Uncle Lar: A Chicago Comedy Classic

September 24, 2018 § Leave a comment

photo-4-1 copyChicago has earned a worldwide reputation as the training ground for future comedy stars. While Chicago is renowned as the birthplace of improvisational comedy and has been the training ground for everyone from Bill Murray to Tina Fey and too many more stars to count, it has also been noted as a blast furnace for the stand-up comedy industry. Some of the greatest minds of solo/duo comedy started in tiny clubs dotted across the Chicago area landscape: Bob Newhart, Shelly Berman, Nichols and May, Robin Williams, Richard Pryor and many more artists. History shows that the great Joe E. Lewis virtually invented stand-up comedy in 1930s Chicago.

Comics in the 50s, 60s and 70s performed in nightclubs, on the billboard with singers, musical acts, dancers and novelty acts, as stand-up comedy clubs didn’t exist in that era. In fact, my first professional comedy gigs – as one/third of the comedy trio ridiculously titled Joe Mackburn – were at 1970s coffeehouse/nightclubs like Amazing Grace, The Spot, and Mr. Kelly’s.

In the mid-late 70s, comedy clubs started to pop up: The Comedy Cottage, Chicago Comedy Showcase and the grandfather of them all: Zanies. It was mid-frigid-Chicago-winter and I forget the year but Zanies had been open for about 3 weeks. I chattered through a 9 degrees below zero Thursday night to reach Zanies, my goal to pick up tips (steal) from some of the hot new standups.

The night was transformational, a revelation. The late, great Jim Fay opened with his chaotic audience-interactive set and then John Caponera came on for a short 15 and then. Then. Uncle Lar, Larry Reeb took the stage. Uncle Lar ripped through a comedy set which is nearly beyond description: part vaudeville comic, part incisive hilarity, part what-the-h-was-that? Every moment seemed to build funnier than the last. There are 3 times in my extensive career that I laughed so hard I thought I might pass out: Bob Hope in his late-prime, George Carlin in his mid-prime and Uncle Lar who is always primed.

It was a transformational night as Uncle Lar bridged the span between classic comedy delivery and outrageous new material. He teetered across a tightrope of one sharp punchline to the next bizarre setup.

Forty years later, Uncle Lar is even funnier than back in those pioneering days of comedy. I saw him in the spring of this year and again, I nearly passed out from the laughing lack of oxygen. If you’re in need of a jolt of comedy this mid-fall, do not miss the opportunity to see a Chicago Comedy Classic. Uncle Lar will make you glad you made the trip.

Joe+Keefe

Joe Keefe                                                  jkeefe@metropolisarts.com

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