The April Fool's Day announcement that the Lakeshore Theater in Chicago undoubtedly caught a lot of people by surprise.
My only experience with the Lakeshore happened last June when I attended the Just For Laughs Chicago festival — the theater boasted not only some of the best and most eclectic shows of the fest, but also some of the weirdest and rowdiest ones, too. When I met owner Chris Ritter, he was in jovial spirits and gave me one of his theater's black T-shirts that bore the venue's "Dane Cook sucks" motto. Ritter certainly wanted to establish the venue as a different kind of home for comedy, and managed to do so. Just not profitably, or just not profitably quickly enough. Paul F. Tompkins and Hannibal Buress were among several comedians who recorded their stand-up discs there. And as recently as March 28, the Lakeshore uploaded a promotional video to YouTube for a pairing of Dick Gregory and Mort Sahl that was set to be there next week, only it's not to be.
I asked Ritter what happened, and his reply to me was short but also vaguely optimistic. He goes in depth, however, in this interview with the A.V. Club about how financial struggles daunted him from the get-go, and I know all-too-well what he meant when he said: "We didn‚Äôt raise enough money to operate with, moving forward, and I underestimated the length of time it would take for the brand to sink in and catch hold with the market."
Ritter also said he hoped people would remember the Lakeshore as "very unique place that went a long way to establishing comedy as a legitimate art form and means of individual expression in its own right, and not just a commoditized product." I hope people remember, though, that places such as the Lakeshore and people such as Ritter need your support financially much more than they need your artificial support by joining a Facebook Fan page or clicking "likes" on a Tumblr. The people who are passionate about helping further the cause of comedy often do so out of their own pockets. They need your support as much as you, as a comedian, need theirs.
So it all ends for the Lakeshore tonight with shows by Jim Jefferies and an after-party there running late into the night. I fully expect to see Ritter involved in another Chicago comedy venture. Just when and where is TBD.