to twist the average Chicagoan’s arm to drink on a Saturday afternoon. City-wide afternoon thirst has, in fact, been very good to the Machete.
What are some memorable live essays you’ve heard at the Machete?
William Ayers, who's a Machete regular, read a beautiful essay about the late Andrew Breitbart and Tucker Carlson coming over to his house for dinner. And I have particularly fond memories of the comics Tim Sniffen and Brendan Dowling playing Chris Brown’s tattoo artists.
Who are your featured guest readers for the December 1 show?
A bunch of our tried and true regulars: Katie Rich from The Second City mainstage, the playwright Phil Dawkins from Victory Gardens [“Failure: A Love Story”] and Samantha Irby, who writes the blog, “Bitches Gotta Eat.” Plus Chad the Bird, our resident puppet, and a killer funk and soul band called Fatbook. It should be a great event.
Go: 3 p.m. Saturday at The Green Mill, 4802 N. Broadway
Tickets: Free; 773-878-5552; thepapermacheteshow.com
Julia Borcherts is a RedEye special contributor.
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