April 5, 2013

Is The Chicago Comedy Market Sustainable?

Mike Stanley
Laughter is a fickle mistress. Every night, all of the country, stand-up comics stand in front of microphones and attempt to make strangers laugh. From a half-empty bar in Danville, Kentucky to a sold out show at Carnegie Hall, you’ll find the same weirdos with a spark in their eyes, chasing after that basic human emotion.

Ask any comic why they do what they do, and you’ll get generally the same answer. “I want to make people laugh.” It seems like a bizarrely selfless need for such a cut-throat industry. It’s sweet to imagine that from the biggest headliners down to the kid trying out his first open-mic, they all crave the same thing. And if that was end-all and be-all of the comedy world, everyone would be happy and unicorns would fart rainbows. But unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your feelings towards unicorn farts) that’s not the way the world works. After the comic makes someone laugh, they want to keep doing it. That means moving up, making a name for themselves, moving from open mics to featuring at a small club to headlining all over your city. Suddenly, that selfless need has been replaced by new needs, namely, money and notoriety.

Danny Kallas
Comics who put in the work and spend years making 20 bucks a weekend while holding a job at the Waffle Hut certainly deserve a big break. And the idea of earning a living doing the thing you love is pretty hard to top. So it’s inevitable that you have to go where the money is. Comics who have painstakingly mastered their craft and risen through the ranks of their respective cities, hop on a bus to a magical land. It’s a land full of merriment and wonder, where all your wildest dreams can come true. A mystical place where integrity and creative purity fall by the wayside so things like “adpubs” and “Q ratings” can come into focus. Los Angeles - where dreams (never) die!

It’s certainly not the comic’s fault, nor is it LA’s fault, that the mecca of all things entertainment also happens to be a cesspool of corporate gangsters with the creative vision of a lamprey eel, but that’s the way the gluten-free cookie crumbles. The comics are just trying to get their act in front of as many people as possible. The point of this article isn’t to bash LA or even bash comics who make creative compromises to make it big. The point is I don’t think they have to. Cities outside of LA with large comedy communities (Chicago, New York, Boston, Denver) should be able to support their local comics. These are the cities where comics found their voice, where they built a following, and where they first heard that magical laughter that they never forgot. We as an audience, as a club, as a city owe it to these comics to not have to sacrifice their skills to pay their bills. What can we do to keep the laughter alive?

In order to answer this question, I enlisted the help of two of the most popular comics in Chicago today. Danny Kallas, a founding member of Comedians You Should Know (a popular comedy showcase) and Mike Stanley, a veteran comic who is headlines all over the country, sat down with me for a podcast in the offices above Laugh Factory Chicago. They both have reached the point in their careers where the next natural step is to leave Chicago for LA or New York. Stanley is packing his bags for LA very soon while Kallas is hoping to stay in Chicago as long as he can. To listen to our talk click on the link below!

Above The Laughs - Can the Windy City Sustain a Stand Up Comedy Market?
With Danny Kallas & Mike Stanley

Contributing Blogger & Laugh Factory Staff Member
Matt Chiaramonte