All in the (comic) timing
We laughed, we cried, we took notes. Here's our list of the folks who made 2007 so funny.
The Lakeshore Theater It takes a smart group of people to make such a big impact on the comedy scene in such a short amount of time. Beginning in March, artistic director and savvy producer Chris Ritter, along with traveling comedy database Paul Provenza, revamped the theater’s sked with a kick-ass lineup of club-averse touring stand-ups and interesting pieces of comic theater (Julia Sweeney’s Letting Go of God stands way out). You know, stuff we’d rarely see otherwise.
Impress These Apes Lordy lord, was this show funny during its two “seasons.” The apes’ banter delighted us every week, and the contestants sure knew how to bring it—Jim Fath’s Darth Vader stand-up routine in the first season springs to mind, as does the freak-show challenge night in season two, for which Erin Pallesen covered his (not her) face with clothespins. Pinch us.
Jamie Buell And speaking of Apes contestants…Okay, look, the next thing we are going to say is completely, utterly, 100 percent true. Buell’s Apes-winning final performance in season one—in which he read a selection from his “novel” about getting seduced/banged by a vivacious she-ape—was the funniest thing we’ve ever witnessed. Ever. The video’s on YouTube, but sadly the old cliché’s true: You had to be there.
Boom Chicago The Amsterdam-based group’s tech-savvy Chicago Improv Festival show in April, “Me, Myself & iPod,” proved there’s a place for high-energy, well-executed Chicago-style improv and sketch everywhere in the world. We can’t stop thinking about the bit where they visited an audience member’s MySpace page and turned his top friends into characters for a long-form.
Susan Messing After Messing with a Friend’s midnight Chicago Improv Festival show, we knew something seismic had just happened. Messing and former MadTVian Ike Barinholtz improvised for more than an hour: She bossed him around, turned arguments back on him, and declared that she wanted to fuck his father—to his father, who was seated in the audience.
Mike Birbiglia & Patton Oswalt Both released killer stand-up albums this year. Both lit up sold-out Chicago houses. Birbigs captivated us with stories from his Secret Public Journal, and Oswalt demonstrated that he’s the undisputed master of crowd work—at his Lakeshore show, he alternated between befriending a trannie and taking down her unruly friend, whom he lovingly dubbed “Gravel-puss.”
Ross Bryant A veritable comedic man-about-town—you’ve seen him play at ComedySportz, with Improvised Shakespeare Company and Baby Wants Candy, to name a few—Bryant’s mix of mad freestylin’ skillz and hyper-intelligent wit makes him a favorite wherever he goes.
The Cody Rivers Show This Washington state duo presented the most captivating, enjoyable, exercise-ball–based show at last year’s Sketchfest. Then, when they came to iO a few months later with their revue Flammable People, we discovered a whole slew of new reasons to love this traveling show. We still make parentheses hands (from a sketch in which they broadened pantomimed punctuation well beyond quote fingers) to our friends.
Kristen Schaal By playing an unsettling stalker of the titular band on HBO’s Flight of the Conchords, Schaal, a Northwestern alum, found a way to break out of indie-comedy circles and make a name for herself. After two fall weekends at the Lakeshore—where she performed her similarly awkward, but hilarious stand-up—there’s no doubt this is only the beginning for Schaal.
Thomas Middleditch Not only is he a stand-out improviser, but the mock Chicken McNuggets commercial he made with fellow funnyman Fernando Sosa (search YouTube for “I’m into nuggets, y’all”) went way viral. McDonald’s picked it up for a national spot and “chicken” lovers around the country uploaded their own parodies. Imitation is the highest form of flattery.
Kathy Griffin JK.
Also worth a laugh
John Mulaney. This Lincoln Park–raised stand-up secured an awesome gig on Best Week Ever and riffed on a drag queen named “Strawberry Alarm Clock” with the Comedians of Comedy.
Edge Comedy. Yeah, yeah, Dave Odd’s a controversial figure in Chicago stand-up, but he went out on a limb to open the Edge Comedy Club, and things are chugging along nicely.
Idiot: A Love Story in Pieces. One-person shows were all the rage this year, but Brooke Bagnall’s stood out for its delicate balance of humor, high-stakes characters and polished theatricality.