Michael Targus: Piggy-Backing on your Shoulders

The first time I met Mike, he was providing me with a never-ending bag of comical anecdotes and observations. Since we both work at a restaurant downtown, the amount of incoming customers provides him with plenty of ammo to work with. Hailing from the nitty-gritty city of Detroit, Mike is a newcomer to Chicago with plenty to say. Recognized as the Midwest’s foremost expert on crackheads, backpacks, and lean pockets — here he is.

Michael Targus

What are your current comedy endeavors in Chicago?

Michael Targus: I’m taking my licks on the open mic scene right now. Currently, I’m the host of the Blue Bayou Comedy Show. As an improviser and writer, I’m currently adapting an old play into a screenplay. I just really love getting my hands dirty with characters that I develop. Characters that are influenced by my own life, they become something that I’m in love with. That’s the best part of writing, in my opinion.

And that’s what improv is about too. It’s about being ready for anything that might pop up, anything your life is influenced by, anything that brings truth to a lot of people. Take a bit I touched on tonight, trying to translate the grumblings of a crackhead. You can go from a guy with a rumbling, disgusting voice, who seems to not be making much sense at all. But put the idea through the filter of perhaps, this man is a poet, and you’ve learned something about yourself and real life. It’s cool providing these different angles.

You told me previously your recent screenplay got turned down?

(Laughs) I received my first official turn-down from Hollywood. My screenplay has been turned down by a studio! Punk by Reputation is a movie that I wrote. It’s a screenplay that’s based on the punk rock scene of Detroit. It’s about some average, loser, drunk guys. You’ve got your villain, your punk music, your drinking, and your anti-heroes. It revolves around the 4th Street Fair during the summertime, which is one of the coolest times in the city of Detroit.

It’s actually somewhat interesting and satisfying seeing myself getting turned down for the first time by a legitimate Hollywood studio.

So you’re a scriptwriter as well?

I am a writer and performer. I do stand-up and improv. Kind of a jack-of-all trades in a comedic sense. But I do really enjoy the full length form of comedy; of developing a screenplay or a stageplay, albeit it’s a newer medium for myself.

What is your ideal job in comedy, without money influencing your choice?

What’s interesting about this business, too, is that money is not your main objective. You’re not making it in the beginning, you’re holding out, you’re holding your cards till the end. This is what I got, this is who I am, is anyone buying it? Your shows do well or they don’t. I guess I would like to be considered a Quentin Tarantino of comedy. Ideally, something I’ve written, directed, and perform in at the same time. Somehow putting my visions on a grand stage or screen.

I know you’re originally from Detroit. What did you do out there?

I did stand-up behind a bar, also kinda bartender, and manager. That was my angle in Detroit, but I was way more linked to the theatre and improv world. I was a director and leader of the ‘Improv Brovas’ – with a ‘V’ – don’t forget it. It was just a good mix of people, me and my brovas. You find more of a homogeneous situation in Chicago though. But we just kind of made what we could out of what we had in Detroit. We had a really great show that ran for a year.

Michael hosting at The Blue Bayou

Detroit vs. Chicago comedy scene?

There’s some movement in the stand-up scene there. But the improv and theatre scene is what makes Detroit sparkle. There are a couple of my buddies in the Second City Mainstage right now from Detroit.

Second City has definitely taken notice of Detroit. Detroit is a little fucked up right now; comedy is born out of tragedy. You have some people that have hit rock bottom, there’s a mentality, an undercurrent in the city amongst people in Detroit–that this art is an okay way to express yourself. This carries over to Chicago too.

You have some of that sadness popping through, but at the same time there are some extremely funny motherfuckers that are coming up. Detroit is still a city to be reckoned with, it still provides a fresh outlook at our country and that shines through with its comedians.

With Chicago, it’s like the Midwest hub for comedy. It’s cool because you’re going to hear the Des Moines angle, the Minneapolis angle, the Indianapolis angle, and the Milwaukee angle on things. And they all kind of convene and mix-up, and it provides a really unique viewpoint being from the Midwest. It’s the magnet city for all of us Midwest comedy artists.

