Tag Archives: Rush Pearson

Second Generation Comedy

Standuo Banner 1standup banner 2I don’t know if a sense of humor is hereditary. I don’t know whether jokes are in your genes. But it appears that funny runs in our family.

DSCN3300Later this month — on February 20 and 22 — my daughter Emilia will make her West Coast debut as a standup comic at two clubs in Hollywood. If you’re in the Los Angeles area, you may want to check her out.

I have no idea what Emilia’s going to do onstage. She hasn’t run her material by me. She’s 22 years old — and if you’re old enough to vote, fight in the Army, sign a contract and drink legally – you’re old enough not to clear your jokes with dad. So, I can’t wait to hear her routine.

hqdefaultEmilia graduated from Northwestern University (her parents’ alma mater) last June with a hard-earned degree in journalism and a passion for writing comedy. Jokes and Journalism both require a keen, insightful and objective view of the world. But if Emilia’s currently more interested in a punchline than a newspaper byline – what can I say?

After all, what was I doing as a 22-year old  fresh out of Northwestern?

sc0000626233 years ago, in February 1981 during the winter after my graduation, my comic comrades at The Practical Theatre and I were banging the last bent nails into our newly built storefront theatre at 703 Howard Street in Evanston, Illinois – getting ready to stage our second improvisational comedy revue, Thrills & Glory.

It was the PTC’s third season: our first at the magical 42-seat venue we dubbed The John Lennon Auditorium. Thrills & Glory opened on March 21, 1981 with Rush Pearson, Gary Kroeger, Reid Branson and Emilia’s dad (me) in the cast. We didn’t run our material by our parents, either.sc0001416801x

617px-Scubba_Hey!_(1981)A few months later, we opened our third comedy revue, Scubba Hey! — featuring Brad Hall (my fellow PTC artistic director), Rush Pearson, me and a (very) funny (very) young girl named Julia Louis Dreyfus, whom Rush and I met when we performed together in the 1980 Mee-Ow Show at Northwestern.

This month, The Mee-Ow Show will celebrate its 40th anniversary. Of course, I cannot possibly be that old.10 Against

434px-Megafun_(1983)But, evidently, the comedy gene is not solely paternal. Around this same time, as I was earning my last college credits and The Practical Theatre was getting underway, Emilia’s future mom (and my future, fabulous, funny wife) was also doing her own improvisational comedy thing. Victoria Zielinski played the Chicago comedy clubs as a member of a group called Laugh Track: another gathering of Northwestern funny people and Mee-Ow Show veterans.

Vic was in law school in 1981 so she couldn’t be part of the early fun on the tiny stage of The John Lennon Auditorium – but in 1983, she finally joined the cast of the Practical Theatre’s hit comedy revue, Megafun at our Piper’s Alley cabaret space behind Second City.

800px-Art,_Ruth_&_Trudy_(1986)Three years later, Victoria and I (along with Jamie Baron) joined forces in Art, Ruth & Trudy. We got married in 1990. 20 years later, we wrote and performed The Vic & Paul Show — and we’ve been having fun onstage together ever since.

So, I have to admit, our daughter Emilia comes by the comedy thing honestly.

Malo-1Emilia’s will perform her first standup set as part of the Miniature Stand-Up Comedy Festival on February 20th in the Leche Lounge at Malo, located at 4326 Sunset Blvd in Los Angeles.

The show starts at 7:30. I’m told that folks should “please be on time as the show will start at 7:45 sharp and seats are limited.”

Emilia will be on a bill with a series of comediennes, including Carmen Faulkner, Christie Campagna, Katie Robinson and Raluca Sanders.

comedy-store-logo-bigTwo days later, on Saturday February 22 at 7:30 PM, Emilia will be doing a set at the famous Comedy Store at 8433 Sunset Boulevard. Tickets are $10.00, plus a two-drink minimum. But, really, if you’re going all the way down to Hollywood on a Saturday night – two drinks is the minimum, right? (Doors open at 7:00.)

