Sara Dahms is a comedy superfan who even goes so far as to call herself a comedy nerd. Raised on National Lampoon, John Hughes, Gene Wilder, and Fairy Tale Theatre, her life changed after her older sister showed her Eddie Murphy’s Raw in 1988. Soon after, she found Andrew Dice Clay and became a stand-up junkie for life. Eighteen months ago, she took her first comedycation to see Jeff Ross play in Miami on her birthday. Since then, she’s been traveling all over the country checking out the best comedy everywhere, a confirmed comedy addict, and now she’s agreed to share her travels with us. This is her column. In this edition, Sara explores hometown Chicago!
Read Notes From a Comedy Junkie Volumes 1-10 here, and read more about her travels in Chicago, St. Louis, Austin, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Montreal, Washington D.C. and New York City.
Big Jay is one of my favorite comedians of all time. His ability to write hilarious (often adult themed) jokes is just as strong as his ability to think on his feet and play off the crowd. His wit is undeniable and he is just as much fun to hang out with as he is talented. I caught his crowd work show, What’s Your F#@king Deal, when I was at Just For Laughs this summer and I always make it a point to attend a live recording of his podcast, Legion of Skanks, whenever I’m in New York, but it had been a hot minute since I had last seen him perform standup. Big Jay Oakerson was in Chicago this month and I was able to attend two of his sold out shows.
Zanies booked Jay to play three shows at their Old Town, Chicago location and two shows in Rosemont. Although I had bought my ticket and made plans to see his late show in Rosemont, no two Big Jay Oakerson shows are ever the same, so I decided to check out the first show of his Chicago run as well. I arrived at Zanies on Thursday night and Jay met me outside. He is seriously one the nicest people in the business. We hung out for a bit and were able to catch up before heading inside for the show. Nice guy that he is, Jay got me a drink and then brought me to my seat. Rob Mailloux was in the middle of his set and I was happy that I was able to catch most of his act. Mailloux is new to Chicago but has been a long time friend of The Skanks; Jay, Luis and Dave. Rob is hilarious and the Chicago comedy scene is extremely lucky to have him.
When it came time for the host to announce “Big Jay Oakerson,” the sold out crowd went bananas!!! Whether it was The Bonfire or Legion of Skanks that brought them out, these people were definitely fans and specifically there to see this man. Jay was truly amazing. His set was the perfect cocktail of jokes, storytelling and crowd work; all served with a twist of cringe humor. I definitely appreciate the time and talent that goes into writing perfectly crafted jokes, but what really gets me excited is when a comedian’s wit is so sharp, they have the ability to step away from the script and come up with ridiculously, funny punchlines right there in the moment. There are only a few comedians out there who have mastered the art of both sides of the coin and can improvise just as strongly as they can write. Dave Attell, Jeff Ross, Tony Hinchcliffe and Big Jay Oakerson are a few of the comedians who have the skill set needed to pull off such a masterful show. Comedy such as this is always fresh, completely blows me away each and every time I have the opportunity to enjoy this caliber of ability, and most importantly, it always leaves me wanting more.
After the show, we hung out with some of the local comedians who regularly work this room and Dan Carlson, the manager of Zanies, Chicago. Dan told us a few stories about his early days in comedy working with legendary radio host, Ron Bennington and B.L. down in Florida. How cool!!! Ron Bennington is another one of my favorite comedians and who knew the world of comedy was so small?! Instead of 6 degrees of separation, when it comes to comedy, it’s probably more like 2 degrees of separation… Hearing these kinds of stories is one of my favorite parts of a great hang. A few days later, after his killer, sold-out show in Rosemont, Jay hung out with his fans taking pictures and telling stories for over an hour. It was a very relaxed vibe. It truly felt like there should have been a bonfire that we sat around while we all hung out and bonded over all things comedy. I loved every moment of it.
