Maybe Chicago needs a little more Minnie Pearl and Roy Clark. Equal parts Hee Haw and Grand Ole Opry, Catastrophe (tonight at The Hideout) aims to combine Chicago’s off-the-wall comedy culture with its “maverick Americana music scene,” resulting in an “old-timey Western variety show gone awry.” Organized by members of Dastardly, the local country-folk act, the show will intersperse hoe-down jams with comedy from the Puterbaugh Sisters, Mo Welch, Chris Condren, and others. The A.V. Club talked to Dastardly’s Gabe Liebowitz about what’s in store for show-goers, as well as how the whole affair came together.
The A.V. Club: How’s Catastrophe going to be structured?
Gabe Liebowitz: Basically, the concept is that we—Dastardly—are throwing an old-time variety show like the Grand Ole Opry or The Glen Campbell Show. The stage is filled with props like giant cactuses, a tumbleweed, and train tracks. We’re going to have a guy who’s our Ed McMahon…
AVC: Or your Roy Clark…
GL: …Yes, our Roy Clark. His name’s Dickie Fitz. We’re trying to give people an old-time feel, like in the good old days when you could bring your whole family.
AVC: And you’re interspersing music and comedy?
GL: Our material will be dispersed between six guests we bring up, each a different Chicago comedian. During every act, something goes terribly wrong beyond our control and to different levels. A comedian goes on and starts weeping during the set because they just got dumped. There’s a bunch of different levels of catastrophe, and the whole thing may end up a pop icon being murdered at the end.
GL: That’s a secret!
AVC: So instead of playing a half-hour set or whatever, you’ll just do a song or two and then comedy?
GL: We’ll bring these acts out, start a song or two, and then something goes wrong. Then we’ll play a couple of songs. There’ll be an intermission. I think ultimately, we’ll play about 30 or 35 minutes, which is about what you’d expect in a regular show from us.
AVC: What inspired the whole idea?
GL: We’ve been playing around Chicago for about two years, and I think we’re just a little tired of the whole idea of a standard show, like there will be three or four bands, and maybe you’ll see one and then leave. That’s how it is here, and we just wanted to do something a little different. We wanted to try and break free of the standard rock show.
AVC: How did you round up the comedians?
GL: They’re all people who I’ve seen through this really awesome show at Town Hall Pub called Entertaining Julia. I’m really good friends with the Puterbaugh Sisters and Mo Welch, and I met all these people through that show. About a year and a half ago, I started playing there every now and then and I began to see the show as a breeding ground for really incredible comics not just doing stand-up, but this weird performance art or just really cool acts. It just seemed like the perfect thing to mesh, and it’s packaged in this way where it’s like the best of Chicago comedy but packaged toward people who are used to going to music shows instead of comedy.
We’ve actually played a ton of shows as a musical act, including Entertaining Julia and The Mo Show, and it’s completely different etiquette there. The crowd doesn’t talk because they’re worried they’re going to get yelled at by the comedians, which stands in stark contrast to a rock show where people drink through the whole thing. The first time we played one of those shows, we were all so taken aback that people were sitting and staring at us. It’s like, “You know, you guys can talk during this if you want.”
It’s nice, though, that idea of having a show that you actually watch and pay attention to. So, Catastrophe is set up more like that type of show, but we’re going to trick the crowd by playing music, too.
AVC: Have you been doing rehearsals with all these comedians?
GL: We’ll probably get together with some people, but most of these acts are able to take their existing act and make it work within the concept. I mean, these are acts that people have been refining for years, so as a whole, these guys are kind of just used to showing up and doing their bit, and we’ll do that for them so they don’t freak out.
AVC: Are you going to dress up in overalls and buffalo plaid?
GL: I think so. We played at a farm in Iowa, and I got a pretty decent cowboy outfit. I got a hat in New Mexico in August. We’ll try to go pretty country.
AVC: So what’s next for Dastardly? Do you have new material?
GL: We just finished recording what’s going to be our second record. We’re waiting for it to get mixed, and we’re releasing it on CD and vinyl at the beginning of next year.