Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Teacher's Pets

Monday February 10th, 2014 – Chicago, IL

   Just when I start to get discouraged that standup comedy is dead – or at least severely wounded – along comes a night like tonight to refill my coffers with hope. There’s nothing like an evening of new and exuberant performers having one hot set after the next to reignite the fires of passion.

   Every once in a while Zanies Comedy Club in Chicago gives me a Monday night and bills it as “Dobie Maxwell and Friends”. I am allowed to book anyone I want, and can do as much or little time as I want. As long as the show is 90 minutes I’m golden. It’s as close to power as I ever get.

   I really enjoy these nights, because I go out of my way to hand pick acts I think not only would do well on their own but also blend with the other acts to make a quality show. I’ve been around plenty long enough to understand how the flow of a comedy show works, and I like the process.

   I probably get three or four of these a year, and whenever I get the call I always say yes. It’s an excellent opportunity to pass out breaks, and to me there’s no more satisfying feeling than being able to give some hard working young comic a chance to work the Zanies stage. It’s a big deal.

   Tonight I decided to make it a “Best of Zanies Comedy Class”, as we have new classes starting this month. We need to get more of a community spirit going, and I thought this would be a way to kick start it a little. My co-teacher Bill Gorgo has been handling the beginner level classes for a while now, so I asked him to pick some of his favorites that haven’t had a chance to do Zanies.

   Quality stage time is THE most prized commodity for a newbie, whether he or she knows it or not. There are open mic nights everywhere, but that’s not quality stage time. In fact, sometimes it does more to stunt someone’s growth than encourage it. It’s a bunch of clueless upstarts waiting around for stage time, with nobody in the room having any idea what to do with it. It’s useless.

   Unfortunately, that’s often the only places new comedians can get any stage time and they do it out of desperation. Nights like tonight can be magical, and tonight was. Bill chose a killer lineup, and they did their part working social media and made sure people showed up to see them. It was a fun night for everyone, and the feeling of excitement the whole night made me glad we did it.

   There’s a kid named Ranjit Souri (RUN-jit SOW-ree) that really lit it up. He’s a fantastic joke writer, and also acts and does and teaches improv. I was blown away by his advanced chops. A Chicago Public Schools high school teacher named Amy Shanker is sharp too. Another teacher Elly Greenspahn went up, and she’s been getting better every time I see her. She really nailed it.

   Everyone that went up tonight nailed it – including Bill who closed the show and showed all of his students that he wasn’t just blowing hot air in class. It’s funny when students come out to see us perform and discover that we actually do know what we’re talking about. It’s very satisfying.

   Nights like this have always been fun for me. I’ve hosted thousands of shows of all kinds, but doing these takes on special meaning. Four of the six acts we booked were making their Zanies debuts. That’s a big deal in Chicago, and everyone aced their opportunities. Being part of that is special, and will only get more special as they climb the ladder. That first taste is the sweetest.

Bill Gorgo and I teach comedy classes at Zanies in Chicago. Tonight we had a showcase for some favorite students.

Ranjit Souri does and teaches improv, but he's a fantastic joke writer and lit it up in his Zanies debut!

Amy Shanker is a Chicago Public Schools high school teacher and she's 'got it'. Watch for her!

Elly Greenspahn is also a Chicago Public Schools high school teacher. What are the chances of two on the same show? She's hilarious, and has been getting better and better for years. She was terrific tonight.

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