Dressed in a green floral skirt, with a long gray sweater, and no taller than 4’11, Katie McVay, 25, walks into the Gallery Cabaret bar in Bucktown that’s as big as a garage. McVay waves to Johnny the bartender who looks like a cowboy from head-to-toe in his blue denim jeans and Stetson hat. McVay needs to hurry because it’s 6:45 pm and she needs to host the Two Hour Comedy Hour which starts at 7 pm.
From across the street, the Gallery Cabaret looks like the typical dive bar. Leinenkugel signs light up in both windows of the orange building that has graffiti painted on the side of it. Open the brown wooden door and the bar is as long as a bowling lane with tiny stage at the end of it.
After pouring herself a beer on tap McVay hops on stage and loudly tells the audience she decided to make the show sexy tonight by wearing a black tank top with “Las Vegas” written in hot pink letters. McVay’s style is similar to that of the late Sam Kinison, a comedian famous for his screaming antics and raging rants. In fact she has a series on YouTube called Yell You Better.
“It’s an advice column, people write in questions and then I answer them. I shout a lot. That’s the main gist of the program. I shout and then the show’s over,” says McVay. In episode three of her YouTube series, a viewer asked McVay if she ever gets a sore throat from yelling so loudly and if so, what she does to remedy that?
McVay responds with a whole minute rant about dodging sore throats because she has superior vocal muscles. This particular episode is 4:56 long and McVay doesn’t seem to take a breath in between sentences.
During the Two Hour Comedy Hour, McVay performs a bit called “Katie’s Crowdwork Corner,” where she gives herself a pep talk and and screams at audience members while Andy is telling her not to scream at them.
A typical McVay joke goes something like, “One time I was in bed with a man and I didn’t know what to do with my hands, so I slapped him in the face.”
When McVay’s minutes are up, she screams as she introduces her co-producer Andy Fleming, 28, to the stage. In denim jeans and a green sweater, Fleming tells the audience that he quit smoking weed a few weeks ago because he needed to start losing weight. On Twitter he refers to himself as “Gorged Clooney” and “Gerard Gut-ler.” Fleming describes his style as unobservant.
“I don’t talk about social issues or the government or anything. I like being silly. I like talking about dumb things,” says Fleming.
Like every comedian he makes fun of himself as well as his audience. “I like to look for girls on Myspace, because I like girls that don’t know a sinking ship when they see one. That’s important for me.” He says that he looks at internet porn so much that his web pages stick together.
Fleming is originally from Memphis TN., but after conquering the comedy world there he decided to move to Chicago. “I had done everything comedy wise that I wanted to do there and so an opportunity came for me to be here, so I went for it.” He says since moving to the Windy City, he’s been getting more personal. “In a way, this sounds horrible, but depression and rock bottom is really funny to me.”
Goodrich Gevaart, 29, has been a stand-up comic for two years. He co-produces “Performance Anxiety,” a stand up showcase held in a sex shop in Lakeview. On Twitter, Gevaart describes himself as a feminist pervert. He looks harmless with shaggy short brown hair and hipster glasses that compliment his Darth Vader shirt.
These three eccentric comedians all have plenty of things in common: they are celebrities in the underground comedy scene, each have their own unique style that they bring to the stage, and each of them want to eventually reside in New York or LA.
According to comedy blogger, James Kamp, 22, Chicago has a smarter comedic style compared to New York or LA. A Chicago comic is essentially someone who is a workhorse, assured of their inner voice. Gevaart has been labeled a real Chicago comic which he takes as a compliment.
Gevaart’s style involves what he calls “a lot of character-y stuff.”
He’s a T-shirt and jeans kind of a guy and when he tells his jokes he does a lot of different voices and different act outs. Recently at the Gallery Cabaret in Bucktown, Gevaart embodied a Chicago accent and cracked jokes about the CTA.
When asked how he describes his personal style of comedy he decided to compare it to sex workers and the sex industry. “
If you’re an escort or if you work in porn you get to say ‘Oh that’s not my thing, I don’t want to do that,’ says Gevaart. “If you’re in the service industry you just have to put up with whatever stupid s–t anyone brings at you, like, you’re not allowed to be a real person and bring that to the table otherwise you’ll get in trouble.”
Performance Anxiety is a sex positive, exclusively non-misogynist show. Gevaart thinks it’s pretty cool to do that because it’s not a common thing in comedy.
Gevaart has only been working with the show for seven months with co-host Caitlin Bergh.
