In my first piece for the Third Coast Review, the newly created arts and culture site from several former Gapers Block writers and editors, I reviewed the film Pride And Prejudice And Zombies.
This was a piece that I wrote for KICK (at the time known as KickTV), about my love for the Chicago Fire soccer team.
My final piece for Gapers Block was one taking a look at the positive moves made by the Chicago Fire.
Over his roughly seven years as a part of Chicago’s comedy circles Dave Maher had gained a reputation for many reasons: as the smartly unhinged, wildly funny comedian with a big heart and warm smile, he was an evergreen fixture on the scene. Notably though Maher was also regarded as something of a world-class contrarian in conversation, routinely contesting various individuals’ opinions, often vehemently. This was done, however, not as a show of supposed self-superiority but more to put himself in a position where he could possibly be convinced by their counter-arguments. Music, movies, books, poetry, everything was fair game.
But that was then, before the night of Oct. 22, 2014 when Maher fell into a diabetic coma—one which held him in its grasp for nearly a month, threatening to take his life in the process. It was in this moment that the universe apparently saw an opportunity to prod him further. Fully embracing its trickster nature, it slipped on an Arlecchino mask and tacitly suggested to Maher that there were bigger questions to be asked; questions about life, and fate, responsibility, and absolution.
A review of a 12 hour piece of theater, experienced—and written about—by myself and my colleague Mike Ewing
Over the past month I spent several weeks doing my legal duty to the county of Cook, serving as a member of a grand jury, and it got me thinking about the power of nostalgia. Moreover—not to put too fine a point on it—I have been considering just how worthless a thing fond remembrance truly is.
This feeling occurred to me while sitting at home one evening, roughly halfway through the five weeks of my empanelment. Rather innocuously and without provocation, a curious little thought surfaced amid the turbid waters of my mind. When my time on the jury came to a close I’d have to go back to my regular life, at which time all of the facets of the jury experience that I had initially seen as limitations I’d soon grow to miss. For instance, the individually wrapped donuts we were provided daily. They felt like an outsider’s closest approximation of the pastry if they’d been armed with only the most rudimentary description: that it was round, and that you were supposed to hate yourself for having eaten it. But all the same, I found myself taking a curious liking to them, along with the other assorted food service oddities that we were presented with daily.
Can we talk kind of seriously about comedy for a moment? Please understand that this question is posed in full recognition of how stupid an idea this is: since time immemorial it has been understood that comedy is a topic preternaturally averse to being examined in such a manner, ideologically like a thigmonasticplant, shrinking away in response to interrogative stimuli. Often though the harder a topic is to delve into, the more rewarding it is to explore.
The aforementioned topic hangs thick in the air because this weekend will see our fair city play host to some of the best stand-up comedy talent in the country at the second annual Comedy Exposition—recently named Best New Comedy Festival on the 2015 Reader Best Of Chicago list—which kicks off this Friday, July 10. The festivities run through Sunday night when the festival ends with a closing ceremony performance at the UP Comedy Club by the fantastic Todd Glass. In between the fest will feature some 75 comedians, with roughly half of that talent pool drawn exclusively from the local stand-up scene.
Just one show featured this week, but what a special one it was: the Podmass debut of Gimlet’s surprise classic, Mystery Show.
Hello, From The Magic Tavern
There is so much to discuss surrounding the latest episode of Hello, From The Magic Tavern, the inventive, often hilarious podcast about host Arnie Niekamp’s adventures while trapped in a parallel dimension. What begins under the pretense of just another entry from the magical realm of Foon quickly swings to another pole, opening the show up to entirely different realms of possibility. Niekamp, struggling with a bout of homesickness, retreats to his room at the eponymous tavern, The Vermillion Minotaur, and as the podcast cuts to what should be a mid-roll ad, the fabric of the show’s reality stretches in an entirely different and exciting direction. To describe exactly what happens would be an unfair gesture here, but it finally sheds light on the mysterious man (excellently voiced by Tim Sniffen) who serves as the show’s announcer, as well as his continued exhortations that the show is entirely a product of fiction. The depth of world-building has been among the strongest elements of Hello, From The Magic Tavern, and “Homesick” shows that it is just getting started. At only 10 episodes, it is not too late to jump on what has the potential to become the next Welcome To Night Vale.
