The TBS broadcasts from the inaugural Just For Laughs Chicago festival kick off tonight with Let Freedom Hum, a stand-up showcase hosted by a Canadian sketch actor, Martin Short, and featuring very little in the way of humming and nothing that we heard about the joys of freedom. But they put the title on the Internet and your TV listings, so let's just get to it.
As I mentioned last week, Martin Short certainly did his part to enliven the proceedings — in addition to taped bits that brought back Ed Grimley (without pants!), Jiminy Glick and Lawrence Orbach, Short's opening monologue was both topical and edgy. The audience gasped at a number of his zingers, including one joke in which he called Adam Lambert a fruit, and another in which, in front of several TBS executives, he zinged the network by saying: "Meanwhile, TBS viewers are saying, who knew Tyler Perry was so light-skinned!"
But what about the stand-ups? Chicago native John Roy warmed up the crowd beforehand and delivered one of the better sets of the night, joking about how the locals are tougher because of the city's frigid winters and are fatter because of what they eat (though you'll see none of this on TV tonight, Roy did tape a performance at Zanies last weekend for a new stand-up series TBS will debut later this year).
Earlier in the day, I caught up with Tom Papa and Kathleen Madigan as they ran through their promotional photo shoots. Through the magic of my Flip cam and the snapshot function, this moment in time has been captured for posterity. I think Papa had powder in his eye. Or he's winking at us! Either way, Papa got things rolling on the right note once he hit the stage, mocking billionaires who have been killing themselves because, having lost their money in the recession, they could not stand to live like the rest of us. He also poked fun at his own life as a husband and father, and had the audience in stitches as he recounted trying to have a conversation with his parents online via Skype. Madigan was next up, and wanted us all to know how not to be jealous of her for having to visit her parents outside of St. Louis, and how much drinking must be involved to cope with life as a Madigan. She also curiously was eager to revisit the 2008 presidential election and Hillary Clinton vs. Barack Obama (did I mention we were in Chicago?) and expressed the fact that she was too cynical for hope.
Jeremy Hotz is very popular with Canada's Just For Laughs machine (selling out theaters in Canada), and American audiences likely don't know him that well. Will his schtick play here? Do you like it when a man keeps his non-mic hand near his mouth and talks at length about getting old and ugly, comparing male and female genitalia, and prostate exams? If so, hop on board.
Greg Giraldo, it should be noted, had recorded an hourlong special in New York City the night before flying to Chicago for this TV taping. He had an internal debate about what material to say onstage for this show that he'd be OK with TBS airing and not burn anything he said for his own hour, which will air later this summer on Comedy Central. Giraldo told me he had some topical and talk-show fodder he could use. I'm a big fan of his and think he's one of the best stand-ups around who can offer topical social commentary that's both smart and funny without seeming hack. But it seemed as though once he got onstage, he may have been changing his mind about what to joke about during the actual set. An opening bit about judging whether your city is the greatest city on Earth landed big laughs from the audience. He then went into some Father's Day material (which is late now), and paused after an Easter joke when he told the audience he realized that talking about getting laid probably would not fly with TBS. After a moment, he gathered himself and used the tease of crowd work to launch into a bit about "hypothetical" fights with your wife, in which he talked about a very specific fight he had over the phone from a gig in West Virginia, and if the crowd wasn't with him at the start, they were by the end as his rant got longer, faster, louder and more intensely personal.
Short said he had saved John Pinette for last, and Pinette brought the crowd to its feet with a routine about his list of things he would not do — changing it from his "nay nay" catchphrase to his "rhymes with bucket list" — including his opposition to camping, hiking, fishing, kayaking and shopping. Pinette saved his most specific anger, though, for gluten-free foods, joking over and over again about how he only now has realized how tasty gluten must be.