Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Interview With Danny Kallas

Danny Kallas is one of the five Chicago-based comedians and producers of the tremendously successful showcase, Comedians You Should Know. Alongside Marty DeRosa, Joe Kilgallon, Mike Lebovitz, and Michael Sanchez (current members), Danny started the showcase back in 2008, and it has been rockin’ audiences ever since.

Danny’s list of accomplishments only skyrockets from there. He has been named one of funniest comedians in Chicago, was the winner of Snubfest 2009 (and host 2014), and has participated in numerous comedy festivals including Just For Laughs in Chicago and the Laughing Skull Festival in Atlanta.

After a recent performance at the “Chicago’s Best Stand Up” show at the world famous Laugh Factory, Danny was nice enough to share his advice on what it takes to not only be a great stand up, but to also run a great showcase. Danny was a little drunk during the interview, which made the conversation more enlightening and even more entertaining. Enjoy...


Comedy of Chicago: When you first started, who were some of the Chicago comics that you looked up to?

Danny Kallas: I’ll tell ya man, my first five years of doin’ stand up, my thing was: Go to open mics all the time ‘n write as much as you can. That’s what I figured out with people that I looked up to in this Chicago scene: Hannibal Buress, T.J. Miller, Michael Palasack—they set the tone to where the normal thing to do is to be out every fuckin’ night. You’re gridin’, you’re at the open mics all the time...

COC: What lessons did you take away from being around those guys?

DK: Ya know, the great story I got about Hannibal Buress is that at the time, Hannibal had just started to make some waves—he did Craig Ferguson and he’d just moved to New York. And he got to open up for Demetri Martin at Loyola University here in Chicago, in front of two thousand people. TWO THOUSAND fuckin’ people! The biggest gig that he ever had to that date. And RIGHT AFTER that, he’s at Johnny O’Hagan’s in Wrigleyville at an open mic in front of 15 comedians—after doing the biggest gig that he ever did!

But that’s the type of work ethic he had. He thought that that’s what you needed to do to get to the level that he’s at right now. It’s no coincidence that these guys are as successful as they are. They’ve worked their fucking asses off. So I always tell people, “If you think you’re above open mics, look at what Hannibal did. So fuck you.” But at the same time, you have comedians in Chicago that I came up with that never step foot in an open mic, and are much more successful than I’m at right now. So, who am I to say anything?

COC: How has the Chicago comedy scene changed since you first started?

DK: Well, there are about 40 open mics now, but when I was comin’ up there was maybe EIGHT comedy open mics. And so, to get more stage time we’d hit music open mics, poetry open mics... In fact, there were three weeks in a row we hit up a place called Hotti Biscotti. [laughs] It was on Central Park & Fullerton, in Logan Square. Hottie Biscotti was a poetry open mic. I was like a year in, and Hannibal was around the scene probably four years before me. And Hannibal brought me and Junior Stopka over there. After the poetry open mic, we did a comedy show. Hannibal did 15 minutes hostin’ and brought me up. I did 20, Junior did 20, and then Hannibal closed it out with another 15.


COC: What are some setbacks that you’ve experienced as a stand up over the years? And what did you learn from them?

DK: Ya know, I was six months into doin’ stand up and the Aspen Comedy Festival comes into town. It was the biggest festival at that time—sponsored by HBO, and all the heavy-hitters of Chicago auditioned for it. And I’ll never forget this, six months into doing stand up, I’m at a Q&A ‘n somebody goes, “What are you guys looking for to get into the Aspen Comedy Festival?” I’ll never fuckin’ forget this. The organizer for it goes, “I don’t know WHAT we’re looking for, but I can tell you what we’re NOT looking for, and that’s straight, white men.” And that stuck out to me all the time.

COC: Damn...

DK: I’m not saying it’s more of a struggle for anybody else. What I’m saying is from my perspective, the easiest thing to be in the world is a straight white man. It’s so fuckin’ great. But in stand up, I don’t know! [laughs] And then people could argue, “No, that’s not true!” I’m just tellin’ ya what I heard from the horse’s mouth. So at that time, I felt like, “Maybe I should give up on it.” But then I thought, “Well, there’s a lot of us, you just gotta stick out more than the other person!”


COC: Does ‘Comedians You Should Know’ have any strange guidelines like that?

DK: Not at all! We book comedians that we think are funny and that’s it. We claim to be ‘The Best Stand Up Show in Chicago’ so if we’re gonna claim that, we gotta make sure we guarantee it, and put up the best line-ups we can.

COC: What keeps people coming back to ‘Comedians You Should Know’?

DK: The number-one thing is word of mouth. If your show isn’t good, they’re not gonna come back! And people keep comin’ and comin’ because we put on what we feel is the best show we can possibly put on, week in and week out.

COC: ‘Comedians You Should Know’ has been around since 2008. What are some secrets to its success?

DK: There’s a few things that CYSK did. We never booked it like we were gonna book our friends. We never depended on comics bringing anybody. We did two shows that were free. The first shows we ever did, January 2008, were free to get into. We put up 15 of our favorite comedians. We knew producing the show that we weren’t gonna bring anybody. We weren’t like that. We were just gonna promote it. There were 65 people there, for each show, and 15 comedians each show. Out of the 30 total comedians, guess how many comedians brought somebody? ZERO! NONE! And we loved it! We were gonna make normal people laugh and that’s how it fuckin’ goes. That was the one thing that we saw - and then we brought the show downtown to Timothy O’Toole’s almost five years ago. You can’t name another fuckin’ show—you CAN’T name one. A BAR show that’s a hip show! That is NOT in a hip neighborhood. We brought it to a NON-hip neighborhood to make ourselves better. And then, hip audiences came to our show. It’s a destination now.

