If you want comedy go to Chicago. It is where Tina Fey, Jack McBrayer, Mike Myers, Bill Murray, John Belushi, John Candy, Amy Poehler and various other names, that people hipper than me constantly discuss, got their start. In Chicago, comedy lives.
If my time in Chicago had a genre it’d be comedy (and prog-rock). I got to eat at the famous Billy Goat tavern where, for some reason, they refused to make me a gluten free vegan burger with a side of kale chips, informing me “Cheeseborger, no kale, chips”. I also got the opportunity to attend a recording of Wait, Wait Don’t Tell Me. Where I laughed loudly to indicate that I understood the political jokes, and said repeatedely, “So true, Romney is rich. I love smart comedy.”
My week culminated at one of Chicago’s comedic institutions, iO (Improv Olympics), run out of a little theatre near Wrigley Stadium. The night I went was a pretty big deal apparently. It was the seventh anniversary of an improv troupe called Revolver. When I arrived the space was buzzing and many of the seats were already full.
I ordered a pint and sat, people watching. It seemed that everyone was involved in improv or comedy. I listened to snippets of conversations: “I don’t care what you say, the current SNL lineup is one of the strongest since the 1970s.” Said one guy wearing glasses and a plaid shirt. “I really hope Wilco comes back to play again soon,” said another. The girl sitting next to me spoke about a philosophy short course she was taking at Columbia College, “I have to write a paper on Goethe,” she groaned.
“I love Gotye,” I chimed in, “that song Something that I used to Know is awesome,” I sung out a few lyrics:
You didn’t have to go so low
Mhmhmhm RECORDS mhmhm
Change your numbers
They looked at me, and then returned to their conversation. “I suppose that’s one of his more obscure songs,” I said to myself, taking a sip of my beer. I determined that I would make friends with these people, whether they wanted it or not.
The show started and the audience cheered, the house was packed. I was onto my second pint and a little tipsy. A group of actors ran on stage and stood along the back wall. A guy wearing a Wilco t-shirt and who reminded me of Mike Myers came forward, “Thank you everybody, we’re Revolver (cheers). Okay, for our first performance we need a volunteer from the audience.”
I immediately threw up my hand. This is it Denton, do or die, the perfect opportunity to crack a few jokes and show these people that you belong. I waved my hand and yelled, “Me, me, me, me.” One other hand was up, a woman wearing a sash reading ‘Birthday Girl’. Her friends all cheered for her. He pointed at somebody, at the time I thought it was me, but now I think about it he did say, “Birthday girl.” In any case I shoved past her and hurried on stage.
The host stepped back as I bounded up to him, “Wow, okay, you seem eager.”
“Hi I’m Rupert,” I grabbed his hand and shook it.
“Hey Rupert, and where are you from?”
I squinted out from the stage, bright lights obscured the audience. “Australia.” I switched into a Crocodile Dundee accent, “Crocs on the barbee, mate.” I thought people would identify with this but, judging by the silence, nobody did. I tried again, “This is a knife!” And gave the audience my middle finger, audiences love profanity, I thought. Silence. Though someone did say, “That’s just offensive.”
The host looked around himself, “Uh, okay. So. What do you think of Chicago?”
“Talk about a windy city,” I made a fart noise into my hands. I sputtered and squeaked into my palms, the noise tapered flaccidly out into the darkness. Somewhere out in the audience I heard a solitary, “Ha!” although it could have been a cough. Okay, well that’s something, I thought, fart noises work. The questions continued and I continued trying to be funny, “Art institute? More like, FART institute!” I made another fart noise into my hand, this too trailed off into silence.
One of the improv guys standing behind us stepped forward and whispered something to the host who nodded and, quite abruptly said, “Okay, how about a round of applause for Rupert.”
“Oh already?” I went to shake his hand, but realized there was saliva on it from all my jokes. I got off stage, wiping my hand on a stage curtain on my way down. Exhilarated, I returned to the bar and sat watching.
The host turned to the improv troupe standing along the wall and called for someone to step forward, “Who’s going to play Rupert?” He asked. This’ll be great, I thought. But the actors just stood there with their hands behind their backs looking at the floor. The audience laughed a little. I waited. The host went over to one of them, a tall blonde guy. He spoke in a whisper that was audible over the quiet audience. “C’mon Lou, somebody needs to do it,” he begged, trying to pull the actor forward by his cuff. Lou wrenched his arm back, “I can’t. Who could work with that material? It was just offensive stereotypes and fart puns.”
A woman standing next to Lou leaned over, “I’ve been doing improv for seven years and this is the worst I’ve seen.” I sunk lower and lower in my chair as the back and forth continued.
Eventually, the host gave up, “Okay ladies and gentlemen,” he smiled returning to the audience, “I’m going to need another non-Australian volunteer to get interviewed!” He got a big laugh. I laughed loudly, to show that I was included.
The host pointed into the audience, “How about you, birthday girl.”