Chicago’s a big comedy town; that’s a given. But for some people, not every joke is all that funny.
Stand-up comic Adam Guerino kept hearing complaints from his friends about bad experiences they’d had at comedy clubs, where an off-color limp-wristed joke could make their night go sour. In response, Guerino started LaughTrack, a weekly comedy night at Boystown’s Sidetrack. It’s grown like gangbusters and has created a safe space for everyone, gay and straight, to tie one on and laugh it up.
Now, Guerino’s starting a new comedy night at Sidetrack. Starting March 16, Casting Couch will give up-and-coming stand-ups a chance to compete for big prizes and a few laughs. The A.V. Club talked to Guerino about Laugh Track, Casting Couch, and why inclusive comedy doesn’t mean bad comedy.
The A.V. Club: Tell us a little about Laugh Track.
Adam Guerino: Laugh Track is a live comedy show that we do on comedy night at Sidetrack. They’ve had a comedy night there for 20 or 30 years, but ours just started in September. I pitched them the idea three years ago, though.
It’s one of the only shows I know that has an installed audience, which is kind of big in Chicago, especially because this audience doesn’t go to comedy shows all that often. We have about 50 to 100 regulars, and then we get about 50 to 100 new people every week.
AVC: And it’s a gay-friendly show, right?
AG: It’s definitely a gay-friendly show. There’s always one gay person in the lineup for the night.
I think, more important than it being a gay show, though, is that it’s a gay-friendly show and gives people a safe place, in a gay bar. They’re not going to be made fun of or attacked if they come to our show. It’s a freedom that’s relatable even if people aren’t gay. It is a mixed crowd, more so than Sidetrack’s used to and more so than most comedy shows are. People like it because they’re hearing their voice, not someone else’s that they can’t identify with.
AVC: It does seem like there’s been a groundswell of queer comedy in recent years, with queer sketch troupes popping up around town too.
AG: We have the only stand-up queer show, though. I think stand-up is more personal, too. With sketch and improv, you tell stories, of course, but stand-up, at its basest form, is storytelling dressed up a little bit. It’s your perspective, your point of view. I think people can relate to it more than a sketch show.
AVC: What do you want to ideally happen in stand-up? For more shows to pop up like this or for your general venue clubs, like Zanies, to start being more gay-friendly?
AG: Zanies gets away with it because their clientele likes that kind of humor. Before it was gay humor, it was other bad things.
I think what people are going to realize eventually is that gay people have money—and not just gay people, but allies—and that any jokes in bad taste or that separate people just aren’t funny. I think in a perfect world, everyone can make fun of everyone equally, but instead some people just have really offensive and poor-taste jokes. In a perfect world, everyone is equal on the cutting board for comedy.
The problem I have is when people don’t feel safe. We tell lots of jokes about gay people at Laugh Track that make gay people check themselves and see if they’re clichéd, but people are going to receive it better because they’re in a safe place, rather than if they were the only gay person in the room.
AVC: How is Casting Couch going to work?
AG: Casting Cough is a comedy contest underneath the Laugh Track banner. It’s on Wednesday instead of Thursday, and we’re just starting to try it out. We’re bringing judges together, and we’ve accrued over $1000 in awards, like comedy classes, an interview on Vocalo, PR packages, headshots, whatever. I’m very excited at how receptive Chicago is to supporting comedians, and this will be a really advantageous show for performers.
AVC: What are the nuts and bolts for anyone who wants to participate?
AG: People show up and enter a raffle. Doors are at 7 and we draw the comics at 7:45 p.m. There are three different categories: opener, middle, and headliner. People can choose where they want to be, and there’s some strategy in that as well. It’s important for us to make sure it wasn’t just a bunch of headliners who have been doing comedy for five years.
We want to have a full category for every single award, and that’s 10 comics each. The judges have been talking about what makes a good show for the audience, so we’re still figuring out some of the details, but any time you get a group of people together to support those looking to refine their craft, you get a great show.
AVC: So people do their set and then get judge feedback, right?
AG: You’ll get as much feedback as you do performing time. Three minutes to perform, three minutes feedback. We’ll pass the microphone between the judges. That’s the number-one, most important thing, whether you win or not, because if you don’t win, you’ll know why. In regular open mics, you get off the stage and might not hear back, but here, if you mumble, or a joke you told didn’t make sense, you’ll get that feedback from your peers.