Stand-up Scene: The makings of a headliner
By Jason Heidemann, Special to the Tribune2:06 p.m. CST, January 13, 2014
One of my recent favorite jokes that I first heard at a show at ComedySportz a couple weeks ago, is a bit that standupJoe Kilgallon does about celebrities with deadbeat dads. The joke is that the fathers of superstars like Eminem and LeBron James must now be kicking themselves for ditching their sons back when they were kids: “How do you walk out on an 18 month old who already has a size seven shoe?” asks Kilgallon in a reference to James. The crowd loves it.
Kilgallon is one of the “Comedians You Should Know,” a collective who perform Wednesdays at Timothy O’Toole’s. He started practicing standup in 2006 and over time has developed a straight shooting, pull-no-punches style. (Case in point: He does a great joke about problems with the feminist movement and attributes them to their lack of strong, male leadership.) He is a true Chicago comic who has never lived a day outside the city — until now. On Jan. 18, Kilgallon will perform a farewell set at the “Comedians You Should Know” and then it’s off to Los Angeles to further his standup and pursue writing jobs. I decided to sit in on a couple of his sets before he ditches us for the coast.
But first, I hit up Zanies on Wednesday to see headliner Marina Franklin, a former Chicago comic now living in New York. Fritz Nothnagel is the feature and he hits the stage with sly one-liners locked, loaded: “My first wife said we couldn’t afford kids,” he says. “I was like, ‘that’s not true. On TV it says they only cost 30 cents a day.'” Nothnagel met his current wife online. “In the ad I put that I’m looking for a girl, nice long walks … especially after sex because I’m tired and I don’t want to drive you home.” That joke kills.
I first see Franklin (“The Late Late Show,” “Chappelle Show”), at Just for Laughs in 2009. Tonight she has 40 minutes and that’s perfect for this droll, slow-burn comedian. “My name is Marina which is not a great African name,” she says. “I didn’t get one … my sister did. Her name is Naila which means ‘one who succeeds.’ Marina, that’s me, means a place where you dock boats.” Tonight, Franklin jokes about being a mean New Yorker, having a niece who says the ‘N’ word and dating younger men. “The last guy I dated was 11 years younger than me so I was officially a cougar,” she says. “He was young and white so I was not a cougar, I was a black panther.”
“Parlour Car” is a Thursday show in the Ukrainian Village in a pretty room in the back of Bar Deville, stocked with vintage sofas and other furnishings. I settle into a deep-sinking chair with an Old Fashioned in hand and watch as host Adam Burke deconstructs the passing Polar Vortex before handing the mic over to comedian Joe Kwaczala — who is back home in Chicago after moving to Los Angeles last year. Kwaczala is in fine form: “I get scared more than the average guy and I think it’s because I’m only 5’7″,” he says. “Here’s the thing about being 5’7″, and I think it’s true for everybody who is this height, which is that we’re really 5’6″.”
A cocksure Jeff Steinbrunner, meanwhile, brags about his sexual prowess: “I will not sleep with a woman unless she looks like a movie star,” he says. “Last week I took home a woman who looked just like two time Academy Award winner Dustin Hoffman.” Also, the hilarious comedian Natalie Jose, who also sings in several cover bands, pops in for a very short set: “I’m thinking about doing an all-white Supremes cover band called the White Supremacists.”
Kilgallon is tonight’s headliner. “I’m 29 and I’m still a child,” says the newlywed as part of an introduction to a story about going mano-a-mano with a dude outside Lincoln Park bar Yak-Zies last week. I hear Kilgallon tell it two completely different ways between his set at “Parlour Car” and again the very next night at the Laugh Factory and it’s interesting to hear and see a comedian in process. “I knew that joke was stage worthy because of how interested my friends were when I told them the story off stage,” he says. Thursday’s version, for example, finds humor in the form of two dudes trying to duke it out in two feet of snow whereas in Friday’s version, Kilgallon focuses on getting banned from the bar. “The jokes were different both nights because it really is a work in progress. My brain is trying to highlight the funny parts while trying to cut the fat.”
Another interesting moment occurs amid a series of polished jokes Kilgallon does about the economy. It begins like this: “I heard this one politician say that if we don’t control our spending, one day our grandkids are going to have to pay off all our debt,” he says. “Is it just me or does that not sound like the greatest economic policy of all time?” As Kilgallon dives deeper into debt jokes, he’s forced to tamp down a heckler who, interestingly, is agreeing with what he says. It nearly derails his set. “I don’t have a standard retort, I like to take my time and get the audience on my side,” he says. “When you turn the rest of the crowd on the heckler, it becomes both easy and incredibly satisfying to bring them down.” Kilgallon shuts him up quick.
Many local comics approach Chicago from the standpoint of an outsider having moved here to pursue comedy and what I’ll miss about Kilgallon is the perspective he brings as a local whether it’s knocking the city’s meter maids or implementing plans to gentrify the South and West Sides by moving gay couples into them (Danny Kallas also does this exceptionally well). Kilgallon knows he’s leaving behind a good thing: “This scene is very supportive of any comic who gets on stage and gives it their all, no matter who they are or where they’re from,” he says. “I know it’s going to continue to expand and when it blows up, I’ll come back from L.A. fresh off some hippie diet begging for stage time.” Spoken like a true Chicagoan. Give ’em hell for us, Joe.