Emilia’s two standup shows are the entertaining preliminaries leading up to the main event.

Emilia Poster iO West w:dates #2On March 28th and 29th, Emilia and her Snickerdoodlin’ comedy partner and fellow Northwestern alum, Maggie Mae Fish, will perform their original comedy revue, Tyrannosaurus Sketch at iO West on Hollywood Blvd. Joining the cast will be USC’s Daniel Rashid, the son of our fellow NU alums and PTC members, Steve and Bea Rashid. (There’s that damn Northwestern/PTC thing again!)

Both shows are at 7:00 pm. Tickets can be ordered here.

sc0000e4f503When Emilia, Maggie and Daniel take the stage at iO West on March 28, they’ll do so more than three decades after my Practical Theatre friends and I staged our first comedy revue at the John Lennon Auditorium.

800px-Thrills_&_Glory_(1981)May Emilia and her friends have as much fun as we did back in the day.

And — as it has been for us — may that be just the beginning.


Filed under Art, Comedy, Improvisation

Riffmaster & The Rockmes in No Cal: Rock & Roll Rebels for a Good Cause.

Poster by Ron Crawford, of course!


Filed under Music

See “Madman” Now!

My brilliant friend Rush Pearson is appearing for just one more week in his one-man show “Diary of a Madman” at The Prop Theatre in Chicago. If you live anywhere near the Chicagoland area — don’t miss it. It’s a compelling, entertaining, very funny show performed by a one-of-a-kind talent.

I’ve known Rush Pearson for 35 years. I’ve written, improvised, rocked and acted onstage with him many, many times. But “Diary of a Madman” just might be Rush’s finest theatrical moment. It is not to be missed.

Get your tickets now at: http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/227520

But don’t take my word for it. Though I rarely devote my blog posts to the words of others — I urge you to read Neil Steinberg’s review of Rush’s show in The Chicago Sun Times…

Neil Steinberg

Gogol’s Madman Challenges Us All


Chicago Sun Times February 28, 2012

Madness is a universal human condition. Wherever there are people, across the world and throughout history, there are also crazy people, though we don’t like to think about it. Hard enough to notice the insane right here, wandering the streets of Chicago, never mind trying to focus our attention on disturbed beggars in India, or to wonder about the deranged in 1725, lurching about London, their stockings around their ankles, their wigs askew.

Which is what makes “Diary of a Madman” such a treasure, because Nikolai Gogol wrote it in 1835, and it not only is a near-clinical rendition of gathering mental illness — the ballooning self-regard, the fading of reality, the bursts of anger then sudden calm. But it is madness in Czarist Russia almost 200 years ago, one preoccupied with rank, servants, quills, boots and coaches.

Saturday night I saw the one-man show of “Diary” performed by Rush Pearson at the Prop Theatre on Elston Avenue, and it is a disturbing delight. Anyone who knows Rush — and I met him 30 years ago when we were at Northwestern — will joke that his playing Gogol’s unhinged bureaucrat is type-casting. He wasn’t just an actor, but an edgy no-limits wildman, one of those permanent students lingering years after graduation, forgetting to become an adult. Longhaired and big-bearded at a time when people weren’t, particularly people at NU, he lived on cadged food and the sofas of friends, who valued his energy and inherent good humor, the twinkle behind the manic behavior.

He was the star of the Practical Theatre Company, acting in hysterically funny comic reviews along with Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Gary Kroeger, Brad Hall and Paul Barrosse. He also worked at Renaissance fairs, as a mud eater, and when producers from “Saturday Night Live” famously swept into Chicago to raid Practical, hiring Louis-Dreyfus and three others, Rush, the funniest of them all, was off in Texas, eating mud.

That became his career. His Sturdy Beggars are a fixture every summer at the Renaissance Faire in Bristol, Wis., a freewheeling three-man vaudeville performed in a pit of mud, a mix of surprisingly witty wordplay and pratfalls in oozing filth.

