Theater, Dance, Comedy and Performance in Chicago

Preview: Aqua Teen Hunger Force Live/Lakeshore Theater

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HUNGER FORCEHere’s a surprising fact: we’re coming up on the nine-year anniversary of Aqua Teen Hunger Force’s first episode (which, appropriately, was shown unannounced at 5am). That’s nine years of a series comprised of three talking fast-food items, their hairy, masturbation-loving neighbor, a bizarre cast of supervillians and a lot of nonsensical yelling. I’m not sure how any sober person can watch more than one fifteen-minute episode at a time of ATHF’s unrestricted insanity and often plotless shenanigans, but I’ll admit that the show (and this goes for anything on Adult Swim) can be pretty damn hilarious when in you’re in certain moods, especially any kind of stupor. The live show, featuring show co-creators Dave Willis and Dana Snyder, promises to include unseen clips from the show, script readings, and live music (?), so hardcore fans of the show and anyone who can handle at least an hour of unmitigated absurdity should feel right at home. (Andy Seifert)

November 13 and 14 at Lakeshore Theater, 3175 N. Broadway, (773)472-3492. $15.

Preview: Bill Cosby/Genesee Theatre

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It’s mostly inaccurate to label Bill Cosby as a “stand-up comedian” anymore. First off, no way in hell is he going to be standing—the 72-year old understandably plops himself into a chair for his shows. Second, Cosby doesn’t fit the traditional mold of stand-up’s set-up/punchline structure—he’s more of a storyteller with humorous tangents and an overtly slurred delivery. (Here’s part of a joke, transcribed verbatim, he told on the “Late Show”: “I remember, 47, uh, two years ago, I swear, they came, they came. We we we we we—our children—we we we want, we want a dogggg.”) That said, even as a temperamental, grumpy old geezer who keeps making controversial comments about socioeconomic issues, Cosby’s still kind of a goofball, certainly capable of inducing fits of laughter, even if it is after dredging up clips of his New Coke ads. (Andy Seifert)

November 14 at Genesee Theatre, 203 N. Genesee, Waukegan, (847)782-2366. $39-$75.

Preview: Dave Attell/Lakeshore Theater

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The always-caustic Dave Attell brings his ubiquitous cigarette and smooth, soothing baritone to Lakeshore Theater, where his scathing wit and bizarrely contentious comments will take center stage. While many will remember Attell for his late-night Comedy Central series “Insomniac with Dave Attell,” which consisted of Attell roaming around the nightlife of a city, engaging in what most of us do during a night on the town (drinking incessantly while teasing those more intoxicated than ourselves), he appears to thrive best in a stand-up role. Hardly a drunken buffoon who blathers sex jokes all set long, Attell has developed a set rife with non sequiturs, curveball punchlines and just plain silliness. Like his take on global warming: “The ice caps are melting. But maybe there’s some pretty cool shit under those ice caps, like treasure, or even better, a talking dinosaur, who we can all have adventures with. Me first, I thought it up.” (Andy Seifert)

November 6 and 7 at Lakeshore Theater, 3175 N. Broadway, (773)472-3492. $34.50.

Preview: Steve Martin/Cadillac Palace Theatre

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Man, I wish I could be so wildly successful at comedy that when I’m 64, I can say, “You know, I’m tired of stand-up. I think I’ll go on a banjo/bluegrass tour,” and only not can I embark on such a tour as specifically quirky as the banjo-picking kind, but I can go play freaking Carnegie Hall. Such is the state of Steve Martin’s career as he rolls into town with the acoustic bluegrass quintet Steep Canyon Rangers. Martin’s been plucking away since the seventies, but back then the banjo was usually a prop to his zany, whimsical stand-up. These days, Martin has made it clear that bluegrass is a serious artform and ambition for him, but that will surely not keep the former Three Amigo/Father of the bride/Sgt. Bilko from throwing in a bunch of jokes in between songs (can “King Tut” be performed bluegrass?). As for his banjo skills, Martin’s no chump, making him one of the few performers who can cross into another medium and not embarrass themselves, which a pretty impressive feat, at least until Paul McCartney takes a stab at a stand-up career. (Andy Seifert)

October 22 at Cadillac Palace Theatre, 151 West Randolph, (312)902-1400.

