It’s already been established that fezzes are cool. In Chicago, though, it’s doubly true, as anyone who frequents The Lincoln Lodge should well know. The alt comedy playground, now located at Under the Gun theater, is known for edgy and alt comedy, and also known to attract some fantastic talent. Last week, through some pretty stormy weather, we stayed laughing when we were able to see Jonah Ray and friends do some pretty amazing standup. What’s great about these shows is that even after Jonah Ray’s headed out to other cities on his tour, you can catch a lot of the comedians in his lineup right here in Chicago on the regular.
When last we caught up with Ray, he was in town at North Bar for Festival of Me, and the night included both standup and movie riffing. We even got a chance to sit down with Jonah and pick his brain about Mystery Science Theater 3000, friendship, music and more. The shows at Lincoln Lodge were similarly formatted but left a little less time for riffing, since there were more seatings.
Kicking off the night was host Alex Dragicevich, a standup comedian and former basketball player who presents as a sort of Wrigleyville bro but in fact, not only lampoons the stereotype that he cops to having similarities with, but also proves pretty insightful about the state of things. One of his funniest moments opening the show came in his explanation of how he recognized his white privilege after the cashier at the checkout at Whole Foods let him off the hook when he forgot his wallet. Dragicevich is not afraid to skewer himself or the crowd and was perfect for opening the show and getting the crowd ready for what was to come.
Next up was Christian Borkey, who immediately took the room by storm. Borkey wastes no time in taking things to “uncomfortable” territory, but with an absurd, shiny joyfulness that makes you want to jump on board, even if it’s singing along to a chorus of “Some Gays Just Don’t Deserve Rights.” Borkey is fearless and fun, and has enough charisma to bring you over to her side no matter how “controversial” her side may be at the time.
Brittani Ferguson took the stage after Borkey and continued the fun. She has a sort of Emo Phillips one-liner ability that makes her comedy stand out. “I’m a ’90s kid” she proclaimed at one point, “which is just a sad adult.” Ferguson, too, pushes people’s limits, and she’s not afraid of pregnant pauses. She walks the line between intimate and intimidating, but pops any tensions that’s building with incredible oneliners about everything from JFK to the style she’s currently rocking, which she calls a mixture of Bob Dylan and Lilith Fair. We never knew what to expect from Ferguson, but that not knowing very often opened us up for big laughs.
Olivia Perry was up next. Perry is immediately likable, and her softspoken style only adds to that. She’s also naturally funny, and though she may well be the youngest of the bunch, we definitely think you should watch for her. She’s subtle even when she’s taking risks, getting political or dropping big punch lines, so her jokes sneak up on you, but leave an impression.
Kyle Scanlan stepped up next, telling everyone about his early childhood in Southern Illinois and his inability to recognize his “white trash” upbringing until he actually made it further north to Chicago. Scanlan has some truly killer punchlines that he delivers with an insane amount of infectious glee that spreads to his audience.
This is true of Gena Gephart, too. Whether she’s dividing up the audience into financial class by whether they go to the laundromat, have a washer in their building or own their own machines or telling elaborate stories about unfortunate deposits in laundromat dryers, she’s energetic, with a great exaggerated physicality to her storytelling and a hint of Hedberg style to her quieter moments. She’s also just hilarious.
Finally it was time for Jonah, who had some beefs with us to start out, for favoring the fleeting moment of sunshine we had on Friday over the indoors and his first show.
“I have to compete with SUNSHINE?! Really?!”
It was all in good fun and though Jonah’s not local, he always seems to have a good sense of place. Being that his wife’s family hails from the area and he’s spent a decent amount of time here, it’s a genuine thing, and so Chicago sarcasm is something he basks in. Jonah started off the evening in one of the least funny ways anyone could—discussing the relatively recent death of his father and his unwelcome introduction to the “Dead Dad’s Club (or DDC as he calls it.)”
The opening was truly that though. Ray’s always had a biting sarcasm coupled with quick wit and a warm gooey nerdy center, but the cliche about pain and art rings true sometimes. His introduction of his father’s death led to stories about growing up in Hawaii and who his father was (a native Hawaiian going back generations). Some of the stuff that Ray suspects would be shot down by Saturday Night Live is some of the most unique and funniest. On top of that, it almost emulates a friend and certainly inspiration for Ray, Anthony Bourdain, in helping you understand the spirit of the islands and the man. Not just personal, it was damn funny, and by the time Ray was telling Hawaiian New Testament tales in his father’s Hawaiian accent, he had us cracking up over things we may not have even understood before, making us locals to his home and family, too.
Jonah is fantastically relatable even as his life has evolved and he’s started to gain acclaim from things like The Meltdown, a comedy show he hosted with Kumail Nanjiani that went from LA Stage to television, and of course the announcement that he’d be the next host of Mystery Science Theater 3000, which continues to blow him away. His love for MST3K and his pure joy at getting to live one of his lifelong dreams endeared him to the MSTie crowd and he also brings a little of that to his show, often in the debut song from his first season, “Every Country Has A Monster.”
Jonah did a fantastic set, and though there wasn’t enough time to riff an entire movie, he brought along a short called Office Etiquette to screen and riff live. The short was abysmal but the riffs were bombastic, fit for filing away for future reference with some of my favorite MST3K short moments. And though “the band thing didn’t work out” for him (as some places report, at least) on his move from Honolulu to LA, Jonah never left his passion for music behind. His music podcast Jonah Raydio aside, he’s also in touch with local (and Chicago local bands) and had a guitar on hand to do some of his own music, including some Weird Al covers, which in this author’s opinion are a hell of a thing to be able to pull off.
As we expected, Jonah Ray and the complement of comedians he worked with here in Chicago were on fire–fearless, precise and full of heart, and as expected, Jonah took the good vibes already in the room and created an intimate space for some great comedy. While the show’s already hit the road, as far as catching Jonah Ray in Chicago, we think you’d really be missing out if you weren’t a fan, and recommend you follow him so you can catch a show in the not too distant future. And, if you’d like a little more on the actor/comedian and host of MST3K, check out our interview with him from last year’s stop here.