The open mic—a comedic laboratory where new material is tested. It’s a peek into the trial and error of the comedy realm. Some material is very timely, like a joke that was scribbled down in a notepad just before the show. Thoughts on the recent blizzard or the Chicago Bears are vocalized. Where the comforting confines of their minds give it a laugh, it is time for these humorous ideas to crawl out of their craniums to be spoken for the first time.
Does it work?
‘Shit…what’s the next joke.’
Under neon layers of music, art, pints of beer, warm ambience and friendly bartenders lies the open mic at Cole’s. Nestled in the diverse Logan Square area, Cole’s lures a hodgepodge of different guests. Call them the scenesters, the hipsters, the artists, the young and scraggily, the old and peculiar—all gather to share an Old Style tall boy and a laugh.
Cole’s emits a downplayed, relaxed feel, and in between jokes and laughter, the passing rumble of the ‘El’ gives the environment a gritty impression. In the back of the bar lies a small platform. A converted stage greets the crowd of people already awaiting the popular Wednesday stand-up.
Welcoming the crowd was co-host and ball of energy, Cameron Esposito. Friendly, personable and outrageous, Cameron has bigger balls then most comedians in attendance. Her presence amped up the crowd, whom she purposefully set time aside to interact with. By playing off reactions and random drunk comments her quick-witted audacity produced a strong stage presence. Unexpectedly a comment about ‘blood lubricant’ was shouted from the crowd, Cameron took the comment, used it and spit it back out at the audience, without phasing her. Yes…blood lubricant.
Cole’s open mic was created by Cameron and her bearded accomplice Adam Burke about two years ago. For Cameron, the quirky comedy environments that Chicago had to offer became a familiar realm. As she currently produces and teaches a standup class in the back of a pancake house (the Lincoln Lodge), Cole’s naturally became a proper fit for her.
She comments, “The bar’s owner, the wildly friendly Mr. Coleman Brice, is a pal of a pal and we’ve known one another for years. When he was opening the place he was looking for events and the low-key and experimental Cole’s vibes has proved perfect for an open mic.”
One after another, the comics took their alone time with the mic. Mr. Burke told his tale of battling against the 2011 blizzard, hoping for Charlton Heston’s arrival on LSD while parting cars out of the way, fighting his nasty cold with plenty of whiskey and the all-too relevant topic of threesomes.
One of the more memorable moments of the show was when Jason Folks took the stage. The Cole’s regular elaborated on the struggles of being the minority, red-haired, white boy in school, and how he channeled his frustrations into his longtime dream of being a rapper. Dressed as Elvis, a friend and fellow comedian beatboxed and jammed on the piano as Jason began to take the crowd on a lyrical journey about slinging rocks, shotgun robberies, shamrock shakes and dinosaurs.
The material ranged from the absurd, the insightful, the rude and crude, the bluntly honest, and even the most personal details of a comic’s life.
As Cameron and Adam introduced comic after comic at a surprising pace, the variation amongst the comedians became more apparent. From veteran comedians with obvious composure and grace to first-timers with skittish voices and awkward moments, the standups received a mixed bag of responses from the crowd.
Sure, the bit on slavery didn’t go over so well, but that’s what the open mic is about—test, observe and adapt. Regardless if the comedian’s set was well recepted or flat out neglected, due respect and credit was given with a round of applause by comedians and fans alike.
Time and time again, with a discernable Aussie accent, Adam took the mic, “Make him feel welcome, like we do it here at Cole’s.”
Cameron elaborates on the environment, “We are very conscious of trying for a fun, supportive room. Plenty of soul destroyingly rough mics exist—and they should, that helps a new comic cut her chops. But both Adam and I want to put on a show that gets and maintains a real audience, so that mic’ers can have that experience as well.”
While over thirty comedians took the stage, new and experienced, the sense of community amongst the comics became ever-present, “Comics spend a ton of time together as co-workers and friends, kicking around sticky bars waiting for a set while the rest of the world sleeps. It’s bonding. At Cole’s about a third of our list will be comics that showcase all over town, a third will be newer but dedicated open mic’ers, and a third will be folks just starting out—perhaps even trying out their first set.”
There is acceptance. Just for the simple fact that they’re trying. Using the powerful effects of laughter—to engage complete strangers. As a frequent viewer of comedy, these people need due credit. It takes some balls. It takes some balls to take your subconscious thoughts, your twisted reality, your cynical realism, your life triumphs and pitfalls and display it to a room of strangers. Not only display it, but hope for a connection, an acceptance, to carry the viewer over the auditory threshold and create humor. Create insight, create an environment where life’s absurdities are embraced, collected and showcased. Create something that purposefully pushes the boundaries to receive a reaction.
Although the open mic at Cole’s was technically a performance, there was much truth and humanity in the standup comics’ words. They are just people, elevating their sense of humor to stage level. The funny people who take their licks on stage to get their B.A. in comedy.
As Cameron so graciously understands it, “Standups are wild, interpersonally funny folks. Class clowns grow up to be improviser’s. Standups were the kids doing extra reading for class or none at all.”
Get to know the real Cameron Esposito…
And come check out the popular and hilarious Cole’s open mic every Wednesday at 9pm!
—The Runt writer, Joey Delisi
–Photos by Alan Rosenquist