My week of killer comedy shows was well underway. The next comedian I planned on seeing was Chicago native, Matteo Lane at The Lincoln Lodge. I had the pleasure of seeing Matteo host a show at The Stand and do a spot at The Comedy Cellar’s Sunday brunch when I was in New York in January. Those two shows were all I needed to see for me to realize that Matteo Lane is a natural born star. After my trip to New York, seeing Matteo headline was something I was really looking forward to and having the chance to see him play his hometown was the perfect time to make this happen. The Lincoln Lodge in Chicago is the nation’s longest running independent comedy showcase and they had him booked for two shows on this particular weekend. I almost missed my opportunity to see him perform because by the time I tried to buy my tickets, both of his shows were already sold out. There was no way I was going to miss this, so I called the box office to see what I could do. The man who answered was very helpful and kind. He took my name and told me that they were in fact sold out but that he would put me on the wait list so that if someone didn’t show up, I would be first in line to get in…. I took the chance, headed to the venue and when I got there the man in the ticket booth had a ticket with my name on it waiting for me! Thank you Lincoln Lodge! Xoxo
I am SO glad I got in because this show was fantastic! Not only did Matteo bring down the house, but I also discovered some really funny, hometown talent. The evening was hosted by Terence Harnett. He is as funny as he is good looking… Very! Word on the street has it that Terence is a talented singer and actor in addition to being a comedian… Triple threat!!! I’m impressed. Another standout of the evening was Shannon Noll. Noll was able to make light of some pretty heavy topics including gender identity and sexuality. I love it when comedians are able to find the funny in these types of sensitive subject areas. It takes real talent to be able to accomplish this without being hacky or gratuitous and Shannon was able to do just that. Noll told a joke about breaking their “dick fingers” that had me dying. This bit had about three punchlines and was pure comedy gold. I just about peed my pants laughing. Bravo!
And now, for the man of the hour… Matteo Lane. He is the complete package and a total showman! He is high energy and makes the show feel like a party. I love his vibe. Matteo is ridiculously funny, he sings, tells stories and has the unique ability to pull the entire audience in and make us feel as if we are all at a really fun hang with our bestie instead of at a comedy show surrounded by strangers. The way he was able to connect with the audience through stories about his family, relationships and love of reality TV, made him both relatable and extremely likable. He is way more than a comedian. He is a personality! This type of talent would make him a phenomenal talk show host and I don’t mean a podcast. I should clarify that in addition to being a killer comedian/performer, he is also a legit Adonis. So, I’m hoping the talk show he is destined to host will be on television! Netflix and Bravo… I’m talking to you!!! Thanks for the funny, Matteo!!! You have done Chicago proud!
In addition to seeing Big Jay Oakerson and Matteo Lane this month, I also attended two locally produced comedy showcases. The first was Funnier By The Lake: Comedy Showcase for its final show after a two and a half year run at Madame Zuzu’s Tea House and the second was RX: Comedy on its opening night at Second City’s, The Blackout Cabaret Theater.
Funnier By The Lake is a comedy production company that was founded by comedian, Larry Bloom and has been putting on shows all over the Chicagoland area since 2014. Larry is a longtime resident of Highland Park and it was there, in that suburb of Chicago’s north shore where he met fellow resident, Smashing Pumpkins frontman, William Patrick Corgan. Billy opened a local business called Madame Zuzu’s Tea House back in 2012. Madame Zuzu’s is a hip hangout where you could go to enjoy tea, coffee and their entirely vegan friendly menu. In addition to their fare, Corgan often opened his doors to celebrate the arts. Madame Zuzu’s would often showcase poets, musicians and for the past two and a half years, comedians under its roof. I met Larry Bloom when I attended my first comedy show at Madame ZuZu’s this September. I was immediately struck by the love and passion Larry has for the art of comedy. He explained that his shows always feature local talent and he always books an equal number of men and women for each of his events. Now, that is something you don’t hear everyday!
I have since been back to Zuzu’s to see Billy Corgan perform some of his greatest hits in that extremely intimate space as he prepared to go on tour. I was lucky enough to even get a chance to ask him a few questions as well. One of the things I wanted to know was what his vision for the future of Madame Zuzu’s was. He said that he wanted to expand the space and the experience. His vision is to turn Zuzu’s into a fully functioning performance venue where artists can not only come to perform, but can record and even broadcast their performances live as well. I loved that idea!!! I asked him if he would ever consider hosting a podcast out of Zuzu’s? He said not at this time but he would definitely be open to allowing a podcaster to use his space under the right circumstances. He then said if I was interested in podcasting out of there I should talk to the comedian who produces shows from the venue, Larry Bloom. I told Billy that I actually knew Larry and then, with perfect timing, almost as if it was planned, out of nowhere came Larry Bloom. He too was there to watch Billy perform his hits on that particular Sunday afternoon. Larry and I discussed the idea of starting a podcast and it’s still something I’m open to, but sadly as of March 14, 2018 Madame Zuzu’s will be closing their doors forever. Larry Bloom and Funnier By The Lake put on their final show of their long run at Zuzu’s this month and Larry even shed a few tears when he took the stage to thank everyone for all of their support over the years. On the bright side, Corgan has released a statement saying he is looking to open a bigger venue and since I have personally heard his vision for the future of his business, I completely believe that he will reopen his doors once he finds a venue to fit his needs.
