So I went with the $5 local comedy show at the Beat Kitchen, christened Chicago Underground Comedy Presents: Secret Big-Time Local Comedy Showcase.
I made the best choice.
Admirably hosted by Mike Lebovitz, who stole the show from some of the openers, the evening was a blown-out version of Chicago Underground Comedy's weekly stand and featured seven locals, four short comedy films, and a pretty incredible lineup of celebrity guest comics. The big names that rolled through included Jeff Garlin, Eddie Pepitone, Kyle Kinane (see, I got to catch him anyway), Pete Holmes, and Hannibal Buress, who just murdered even as the evening was stretching up and over its third hour.
Touted by Lebovitz as the "unofficial/official kickoff" to the festival, the night gained momentum with each set. Jeff Garlin of Curb Your Enthusiasm and Second City fame followed opener Ever Mainard with a full-on improvised act (which is what he typically does anyway), riffing about his good old days doing comedy at Chicago's Roxy and about not giving a fuck if he gets recorded on somebody's iPhone performing a bit that may offend (cf Michael Richards).
Kinane followed locals Dave Stinton and Mike Stanley (who made an inspired plea for more lesbians in the military: "Have you ever seen a softball pitcher?! Put a grenade in her hand!") and was perfectly on point, opening with a depressingly funny bit about the experience of receiving an unsliced Domino's pizza and resigning yourself to just folding it up and diligently shoving it down your gullet. "This giant taco tastes like Italy," he laughed.
After local man Dan Telfer, Pepitone arrived to make fun of the festival that was paying him by mocking its State Farm sponsorship. Then he performed a rap, giving it all the bravado you can muster when you're a fiftysomething male with high blood pressure and a propensity for negatively tweaking every situation in life. Pepitone's short set was one of my favorites, which makes me strongly consider making you strongly consider checking out the The Bitter Buddha, a documentary about him that's screening at the Siskel on Friday.
The local comedians with the finest sets of the night were James Fritz and Junior Stopka. Fritz is a rambling lunatic on stage, sweating and spewing jokes at an alarming rate, usually about his firm upbringing as a southern Baptist in the hills of Kentucky and his poor, clueless mother. Stopka, who looked pretty damn drunk, may've been the crown jewel of the whole night. His comedy is a mix of loosely pieced-together bits and off-the-cuff ridiculousness, with occasional jags of perfectly entertaining gibberish (the other local comics seemed to get the biggest kick from his set). Stopka might transition from a bit about potheads being vehemently against cigarette smoking in the house to a line like, "Cats are just news nowadays," or, "Then you got the kids going to school." The lack of a rational bridge between jokes is what makes it so brilliant.
Adam Burke wrapped up the local portion of the show and was succeeded by the short films. Holmes followed as the "supersecret special guest," but later admitted that his guest status was a secret even to himself: he hadn't expected to do a set. I'm assuming he was prevailed upon to do one either because Buress showed up late or one of the other big names showed up too early. In any case, Buress was Buress, working the by then thinned-out crowd with panache—well, panache filtered through shitting-on-a-plane jokes. He left everyone on a high as they walked out the door.
Five dollars well spent.