Humboldt Park might not be the first place you’d think of when you’re talking about seeing comedy in Chicago, but recently, the ever-changing nature of Humboldt Park has become home to some great little venues for performance, art and comedy. One such stronghold exists at Slate Arts Center, which has recently begun a monthly comedy series simply and smartly called Humboldt Pie. Every first Friday of the month, Slate Arts Center, which is just entering its second year as a “New Media and Contemporary/Experimental music exhibition space” is devoting itself to bringing the laughs.
We were there for the second installment of Humboldt Pie this past Friday, and though the small space was seeing the effects of the subzero temps, after a while we were laughing too much to notice. This is a no-frills show—just a mic and some great local performers, and it’s the sort of space where things don’t need to be packaged perfectly. Comedians read from notebooks and worked out new material with the audience, which is a special experience in itself. It’s easier to connect to comics when you’re in a creative space with them, and Slate’s Humboldt Pie series was just that.
Hostess Madeleine Russell kicked things off well and kept the energy up all evening with her bouyant good nature and sardonic wit. The comedic lineup for the night included Gena Gephart, Laurie Hooberman, Tyler Snodgrass, Molly Kearney, Spark Tabor and Brianna Murphy. We had a great time from start to finish, even though with some bits falling flat at various times during the night.
One of our favorite sets of the night was one of the first. Gena Gephardt has an innocent, genuine awkwardness that she then punches you in the gut with, and her set was full of gut-busters, including her tale of woe upon accidentally bringing a joint on a plane. She’s got a very surgical precision with her timing and reminds us a little of Kristen Schaal and Mitch Hedberg—great with one-liners but also able to spin a pretty hilarious yarn.
She was followed by Laurie Hooberman, who did a great job with some callbacks to Gephardt’s set and rolled it into an ovarian tale about whether or not she should reproduce and with whom. The audience wasn’t immediately receptive to her professorial “publish or perish” calls to participate, but by the end she had them more enthusiastically voting on suitable suitors.
Tyler Snodgrass was up next, and his religious background and upbringing in the Ozarks made for some hilarious takes on religion and life in the Bible Belt (which he insinuates is more like a strap-on, for reasons you may be able to figure out). It wasn’t all one-note religion-bashing though, as Snodgrass is quick to point out. After all, therapy is just expensive confession. Snodgrass is immediately likable and one of the bits that rang truest for me was his take on religious people who are “trying really hard but aren’t quite there yet” which is full of some zingers I only wish I hadn’t heard out of the mouths of people I’d gone to church with in the past. He rounded out his set with the best camel joke ever and a stream of Trump pseudonyms (such as my favorite, Toupee Fiasco) that made me a little bit jealous.
He was followed and matched by Molly Kearney, whose rowdy but friendly nature immediately reminded me of Melissa McCarthy. She’s got a similar shock-and-awe approach at times, but also a sweet weirdness that made her stand out. Her tale of her mother’s quest to friend everyone else with her name had us wiping away tears. Spark Tabor was on deck next, with an unrivalled silliness and honesty. He even changed our minds about Valentine’s Day, pointing out that all holidays are made up, and can’t we just let people have their fun? Tabor’s honesty and charm really drew us to him, and even when, as he said “I don’t think you guys like me as much as I want you to,” he’d already won us over. His gift is in charismatic delivery and dry humor, and we’re pretty sure he could read a takeout menu and get a few laughs out of it.
Brianna Murphy closed out the evening, and though she seemed to be having a bit of a rough night with the crowd, she owned it, and got personal with tales of her “scone at home” boyfriend from England and Irish Catholic upbringing (which Molly Kearney had also touched on). We’d love to hear more about her and from her in the future.
It was an exciting night of comedy in an intimate space, and the comedy followed the culture of Slate—experimental and collaborative. Most of these comedians perform other places as well, and even host their own shows other places, but everyone felt very at home at Slate, in a way you won’t exactly find at iO or Piper’s Alley. Friends were made and laughs were had, and it only cost a few bucks. That’s the kind of evening that’s always worth it, and we’re looking forward to more slices of Humboldt Pie as the series continues.
Humboldt Pie is a monthly comedy showcase at Slate Arts in Humboldt Park, held on every first Friday of the month. Tickets are a suggested donation of $5 and space is limited so bring a friend to pack the place but make sure to be there early.