The stand-up scene in Chicago, it’s interesting that it’s here. There are plenty of comedians in Chicago, but it’s relatively small considering when you hear rumblings from Denver or Atlanta’s scene, when you might not necessarily think of those places. Truly, once you hit a point, you’re either going to have to make your way out to New York or L.A. That’s the next step.

Chicago’s an improv town, you can make it here. Eventually that last jump might be doing TV in L.A. or in New York as a writer or performer for a comedy show or take something to Broadway, like Nia Vardalos, the writer of My Big Fat Greek Wedding, is someone for instance.

What was the tipping point, when you were pushed over the edge and wanted to do comedy as a career?

When I was like 3 or 4 years old I saw some guy doing stand up on TV. It was one of the first TV memories I have. He was making people laugh and I was just fucking in it. But as I grew up, I always pretended. I would always joke around as a little kid. I would be a stand up comic, I would run around making voices, pretended to be something I wasn’t. I was always in performance mode I guess.

But high school rolls around and I got set on this high-end engineering track, where I was doing calculus and every AP test in the book. I had to make a big choice. Everyone was like, “I’m going to U of M to study genetics,” or John Hopkins, or Georgetown. I was sitting on a 3.6 GPA , but I told myself, “You know what I still want to do? Use college to do theatre.” And that was a done deal, I never looked back. I know I made the right choice. This is what I do, whether or not I know what’s going to happen.

You know, currently I work at Bennigan’s and I’m a carpet salesmen at Home Depot, so come check it out (chuckles). But yeah, regardless, comedy is something I knew since day one.

Michael at The Blue Bayou

Is comedy something you need to have a lot of faith in, because it’s such an unstable occupation?

It is something that calls you, not to be cheesy. It’s unstable, the writer’s life, the actor’s life, but you can feel it. That’s why people continue to do $20million movies once they’ve already made it. Like, why does Brad Pitt have to do more movies? He doesn’t. He fucking owns a vineyard in France. He hangs out and smokes pot at his vineyard. Then he comes home and has his beautiful wife and five crazy kids who are like the coolest kids in the world. He has nothing else to prove, but he still picks up his $20-$25milion and doesn’t give a fuck. And he’s laughing all the way to the bank. But it’s still something I can relate to, because it’s something he does to be himself.

It’s that, but it carries over to other people, making way less just being in the suburb of a city or downtown. Some people I know are working as part-time bartenders, but making 15 grand just doing commercials, voice-over work, or a couple of plays a year. They get by just fine and they are some most fulfilled, amazing people I know. So every time I think about doing something else, those type of people fuel me.

Your last name is currently being used by laptop and backpack company, Targus. Do you know I wear you on my back daily?

(Chuckles) Those motherfuckers owe me motherfucking money. That’s all there is fucking to it! My drunk grandpa in 1950 made that god damn name up perfectly well him goddamn self. He was a Polish ‘Targosz.’ And he said, “I’m going to be ‘Targus’,” and he Americanized the fuck out that name, and that’s who I am. I’m Targus. Then these laptop people are thrown into a think tank with some creative individuals and what do they come up with? They shit out the name ‘Targus.’ Now that’s what everybody wears on their backs, or puts their laptops into. Okay, well you guys would have saved a lot of money hiring my drunk grandpa 60 years ago. Fucking Targus, it’s an American institution, like Ford or Microsoft.

How about the Detroit Lions?

(Laughs) Jesus, I’m still hoping for a 5-11 season, but that’s being optimistic. If we have a season like that, I’d be pretty happy. I feel like we’re damned for some reason. The fact that Chicago still has a Super Bowl in ‘85, you’re still living the good life compared to Detroit. Barry Sanders couldn’t do it himself. Detroit ruins the career of young men every year as they draft them.

People don’t go to church anymore in Detroit, they just watch the Lions. ¤

Check out Michael’s open mic at the Blue Bayou every Wednesday at 9pm. Contact Michael on facebook.

Interview by The Runt staff member, Joey Delisi.
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