Chicago’s a comedy city. Throw a stone and you’ll hit a great comedy stage, and whether it’s Second City, iO, Annoyance or somewhere else you’ll be guaranteed a laugh or two. It can make us harder to impress, or it can make us more appreciative of the art and strategy involved. We like to take the latter approach and were incredibly excited to hear that Jonah Ray was coming to town, both because we knew he’d bring great comedic chops and because, well, many of us at Third Coast Review are hard core “MSTies” whose sense of humor was largely shaped by Hodgson, Nelson and crew, so a chance to have Mystery Science Theater 3000’s new host riff movies with us live at North Bar was something we would’ve been silly to pass up.
We were on scene for the Friday shows—an early standup showcase and the follow-up, a live movie riff by Jonah Ray and some local riffers, Down in Front. It was a blast from the first set. Local comedians ran the gamut, including Tim McLaughlin, Marilee Williams and Dale McPeek. All three were great opening acts, but Marilee’s absurd humor and bombastic energy really shined. Her set absolutely killed and she stuck around to participate in some more fun antics as the evening progressed.
Jonah Ray jumped right into the fray, and his usual sarcastic yet self-deprecating style was well met here in Chicago. Some of his best stuff was his “worst” stuff—a bad joke montage he provided a great soundtrack for and a little segment in which he “NPR’d” quotes from some of the worst people in society set to a cute little ditty that made them seem almost poetic. Ray has absolutely surgical comic timing, with incredible wit and an amiable enough nature to wield a sharp tongue without alienating his audience. “That guy from the puppet show is a little dark” he quips and rolls along merrily, while preparing us all for a musical journey through the musical masterpiece that is Hulk Hogan’s Hulkamania CD and a dance-off that would have us all rolling on the floor.
Once the stage was set for the late night show and the audience was settled, Ray brought up the folks from Down in Front as well as fellow MST3K cast member Zach Thompson (Bonehead #2 in the Bonehead Band) to join him in tearing apart the notoriously bad film, Get Even. Known as “GETEVEN”for some bad title card and font choices, this movie was so truly awful that only fantastic riffing could have saved it. We were in luck though, as Ray and his companions navigated through terrible dialogue, badly pulled punches and overlong sex scenes with a joke frequency and accuracy that is truly to be feared.
Overall, the first night of Festival of Me couldn’t have been better. All of the comedians were fantastic, the intimate space bred a familial feel, and Jonah as a main act in both settings proved absolutely wonderful. We can’t wait to have him back in town, no matter what that looks like, from riffs to standup or wherever life takes him. For more on Jonah Ray, Mystery Science Theater 3000’s revival and life as a Nerdist/ID10T, check out our interview from this weekend’s shows here.