While the continued longevity of ABC’s Grey’s Anatomy is a bit of a curiosity to many pop culture observers, it is a boon to listeners of Open Run, as the 2015 broadcast network upfront presentations provides the backdrop for what are easily the standout episodes in the show’s nascent existence. This two-parter sees hosts Jesse Williams and Stefan Marolachakis hanging out in the Trump International Hotel in New York City along with all-star podcast sixth man, Dave Hartley of the band The War On Drugs. The trio engage in one extra-long hang session, drinking beers, shooting the shit, and covering a wide range of topics in continually hilarious fashion. The real treat of these episodes comes from how well they succeed in conveying to listeners the atmosphere of being in the room; few podcasts find such a balance between access and accessibility. The conversation flows naturally from serious basketball discussions, to Mr. Show and Naked Gunreferences, to a very in-depth and astute dissection of sports fandom, artistry, and personal identity. Hartley brings some absolutely crazy nickname game, and the show hands out its own end-of-season awards. With the NBA season drawing to a close, it will be interesting to see what comes next for the show.
If the title of this episode seems like a big topic to cover in less than two hours, you’d be right. Though the show only ends up scratching the surface of hip-hop’s storied history, it does so in such an excellent and hilarious fashion that it seemingly positions itself perfectly as just the first part of an ongoing series. It helps that Hound Tall host Moshe Kasher is a dyed-in-the-wool hip-hop head, evidenced by some of the deep-cut references that he drops offhandedly throughout. Some unfortunate recording issues lead to an odd opening for the show, but stick with it, as Kasher invites author Jeff Chang and comedians W. Kamau Bell, Kaseem Bentley, and Natasha Leggero on to discuss the story of the genre from its earliest days through the mid-’90s. The show is frequently funny, with the varied panel delighting in taking spirited shots at one another, or in Leggero’s continual attempts to steer the conversation toward the culture of sexism that came to pervade within the music. The show ripples with intelligence and wit, even when it is fixated on hot dogs and the lamentably named Duke Bootee.
There is a question posed at the beginning of BitchMagazine’s feminism and pop-culture podcast Popagandathat really lands hard. Host Sarah Mirk asks about the number of female scientists that listeners can name and, as the question hangs heavily in the air, Mirk goes on to detail how a recent survey discovered that 65 percent of respondents in the U.S. couldn’t name a single female scientist. The issue isn’t just one of the presence and visibility of women in STEM fields, but also that of their experiences. Popaganda takes time to look at several situations that relate to the sojourn of women in science. The show opens with Mirk conversing with analytical chemist Raychelle Burks about the depiction of women in science in pop culture. The findings are unsurprisingly sparse, though not without hope, as they are seeing an increase in representation of late. Additionally, the show covers the predominantly female science of veterinary medicine; journalist Rachel Swaby and her book Headstrong, about the lives of 52 female scientists whose contributions have gone largely unheralded; and an interview with Vivian Underhill on the issues facing LGBTQ people in the sciences. The show’s topic may seem heavy, but the conversation is lively, interesting, and very necessary.
Should I Worry About This?
Should I Worry About… Getting Sick And Going Bankrupt?
With each successive listen to the frequently excellent Should I Worry About This? one begins to feel that the answer to the rhetorical question posed in the title is always an unqualified “Yes.” This week’s dissection is no different, as hosts Cat Oddy and Eden Robins discuss the shocking statistics about American health care-related debt. This discussion is mainly brought on by Oddy’s recent expatriation to London and a conversation that she had regarding the cost of healthcare in America. Robins’ findings are staggering, with results of a survey from 2007 showing some 70 million Americans were affected by medical debt, that two-thirds of all bankruptcy filings were related to medical bills, and that up to 2 million people were facing illness and bankruptcy at the same time. Perhaps one of the more interesting pieces of information to come out of the show is the surprisingly antiquated link between employer-offered health care benefits and World War II. The passing of the Affordable Care Act has helped increase the rates of insured people in America, but the issue goes beyond just being insured. It is tied to the relaxed legislation of the marketing of credit cards to consumers, leading to a rather vicious cycle that is sure to give listeners nightmares.