My girlfriend shot me a text around 10 a.m. last Thursday with quite the proposal:
“Amy Schumer is doing an off-the-books stand up set tonight and I can get us tickets, should we do it?”
By the time I had set aside my work to look it up, it was already sold out. No publicity needed. It was all going down at a 100-150 seat black-box theater at a jazz club on the north side of Chicago.
Someone at a friend’s office was tipped off about it, who then tipped off my girlfriend’s boss, who then tipped off my girlfriend, who bought my ticket before I had the chance to cancel my dinner plans.
The plan was in motion.
We arrived at Constellation, a jazz club off Clybourn Ave. and Belmont, about 45 minutes early. The place was filled to the brim with millennials. The audience looked like a Macklemore family reunion in 150 years. Sitting in my Patagonia and khakis, I felt out of place.
I bought two plastic cups of red wine for 12 bucks (not bad) and claimed a pair folding chairs by the aisle. The show was supposed to start at 9. At, like, 8:55, Amy rolls in through the back door in like a workout top and a coat, gives everyone a wave and walks into a back room. 10 minutes later, she rolls on stage wearing the exact same thing in front of the sold out audience.
“So, has anyone here done stand-up before?”
*Voice in the back*
“Great. What’s your name?”
“OK. Anyone else?”
*Voice on the side*
“I have, too.”
“What’s your name?”
“How long have you done stand up?”
“Like five years.”
“OK. You two will open for me. Lauren gets three minutes. Kyle gets seven. Sound good?”
The crowd erupts. I’m cracking up. She is totally winging it, and it’s working.
Schumer then introduces her half-brother, who plays in a local jazz band. Everything is sort of coming together now. She is clearly doing her brother and the jazz venue a nice little favor by bringing in a massive crowd. She’s done it before, she says, and it’s a lot of fun.
Her brother then rolls on stage with his trio and jams out for 30 minutes. Extremely aware that the audience couldn’t give less of a shit about jazz music, he makes a couple of solid jokes in between songs. It goes by pretty quickly, and everyone makes the most of it.
Schumer comes back on stage. She’s playing the part of emcee, as well. She introduces the comics she found at the beginning of the night and they each do a quick set to warm the crowd.
Finally, it’s time for Amy. It’s pretty unbelievable to see someone I watched on Saturday Night Live a few weeks earlier masterfully piece together a completely unorganized show in a makeshift dance hall, but she does it with perfection.
She sets down a notepad on a stool and explains her set. We are going to be a giant focus group for some of her new material. She says to be prepared for some shit to fall flat, although nothing really does.
For like 45 minutes, she continues to wing it. Nothing meshes together, but everything is funny. She blends in some audience interactions with some bits she’s fleshing out. She calls old man Bill on the stage and together they read text messages on her phone from a stalker/ex-boyfriend.
After the set, we walk over to a nondescript bar two blocks away. A group of eight of us just sit around and shoot the shit about the show, work, life, etc. We are the only people in this dimly lit bar and we are all pretty hammered.
After about 20 minutes, Schumer and her entourage of six people, including her furniture-loving boyfriend, stroll in. It’s after midnight and there are only 14 people in this bar (and one dog). I don’t usually get starstruck, but not being from the city, it was a little surreal.
I approach her brother and drunkenly talk to him about jazz. I tell him I’ll come see another show, even though I almost assuredly will not. He understands this, but thanks me anyway.
Right before I leave, I hesitantly walk up to Amy’s table to thank her for a great show, not wanting to seem overly intrusive. Before I can even get a word out, her boyfriend looks at me and drops a brutal: “No pictures.”
It was a devastating blow. The whole table stands up and heads for the back exit. I head to the front and hail a cab. You just don’t recover from something like that.
I wasn’t sold on Amy Schumer stand-up before Thursday night, but it’s funny watching the difference between an inexperienced comedian and a professional. Schumer’s improvisation and comedic talent is unquestionable.
If I ever write about Amy Schumer again, I won’t preface her name with “award-winning comedian.” Instead, she it’ll forever now be “extremely great and generous sister Amy Schumer.” .
Image via YouTube