Globe Gong Idol avoids sacrilege in a holy comedy space.
Comedian Tony Blanco enjoys making people uncomfortable—think heckling, reckless provocation and a twisted sense of humor bordering on insulting. That’s just the way this Chicago newcomer likes it.
Luckily for him, the scene is swarming with like-minded comics, and the Louisiana native has teamed with three equally hateful locals to create Globe Gong Idol, a new monthly shindig at the Globe Pub in Lakeview.
As one can probably guess from the moniker, the show combines past and present TV staples The Gong Show and American Idol, complete with oddball performances, snide judges and, yes, a gong. Blanco hosts, while the talent judges take on punny names (Benny Harris is snotty Brit Limey Cow, Hannah Gansen is the ditzy Hannah Abdulla Rashim Mumamad Hussein Gansen and the mono-monikered Hannibal is quiet giant Randibal Jackson) and deliver quips like, “Was that Gallagher with cerebral palsy?” And let’s not forget the gong—a small handheld metallic disc that, when demanded by the raucous audience, Cow bangs on noisily to conclude most of the acts. The show garnered a decent crowd at its inaugural evening April 2, with an open-mike lineup featuring stand-up, musical acts and beatboxing.
“I tell the comics who come, ‘Do not come to do comedy, because the audience won’t buy it unless you’re brilliant immediately. Otherwise, you’re getting booed off the stage,’” Blanco says. “That’s the point of the show. It’s this sort of smarmy, edge-of-your-seat, underhandedly passive-aggressive cruelty.”
The comedians behind Gong Idol have a lot to live up to: The Globe occupies the site of the former Lyon’s Den bar, home to a beloved open-mike night known citywide for consistent, quality talent (a bit ironic, no?). While the Globe’s management downplays the fact that Gong Idol has something to prove, Chicago comic vets continue to lament the loss of the Lyon’s Den (closed in 2004) even to this day.
“Everyone will tell you: There was only one Lyon’s Den,” says Robert Buscemi, one of the hosts of the former weekly open mike (the Den organizers are now behind Three-Ring Comedy Circus at Mix on Monday nights). “And it was also all our own scene. There was no industry or even comedy clubs watching. Stand-up in Chicago is not like improv and sketch and theater in Chicago. No one was paying a bit of attention to us. So it was a fairly pure meritocracy in that way. There was no one to sell out to, so you had to be interesting and impress each other. Your reputation was solely artistic.”
Chicago stand-up still struggles for broader recognition, but the next generation of alt-comics are plowing ahead with personal projects like Gong Idol, a show that accommodates Blanco’s abrasive taste in comedy. “Honestly, I don’t think [the scene] quite gets me yet,” Blanco says. “People would be like, ‘Tony, you can’t call the audience assholes. It is not acceptable to treat them like garbage.’ I’ve just been so used to being an abusive performer. I’ve had to tone it down a bit, but what I’m really discovering is it’s more a matter of creating the atmosphere in which it’s okay for me to do my thing.”
While Blanco has angered some fellow comics with his aggressive methodology, his room has already made its mark by allowing for some outlandish performances—a solid foundation for a potentially hilarious, albeit humbling, late night. Buscemi agrees. Having visited the Globe’s open mikes (which run on non–Gong Idol Mondays), he says that everyone involved is taking his or her fledgling brand of humor and putting a new stamp on the venue’s history. “The first time [I stopped by] was super weird and spooky [because it wasn’t the same],” he says, “but the shows are fun. They’re run by a new generation of comics. Now I’m an old-timer. I just feel sorry for the younger comics who didn’t benefit from [the Den] for as long.”
Judge Globe Gong Idol for yourself Monday 7.