Needless to say, I leapt to see Rush perform Gogol. Not a common impulse, apparently — there were 15 others in the audience the night I saw him (and two were other Steinbergs, plus comic Aaron Freeman and his daughter Artemis). The week before, Rush performed for three people one night. That’s tragic itself.

The show is a 90-minute exploration of one man’s sad descent from being Poprishchin, a minor Russian clerk, beset by humiliations and in love above his rank, to Ferdinand the Eighth, King of Spain, in his own mind, desperately trying to maintain royal dignity in a lunatic asylum.

Pearson prowls the room, and a key pleasure of the show is watching his face collapse from beaming, glittery-eyed triumph, marveling at the brilliance of his own observations, into an elderly bewilderment and despair, his mouth a scowl, his eyes blank.

Some people don’t want to be challenged by drama — they want theater to be something pleasant happening on a stage 30 yards away. They do not want a sweaty, bearded maniac’s contorted face raving a foot from theirs. This play is not for them. I loved it.

To me, while we are not all mad, we share the madman’s dilemma. “Why am I clerk?” he cries. “On what grounds? For what reason should I be a clerk?” And then a terrible solution presents itself. “Perhaps I’m not a clerk . . .”

There is no profundity in saying the world has gone mad — it was a cliche centuries ago (“Mad world!” Shakespeare writes.) But I couldn’t help recognize in the twisted thinking of Poprishchin — the vanity, the dismissal of others, the imaginary threats, preferring to see a reality where dogs write letters rather than accept life as it is — the contours of our troubled political moment, where too many Americans embrace any conspiracy, cling to any delusion, rather than tolerate a world where they are not king.

The show runs weekends at Prop Theatre, 3502 N. Elston, until March 25. There’s a first-rate Irish place, Chief O’Neill’s Pub, almost directly across the street, and you might want to work that into your plans, too.

Have you ordered your tickets yet! Get them at: http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/227520


Filed under Art, Comedy, Truth

30 Years Ago…

We measure our lives in years, but we experience life moment to moment. Some moments in time are more memorable than others. Some are unforgettable. And yet, even our most remarkable moments become generalized in our memories. Years later, we no longer see them in sharp focus. What we remember becomes wrapped in gauze: kept warm and fuzzy.

And then sometimes, even after three busy, event-filled decades, something can stir the memory of a special time in your life and you relive a moment you thought you remembered well — but hadn’t really seen clearly for a long, long while.

Recently, my good friend and college roommate Rob Mendel brought a wonderful moment in time back to life when he posted a vivid series of photographs he took in and around The Practical Theatre on Howard Street in Evanston, on the northern border of Chicago, in the winter of 1981-82.

The halcyon moment in time that Rob captured with his camera was charged with a mix of creativity and youthful energy that would ultimately – in just six more months – change our lives in an unexpected and dramatic way.

It would be, perhaps, too precious to say that Robbie caught us in the last relatively innocent and naïve moment of our young adult lives. But he did.

Asked for his recollections of how he came to take this trove of photos, Rob replied, “I can hardly remember! It was after traveling back to Evanston from Texas on the Big O with Rush, I think. “Beggars Holiday” was in rehearsal. We took publicity shots for that. But am I mixing it up?”

Not really. Beggar’s Holiday opened at The PTC’s John Lennon Auditorium at 703 Howard Street on November 28, 1981 – so Rob’s publicity photos must have been taken in early November, soon after we (The Sturdy Beggars) got back from our muddy stint at The Texas Renaissance Festival.

“The Rockmes were rehearsing, I had my camera with me. I took pix of the Beggars in Texas and again in Evanston.”

Now, here Rob’s memory begins to fade.

