The TBS “Just For Laughs” comedy festival, the largest of its kind in the country, took place from June 12 – 17 in Chicago. The festival featured more than 100 well-known comedians including Patton Oswalt, Sarah Silverman, Aziz Anzari, and more.
The Nerd Show (Brian , Pete Holmes, Brent Weinbach, Dan Telfer, Hari Kondabolu, Mike Lawrence)
Hosted by Chicago-based comic Pete Holmes, The Nerd Show’s lineup consisted solely of obsessive, weird, or nerdy comedians. It was a show performed by nerds and for nerds, which was clear when the audience cheered during the discussion of comic books and booed at the mention of George Lucas.
Pete Holmes’s exuberant, happy-go-lucky energy on stage translated as the host for the night. Smiling continuously throughout his set, Holmes seemed to genuinely enjoy performing stand-up. Certainly all comics enjoy their craft, but positive personas are rare in the scene — seeing one was a breath of fresh air.
One highlight of the show was Mike Lawrence. Recently seen on Conan, Lawrence hails from New York and has been doing stand-up for about six years. During his set he briefly touched upon superheroes and Game of Thrones, but also talked shared his experience of being bullied in school and working for seven years at McDonald’s. It seemed to be a cathartic for Lawrence to joke about the darker times in his life. Lawrence, like many comedians of the past, shed light on serious topics through his comedy.
Another standout comedian was Brent Weinbach, an unusual and weird with a performance to match. His rigid composure and monotone voice seemed like it would hinder his stand-up, but he was able to use self-awareness and his eccentricities to his favor. Weinbach performed odd comedic bits, like singing ingredients off Dorito bags as makeshift Latin and reading off fortune cookie slips, all of which were absolutely hilarious. Weinbach’s stand-up was innovative, strange, and warranted greater appreciation.
Janeane Garofalo & Kyle Kinane
Immediately following The Nerd Show was Janeane Garofalo and Kyle Kinane who duo-headlined their late show. Looking around, the beautiful Up Comedy Club venue seemed to be completely sold-out, filled with eager people of varied ages. The host was Adam Burke, a well-respected Chicago comic who recently recorded his first comedy album. His stand-up consisted of an extensive vocabulary, assisting the vivid descriptions of his act. All warmed up, the audience cheered loudly as Garofalo and Kinane walked out on stage together. The two decided who would go first by flipping a coin, an unusual approach that helped create a care-free feel to the show.
Despite having to perform immediately, Garofalo’s years of stand-up experience were clear when she slipped into her act with ease and subtlety. Though Garofalo was performing, it felt like a casual conversation with the audience. She tackled various social issues, like her gripes about Velour fashion magazine, to men’s unclipped toenails. It was enjoyable to watch Garofalo, a stand-up veteran and creditor to the formation of the alternative comedy scene.
Next was Chicago-based comic Kyle Kinane who is quickly rising to the forefronts of stand-up comedy. Kinane primarily told stories in his act. Kinane had an enormous amount of jokes in each story, helping the audience stay attentive to every word he said. His self-deprecation brought humor to the sadder parts of his life. At one point during his act, he said he should’ve already died, and it was met with a roar of laughter. Catch Kyle Kinane in the smaller clubs or venues while you still can because in a few years, there’s no doubt he’ll be selling out huge theaters.
Patton Oswalt – The Vic Theater
The first show of Thursday night was Patton Oswalt at the Vic Theater. The opener was Kyle Kinane, who did extremely well with the material he did from his previous night’s performance. After being introduced, Oswalt commended Kinane’s growing talent, jokingly saying he’ll have to find a worse opener because Kinane is “getting too good.”
Looking around to see a sold-out theater with a group of standing people in the back, it was clear Patton Oswalt’s history of work has built himself a fan base. He wrote a best-selling novel, put out comedy albums and hour specials, and has starred in TV & films. It was great to see the original craft Oswalt got into before he went on the path towards these other creative works.
Being able to paint a picture in the minds of the audience so they can laugh to the fullest extent is a skill that is possessed by the top comedians, and Oswalt had seemingly done so with ease Thursday night. In his set, Oswalt discussed his unhealthiness, laziness, and relationship with his daughter. He brings the audience along to enjoy the embarrassing moments of his life, because after stripping away the sadness of his past events, there isn’t much else to do but to laugh.
There seems to be no stopping Oswalt, as he announced to the crowd that he’s already working on new material after the release of his hour special last year. He plans to go on tour soon, editing and tightening his act. It will be interesting to see what Oswalt will joke about next.
Hannibal Buress: Still Saying Stuff – Park West
After Patton Oswalt’s show, I immediately drove to Park West, hoping to catch a good seat for Chicago native, Hannibal Buress. He has written for SNL and 30 Rock and has recently won the Best Club Comic Award. Buress is one of the most talked about young comedians today, which is well deserved.
Opening for Buress was DePaul University’s very own faculty member, Kevin Bozeman. Bozeman was originally a professional comedian before teaching as an adjunct professor. His experience as a stand-up comic is more than a decade long. Not before long, Bozeman was ready to introduce the feature comedian, but his act was fluid and strong throughout that time wasn’t noticed. Though most of the crowd didn’t seem to know Bozeman in the beginning, the audience took a strong liking to him as he finished up his last joke.
The feature act was a Chicago comic named Danny Kallas, who was hand-picked by Hannibal Buress. Kallas is near the forefront of the city’s comedy scene and is well-respected by local comics. His thick Chicago accent makes nearly every word out of his mouth absolutely funny. In his act, he talked about some social concepts, like the idea of friends with benefits. His humor also involved a level of absurdity, wondering about the possibility of Derrick Rose having cornrows so that he can have an amazing nickname.
Currently, Kallas does stand-up in bars and small venues around and out of the city, but his performance in a theater was a representation of what’s to come as his career continues down the road. If possible, you should catch Danny Kallas every Wednesday at Timothy O’Tooles bar downtown.
Having seen Hannibal Buress a few times before this show, I was thrilled to see what he had in store for tonight. Buress started off his set with observational humor, discussing his problems with sunny-side eggs and turkey, but as time passed, Buress moved onto stories about his childhood.
His act incorporated more personal stories, as opposed to just jokes. It was incredibly interesting to witness Buress evolve his act. Over the past year or so, his cadence has changed, raising his voice and speaking with more eagerness. His childhood stories of being robbed and tricked into drunk driving in Chicago show an insight to who Buress is as a person. That invite to laugh at one’s life is a rather vulnerable feeling, but Buress seems to show no fear when doing so. When seeing the top comedians today, like Louis CK, it is clear that their comedy progresses from discussing their life’s interactions to blurting out their feelings, fears, and brutal truths in a brilliant way.
TJ Miller presents Performance Anxiety – Up Comedy Club
The final show of the night was held at the newly remodeled Up Comedy Club venue. The showcase was hosted by TJ Miller, a former Chicago native, and featured comedians from both in and out of town. Starting around a half an hour before midnight, Miller introduced performers one after another for about two hours.
Peformance Anxiety had a late-night vibe, as comedians openly expressed their care-free attitudes and drunkenness. The crowd added to the atmosphere by cheering loudly and drinking more as time passed. Drop-ins, like Laurie Kilmartin (CONAN writer) and Eric Andre (Comedy Central & The Eric Andre Show), were welcomed. Kilmartin joked about the possibility of having gangs of lady rapists, while Andre threw pieces of the stage around the room.
The show ended up being an incredibly fun way to end the third day of the Just For Laughs Festival.