“We just set up an amp and a mic in the middle of the store [which is a sex shop in Lakeview]. We don’t really move anything except we put chairs out. It’s very low maintenance and the idea is just to tell everyone’s jokes in a different environment. It’s an experience every time,” says Berg.
According to Bert Haas, 57, the Executive President of Zanies Comedy Club, on the East Coast, the style of jokes are abrasive and off-color, partly because the audience is very much in your face. On the West Coast, it doesn’t matter if you were voted comedian of the year for two years in Texas, if you want to make it big you have to start from the ground up.
Haas believes that no comedy is the same as the other. “Let me give you an example. Let me put three white male comedians on the show. Let me put up Jerry Seinfeld, Rodney Dangerfield, and Sam Kinison. I defy you to watch those three comedians in a row and say ‘Oh they’re all the same!’ They’ll all completely different. Louis C.K. is very different than Lewis Black who is very different from Daniel Tosh.”
Stand-up is Substantial
James Kamp got involved with the comedy scene while working at the Lakeshore Theater and writes the blog comedyofchicago.com that gets about 30,000 hits a month. If a comedian is good and talented they’re going to be on Kamp’s radar. This blogger of comedy tries not to slam anyone in his posts. When asked how important open mics were to the stand up scene in Chicago, he replied that they are critical to a good comedy scene.
“Open mics are the engine that drive the scene. That’s where comedians get better, that’s where they try their material, that’s where they fine tune their timing,” says Kamp. “That’s where they develop new material, and most veterans who are involved in the scene are constantly going to go to open mics.”
Comedians often make the mistake by doing what they think is funny instead of what’s really funny to them.”They’ll come unoriginal and they don’t really follow their own inner voice, and it takes awhile to find that inner voice,” says Kamp.
No matter what type of struggles comedians are facing, they always have advice for one another. According to Haas, there are so many open mics and new talents in Chicago right now, a comedian’s goal should be trying to get on stage every night of the week.
The Two Hour Comedy Hour is a good place to practice. “It’s very consistent. They have a lot of good comedians going in and out of there. It’s a great solid showcase with comedians that are working very hard,” says Kamp. “They’re really good at picking their line ups, they make sure everything is on time, and they know how the room is supposed to be.
Location Is Important
These three Chicago comics, McVay, Gevaart, and Fleming, all aspire to be living in LA or New York some day, because no matter how hard you may try, you have to leave Chicago if you want to make it big.
“The tradition has been, get good in Chicago, get your props in Chicago, and then move to LA or New York because there’s no industry in Chicago,” says Kamp. “Comics are at roots, they’re writers, and if you want a writing job you’re going to go to New York or LA. If you want an acting job, you’re probably going to go to LA, and there’s not that consistent industry here in Chicago.”
Mark Miller, a humor columnist for the Huffington Post, lives in Los Angeles where there are lots of places to perform stand-up, improv, sketch, and spoken word (storytelling) comedy. “Once you work your way up to a certain level, there are showcases where you could be seen by agents, managers, casting directors, etc.,” says Miller. “Hundreds of people are competing for these spots, but if you’re good, you’ll stand out.”
All comedians are writers and Miller stresses that patience is important. Just like any career, Miller says that from the moment you first start writing, assume it will take you anywhere from three to six months to get a writing job because like anything, it’s a process.
“You have to learn the skills, you have to practice them, and then you have to surround yourself with the right people that can help you achieve your dream,” says Miller. “Part of being a writer is being a salesman of yourself.”
According to Haas, If comedians aspire getting paid to do professional comedy, there are four criteria they should meet: be likeable, have a basic stage presence, have basic joke structure, and have what he calls “funny-ness.”
Fleming, McVay, and Gevaart all have plans for the future.
Fleming is currently working on a web series with McVay that is based on his life, so he hopes to be working for a television show or even a sketch show in the next five years.
“I want to write sitcoms basically, so I can prove to myself that writing character based comedy is a thing I can do,” says Fleming. “I love stand-up and I believe I’m good at it. I believe I’m probably one of the top 50 comics in the city, which honestly it takes a lot of balls to say that because there is a lot of f—ing great comics in the city, but I know I’ll never be one of the great ones.”
McVay says, “I want to get a good base of people who enjoy my skills and I want to produce more Yell You Better. I want to travel more for comedy and I want to hang out with cool people. I want to move to New York or Los Angeles and continue to do cool things.”
Gevaart hasn’t decided if he wants to move to the Big Apple, or the City of Angels, “I’ve realized that after going on the road a lot that I talk about Chicago and a lot of different things. You don’t need to know city references to get the joke. I want to travel a lot more and do better than I did last year.”