Rob’s photos of The PTC’s house band Riffmaster & The Rockme Foundation in rehearsal at the JLA were clearly taken after Beggar’s Holiday closed and our 1982 season opener, the improvisational comedy revue The Brothers Bubba, was in rehearsal.

You can tell because I’ve shaved my beggar beard.

So, Rob’s photos of the Rockmes in rehearsal must have been taken in the first months of 1982 – exactly 30 years ago!

The band was formed late in the spring of ’81, and had been playing together less than a year when these shots were snapped.

Looking at the eager, earnest, passionate (and hairy) young garage band that Rob got on film that day in the winter of ’82 – it’s deeply satisfying to know that the Rockme adventure has continued.

In fact, the band shown in these pics is the same group of guys that still manage to reunite and rock together to this day.

Next gig? June 8th in Portola Valley, California. The beat goes on…

“Mo was two. I took her to the playground a couple of times… Used to chant, “She’s still a baby!” and she’d respond, “I’m not a baby!” She was the cutest thing!”

Okay, these photos just melt my heart. My daughter Maura was, indeed, the cutest thing. Little Mo was less than two years old at the time. (She turned two on July 3rd, 1982.) Rob snapped her in the lobby of The John Lennon Auditorium – with the “Build-a-Bear” that my mom made for her.Rob also shot this portrait of Maura in the lobby of the JLA with her Godfather Rush Pearson.And with Uncle Brad Hall, our mascot Sri Abdul Aziz, and Godfather Rush.Here’s the delightful toddler Maura with her dad a few doors west up Howard Street from the JLA at the legendary Cottage Restaurant, a classic diner. We’re waiting for old Bob to serve us a couple “chezzies” and a “shooker”. (Six months later, a UPI reporter would interview the cast of The Golden Jubilee at The Cottage to get the story of our sudden, shocking ascent to Saturday Night Live.)

Robbie’s camera also found us in rehearsal for The Brothers Bubba.

In this photo, Gary Kroeger, Jane Muller, your author, Rush Pearson and Brad Hall are rehearsing the musical number, “Macaroni & Cheese.”

In these photos, Brad and I are perfecting our impression of Simon and Garfunkel performing “The Boxer” — another sketch from The Bothers Bubba. 

 The Bothers Bubba opened at The JLA on April 1, 1982 and became the PTC’s biggest hit yet, playing to sold-out houses that demonstrated our 42-seat storefront was too small to contain our rapidly growing success.

Events were moving quickly, success was advancing swiftly, and as Bob Dylan said, the times they were a-changing. 

 Less than half a year after Rob’s photos were taken, the Practical Theatre Company, in partnership with Bernie Sahlins, owner of The Second City, opened our new cabaret theatre space at Piper’s Alley with The Golden 50th Anniversary Jubilee — a collection of our best sketches and songs performed by Brad Hall, Gary Kroeger, Julia Louis-Dreyfus and your humble author.

Robbie Mendel’s camera caught the spirit and drama of an unsuspecting cast of characters doing what they love – with no idea of what was to come.

“I remember that I had bought a camera, because the rental house I was working at in Hollywood had a bunch of guys who mentored me to get a camera and learn how to take pictures properly. I was using B&W for publicity pix for the Beggars, I believe, and that’s why they are not in color.”

Who cares about color? The classic black and white format adds to the drama of these memories: a glorious moment in time – just half a year before our lives were transformed — captured so indelibly by Robbie Mendel’s camera.

“When I returned to Hollywood, I landed my PA job on the TV movie with Susan St. James and I laid a publicity packet about PTC on Dick Ebersol there, but I think the PTC got on his radar separately, also. These pix preceded all of that, eh?”

That’s Rob Mendel for you. I never knew (or maybe I’d forgotten) that Robbie had hipped Saturday Night Live Executive Producer Dick Ebersol to The Practical Theatre just months before The Golden Jubilee opened at Piper’s Alley.It’s another intriguing brick in the wonderwall of that seminal moment in our lives.


Filed under Art, History, Music