The very same week I attended Funnier By The Lake’s final show at Madame Zuzu’s, I also went out to catch the opening night of a new show being produced by Valerie Jencks. It’s called RX:Comedy and it is beginning a four show run at Second City’s The Blackout Cabaret Theater. Valerie Jencks is the executive director of Prairie Family Therapy and Co-Founder of Laughing Matters in Chicago. Jencks is producing these RX:Comedy shows in an effort to promote mental wellness through laughter…I am a counselor by day and comedy junkie by night so I absolutely LOVE this concept!!!! The open call for auditions for these shows asked for comedians who have been affected by mental health in one way or another so this was a common thread that connected all of the comedians who performed. Some of them had jokes and material about their struggles, others did not, but everyone was hilarious and came together in the name of comedy. Amy Sumpter hosted the night and was a complete powerhouse. She owns the stage. I later found out that she is in an all female Beastie Boys Tribute Band called “She’s Crafty” and was not the least bit surprised by this. When it comes to comedy, “she’s just my type.” Larry Bloom recommended this show to me and was one of the featured comedians in this showcase. Larry is very open about his recovery and has some really funny bits about addiction so RX:Comedy is the perfect platform for his voice to be heard. He closed the show and did a tremendous job! Another standout of the night was Seth Davis. He killed with the material he had about his struggles with OCD and his “dysfunctional family.” He told some really funny jokes about seeing his mom naked as a kid and being traumatized by walking in on his mom giving his dad a blow job… and then revealed that his mother was in the audience!!! He did some crowd work with her on the matter that completely brought down the house. It was a next level moment in the show that almost made me do a spit take with my wine! After the show, I hung out for a bit with Larry and his wife and had the chance to meet Valerie Jencks. Seth Davis hung around afterwards as well. It turned out that Seth is just as big of a comedy junkie as I am and once we started talking comedy… We. Did. Not. Stop. Everyone was leaving the venue, so we decided to take a walk to Small Cheval and continue this conversation over burgers and fries. Seth works rooms all over Chicago and I came to find out that he was the host for Big Jay’s shows at Zanies that past Friday. Comedy is such a small world!!!! Speaking of Zanies, we passed the venue on our way to Small Cheval right as they were opening their doors and letting out their last show of the evening. We decided to go inside and say hello to Dan. Zanies, Chicago is celebrating their 40th Anniversary this year and are booking all kinds of amazing comedians to celebrate this milestone in the comedy business. It just so happened that Gilbert Gottfried was performing on this particular night and as Seth and I headed out the door to leave, Gilbert came into the showroom. I introduced myself, asked for a picture and he happily obliged. What a fun little detour that turned out to be!
Seth and I arrived to the restaurant, placed our order and continued our conversation. We talked about his start in improv, his decision to move to standup seven years ago, and his story telling Show I Shit You Not where comedians come on stage and tell hilarious stories of times they have lost control of their bodily functions. Seth and I both love PeeWee Herman, Chris Rock, Seinfeld and Louis C.K. I always say that if Seinfeld was “a show about nothing” then Louie was a show about EVERYTHING!!! That brought us the age old question that was first debated by Ricky Gervais, Jerry Seinfeld, Chris Rock, and Louis C.K. On Talking Funny on HBO… “Are they coming to see you or are they coming to see the act?” Although we both sat on opposite sides of that debate, there was one thing we agreed on… We’re both ready to see Louis C.K. make his return to comedy. He has acknowledged what he’s done, apologized and has taken steps to learn from his mistakes and be a better man because of it. We forgive him and are ready for Louie to make a comeback!
One of the best parts of going to shows is all of the awesome people I meet along the way. Comedy brings people together and laughter is always the best medicine!!!