Thursday, July 10, 2014

Inteview with Adam Burke

Adam Burke was born in Australia but lived in Ireland and Texas before residing here in Chicago, which is how, according to one of his jokes, he “got his fucked up accent”. Burke's resume is outstanding, Not only is he one the most consistently booked comics in the Chicago scene (as well as a producer/writer and co-host of arguably the best open mic in the city) but he also has performed in some of the biggest festivals in the country including the Bridgetown Comedy Festival in Portland Oregon, Just for Laughs Chicago, and Funny Or Die's Oddball Comedy Festival.

Burke released his debut album Universal Squirrel Theory in 2012. He also runs a weekly showcase on Thursdays called Parlour Car Comedy along with Matty Ryan, Stephanie Hasz, and Jeff Steinbrunner. We caught up with Adam after a recent performance at the "Chicago’s Best Stand Up" show at the world famous Laugh Factory and talked shop about stand-up.

Comedy of Chicago: Comedy is a struggle. You joke about how had no air conditioning during the summer. That can be brutal. How do you keep it together?

Adam Burke: [laughs] THE STRUGGLE. [laughs] I would
take a bag of ice and I’d get a box fan, and put it in the window. And I’d drape the bag of ice and then perforate the bag and let it blow out—this is my fuckin’ janky MacGyver...[laughs] But you get desperate! I mean, I would wake up from the WEIRDEST dreams. It was like being in a fuckin’ mosquito tent. But, there’s always someone in Chicago who’s got a window unit they’re trying to get rid of. I don’t know why...

COC: What do you think is worse: No air conditioning in the summer or no heater in the winter?

AB: That’s a good question. You can always warm up. It’s harder to get cool than it is to get warm.

COC: In your act, you mention that you are a professional proofreader. Does that mean you’re really nit picky when it comes to using proper grammar in your own act?

AB: Ah, I fucked up that bit tonight, but I try not to let it happen too often. The words just got away from me in my proofreader bit. I was supposed to say “Proper Noun” but I said “Plural Noun”...which is devastating.

COC: How would you describe your style of comedy?

AB: That’s a good question. I think it’s almost impossible to describe it yourself. I think if you do that, then you’re kind of fucked. Because then you’re trying to write to, or within a certain style...and that’s no good.

COC: In your opinion, what makes GOOD comedy?

AB: All comedy should have a viewpoint. You know, sometimes I have an argument in my head
between saying something and being silly. And my favorite bits are when the two of those things kind of exist, ya know? I mean, I hope that doesn’t sound too pretentious...

COC: Not at all. It’s like you mask the truth with the funny. And if you dig deeper—

AB: That’s very prescient. Yes. Very perspicacious of you.

[feeling super smart, even though I have no idea what those two words mean...]

COC: One of the biggest fears as an open-micer is to never move past the open-mic level. How does the open-micer move up and start showcasing?

AB: You know, people who run showcases are ALWAYS looking for new people. Because the thing is, there are regular people that they book, and if they’re GOOD, they’re gonna get better and better and better. Which means they’re gonna start going on tour. Which means showcase people need someone to replace them.

AB: So the idea, and maybe it’s less so now, but when I first started, the idea was like, “Ohh! You need to know THESE guys and hang out with THEM! And if you don’t do that you won’t get on!” And it’s like “NO!” People who run showcases are always looking for people.

COC: Once you move up to showcases, why is it still important to do open mics?

AB: Obviously doing an open mic set is different than doing a showcase set. But, you’re learning your best lessons in the open mic set because NO ONE is rooting for you! [laughs]

COC: But why would you want to go back to a place where no one is rooting for you?

AB: You have to be careful once you do your first showcase, you gotta be careful not to unlearn what you learned at the open mics. And what you learned at the open mics is that nobody owes you a laugh. NOBODY OWES YOU A LAUGH. But when you do a showcase, those audiences are geared to laugh. They WANT to laugh. Most showcases, the audience is on your side. Open mics are generally NOT on your side. So you always have to go back to the open mics in those situations where you’re not getting a laugh for free. Because that’s where your best material comes from.

COC: Should the goal of the open mic be to kill every time?

AB: Don’t worry about showcasing for people at open mic. Don’t worry about killing it at open mic. Sometimes you’ll see someone at open mic who does four minutes and KILLS. And you’re like “Ahh that guy’s FUNNY!” So you book him to do eight minutes. But, he only had the FOUR minutes! Because he was afraid of bombing. There’s no gettin’ around bombing.

COC: In general, what do the showcase people look for when they book a comic?

AB: They’re looking for presence of mind, voice, punctuality. They’re looking for people who care about what they’re doing. They don’t give a fuck if you’re a rock star. They don’t give a fuck about your attitude.

COC: What’s your favorite place to do comedy here in Chicago?

AB: My favorite place to do comedy in this city is Comedians You Should Know at Timothy O’Tooles. It’s the best physical space for comedy. It’s a GREAT room and I love doing that room.

CLICK HERE For More Info On Adam Burke

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