COC: Wow...

DK: Again, these are all my opinions. Go do whatever the fuck you wanna do. All right? I don’t give a shit. Danny did it this way, and somebody else does it that way, it’s fine. And yes, I did just refer to myself in the third person. [laughs]

COC: For people who put on comedy shows, do you guys worry about competition from the big clubs like Zanies, Laugh Factory, etc?

DK: Are we competing with Laugh Factory? Are we competing with Zanies? Yeah! But ya know, we’re competing with ALL entertainment. People wanna go out. They wanna have a good time. Right? And I honestly feel like, if you put on a good show, they will go to different shows. And if you DON’T put on a good show, they’re not gonna check out comedy again! So I think in a sense you’re competing with people, but even more, you’re supporting each other. I really do. ‘Cause if they like it, they’ll go out and see other shows.

CYSK 6th Year Anniversary Show.

COC: How important is it for new comics to see showcases? And how do they know when they’re ready to be in a showcase?

DK: If you’re hitting the open mics hard, then at least once every two weeks go to a showcase. ‘Cause alotta times you’ll get into habits from being around open mic comedians all the time, to where you’ll form those bad habits. And it’s hard to break ‘em. And we get this all time where someone’s like, “Ohh I think I would do GREAT at your showcase!” And it’s like, “You’ve never even been there! How would you even know?!”

COC: Advice for comics who put on shows?

DK: My mindset is, you put on the best show you can possibly put on. The other thing is, people put on shows and it’s like “Eh, I’m gonna put up a show...” But it’s like, if it doesn’t go well then guess what? It’s not only bad for that show, it’s bad for EVERY show. Because, when you’re runnin’ shows that are not in clubs, that’s when they’re REALLY not expectin’ much. You put on a show that is NOT good...in a BAR, they’re NEVER gonna go to another bar show. It’s never gonna fuckin’ happen.

DK: So if they go to some bar show in Wicker Park and they don’t like it, they’re NEVER goin’ to ‘Comedians You Should Know’. It’s not gonna fuckin’ happen, man. They just won’t trust it. And you can’t blame ‘em! Peoples’ time is...ya know...they got other shit to do. They can’t deal wit’ you...


COC: What are your thoughts on comedy cliques? Is it a good or a bad thing to be cliquey in comedy?

DK: Here’s basically the thing, man. The clique shit ‘n stuff like that... Yeah there’s cliques. There’s cliques everywhere. Why? ‘Cause they’re my friends. I’ve known these motherfuckers for 7-8 years! You walk in, who the fuck are you? Right? Oh, I’m gonna be best buds wit’ you? I don’t fuckin’ know you! You could be a serial killer for all I know! You could fuckin’ lock your kid in a cage or somethin’ like that, I dunno... [laughs]

COC: What are your thoughts on comics who become successful, but let the success get to their head?

DK: Oh, ‘cause they’re assholes? Well, lemme tell ya somethin’. Those guys or girls that are assholes, that are stand up comedians...it’s not because they did stand up comedy and succeeded a little bit to become assholes. They were ALWAYS assholes. They’d be assholes if they were a CEO, and they would be assholes if they were workin’ as a janitor. They’d be assholes if they had a job that cleaned assholes! It doesn’t matter, those people would be assholes! For the most part, people are the way they are, or the way they aren’t. That’s it.

COC: Advice for younger comics?

DK: I have no advice to give to anybody because my advice might not be good for anybody else. I mean the best advice I can really give is this: Enjoy the fuckin’ ride. That’s it. If you’re not having fun in this whole process, then don’t do it anymore. All right? That’s it. If you’re not having fun, then what the fuck is the point of doing this? Overall, it’s like, “Are you having a good time?” And if the answer is “Yes” then continue doin’ it.

DK: So just ENJOY what you’re doin’. If that means goin’ to open mics a few times a week...‘n shootin’ heroin into your toes, and then I dunno, beatin’ the shit outta your husband... If that makes ya happy and your husband likes gettin’ the shit beat outta him... I mean, it’s an illegal thing to do. But if he’s like, “I want you to beat the shit outta me!” And that’s the thing that’s goin’ on, then fuckin’ go ahead. I don’t judge people. But again, if he WANTS that to happen, all right? [laughs] And if you’re not enjoyin’ it then get the fuck out.

COC: What are your thoughts on the importance of networking in comedy?

DK: Here’s the truth of the fuckin’ matter, man. You could network all you want, or NOT network all you want. Other comics might move up faster than you, but at the end of the fuckin’ day if you work hard and you’re funny, that’s all the decidin’ factor, man. It does not fuckin’ matter. So a comic moves up faster than you three years into doin’ stand up... Look at that person 10 YEARS from that three years, all right? If you’re honestly funnier AND you work harder, I GUARANTEE you will be more successful.

COC: How do you get comics to stop comparing each other to other comics?

DK: I’m eight years into doin’ stand up. All that shit you worry about during that first five years, when you look back at it after that... 99.9% of that shit you worried about is like Junior High! And you look at it now like, “Why the fuck was I concerned at all with that?!” [laughs] It doesn’t fuckin’ matter! Just do your shit, be funny, work hard, and you’ll be fine. If you work your ass off! If you got talent! You will fuckin’ succeed! It’s not even just stand up, it’s anything in life.

Check out Comedians You Should Know every Wednesday night at Timothy O’Toole’s. And on September 18-20, Danny will be featuring for Kyle Kinane at the Up Comedy Club

Contributing Writer: David Gavri
David Gavri is a stand up comic, writer and founder of the online comedy sites Gonzo Fame and Comedy Scene in Houston