June 19, 2010/The Vic Theater
Of all the shows at the 2010 Just for Laughs Chicago festival, no lineup appealed to me more than Alt Comedy featuring Patton Oswalt, Maria Bamford, Chris Hardwickand a few more special surprises (more on that in a minute). Though it was essentially just a Comedians of Comedy show (it wasn't called that, because the Comedians of Comedy are no longer a thing), it was great to see so many of my favorite comedians on the same bill and made for the perfect capper to the festival. It's a little odd that there was pretty much only one show (performed twice) devoted to this clique of comedians (though two of them did participate in the "Double Threat" shows), but I guess having the represented all together beats not having them represented at all.
Hosting the show was a previously unannounced Andy Kindler, which made for one of the night's happiest surprises. I've never had the chance to see Kindler perform live, and it was fascinating to watch the audience not know how to take the kind of comedy he performs. It's almost like anti-comedy, where he deconstructs the traditional stand-up while at the same time performing it. He was loose and funny and more than willing to throw away a lot of his punchlines, and it was great to see an "alternative" comedy bill being emceed by the guy who many people say invented the movement.
The first comic Kindler brought out was Chicago's own Kyle Kinane, who in the span of a single year went from a local spotlight at the 2009 festival to participating in one of 2010's biggest shows alongside the likes of giants Oswalt and Bamford. Not too bad. Though his set was a little front-loaded, he was funny and probably made himself a bunch of new fans with his set. His debut album, Death of the Party, is still on my short list of favorites for 2010 and he's all set to have a giant career, so it's always cool to see comics when they're just starting out on these big stages. Kinane handled himself like he's been doing theaters his whole career.
Chris Hardwick (of Web Soup and The Nerdist podcast) came out next. I don't know exactly how he fits into the "alternative comedy" scene, but, then, I don't really know what the heck defines the "alternative comedy" scene. His set was relatively brief (with this many comics, everyone's was) but rapid-fire with jokes; he sometimes too easy shots at targets like rednecks and celebrities like John Mayer and Paris Hilton, but always did so with a total self-awareness of just how easy it was. More than a few times, Hardwick would deliver a punchline that was as funny as anything else that night, making his set a welcome inclusion in a truly impressive night of stand-up.
Maria Bamford took the stage next, and it was obvious from the crowd reaction that she was one of the favorites of the night; before she delivered a single joke, she was getting a huge response. She did her usual Maria Bamford thing -- a mix of hushed neuroticism and incredible characters -- and I was once again impressed by her ability to make such a small-seeming act work in such a large venue. Bamford is one of those comics that insists the audience come to her, which is why she can be kind of polarizing. She was playing to just the right crowd at Alt Comedy, though, and delivered a set that built on what Kinane and Hardwick had already done while spinning it in a different direction. She was great.
I was a little nervous for John Mulaney, who was brought out after Bamford, because she had just killed and was so obviously one of the main draws for a large portion of the audience who at that point were just waiting for headliner Patton Oswalt to hit the stage. Mulaney had his work cut out for him, but, boy, was he up to the challenge. Delivering a condensed version of his "Double Threat" set, Mulaney spent most of the time on his incredible medical story that had the entire Vic Theater exploding. As the underdog, I'm willing to say Mulaney stole the entire night, and I'm positive that a lot of people came out of the show telling themselves to remember his name. And, still at only 27 years old, that kind of success couldn't happen to a better comic.
Finally, Patton Oswalt hit the stage and delivered a much looser, more free-form set than any of the comedians that preceded him. It was a cool contrast in styles with someone like, say, Mulaney, who got laughs based on expertly planned timing and carefully chosen words. Oswalt, on the other hand, did his set off a list of notes he brought out and did a whole chunk of material based on his experiences in Chicago earlier that day. Watching him create a routine right in front of our eyes was a thing of beauty, and yet another reminder why he's one of the very best stand-up comics working today. His set didn't build so much as end, but at that point no one seemed to mind. Between him and the rest of the comics on the "Alt Comedy" bill, we had all gotten more than our money's worth. Of all the shows I saw at the 2010 Just for Laughs Chicago festival, this one was easily the best.