Preview: Jim Jefferies/Lakeshore Theater

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jim jefferiesRECOMMENDED

Drunken, obscene and kind of a jerk, Australian comedian Jim Jefferies offers the three most enduring qualities of a successful stand-up (along the fourth-most: funny accents!). While part of his current popularity stems from a well-reported incident at a Manchester gig in which he was punched in the face by an apparently not-amused spectator, we’ll assume he’s stayed near the top of the stand-up ladder with consistently funny sets. Whether he’s defending the double standard of men called “studs” for having sex a lot while women are called “sluts,” or casually discussing the lump on his penis (or as he calls it, “dick cancer”), Jefferies is the kind of guy who’s just looking to stir up a little trouble, get in people’s faces, maybe even provoke someone to jump on stage and start beating on him. And honestly, don’t you want to watch someone who elicits reactions like that? (Andy Seifert)

October 16 and 17 at Lakeshore Theater, 3175 N. Broadway, (773)472-3492. $15.

Preview: Kathy Griffin/Chicago Theatre

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kathy-griffinI assume Oak Park-born comedienne Kathy Griffin is at least kind of funny. Between her Emmy-award winning reality show, “Kathy Griffin: My Life on the D-List,” her best-selling book “Official Book Club Selection: A Memoir According to Kathy Griffin,” and her general omnipresence on cable, Griffin has somehow parlayed her giggly giddiness and approximately twenty-seven plastic surgeries into inexplicable appeal. Hey, more power to her, I’m just clearly not in her target demographic (which I gather ranges between sorority sisters and Oxygen channel devotees) so I’ll assume my annoyance with her is just a guy thing. I’ll admit, if you search her rambling storytelling set, you’ll find a touch of satire on the state of gossipy Hollywood. It’s just particularly grating satire. Ah yes, you’re scratching and clawing for any publicity you can grab because you’re a “D-list” celebrity, one of many bottom-of-the-food-chain celebrities who can charge $50+ to see their set. Seriously, $50? I could go see Bob Dylan in a few weeks for that kind of money, and at this zany, upbeat point of his career, he might even be funnier. (Andy Seifert)

October 8-11 at Chicago Theatre, 175 N. State, (312)263-1138. $49.50-$69.50

Preview: Jeffrey Ross/Zanies

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jeffrey rossRECOMMENDED

Jeffrey Ross strikes me as the type of guy who wakes up at 2pm, peeks out his tour bus, mutters, “Damn, we’re in Chicago already ” then goes about his usual routine: making a good living by mercilessly ripping on people. When I saw him last year at Zanies, he looked disheveled, eyes bloodshot, a disgusting neck beard outlining his chin, basically in the sort of physical state someone would be if their wife just left them. And yet, the whole charade actually enhanced Ross’ insult-ridden set, as if saying, “Yeah, I’m a pathetic schmuck, but if I’m totally owning your ass, then what does that make you?” Currently serving as the New York Friar’s Club “Roastmaster General,” Ross can be frequently seen roasting the pants off of whoever’s the man or woman of honor (usually some loser like Chevy Chase), and while those shows put his biting sarcasm front and center, they don’t show just how sharp and quick Ross is with a live audience. Sure, the dude’s crude, disrespectful and crass—but in an intelligent sort of way. (Andy Seifert)

October 14-15 at Zanies, 1548 N. Wells, (312)337-4027.

Preview: David Cross/Congress Theater

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david crossRECOMMENDED

Personally, I find David Cross the actor to be more consistently funny than David Cross the stand-up, who can tend to meander in vitriolic tangents with few jokes. His tenure on the now-defunct (but beloved) “Arrested Development” spurred the classic Tobias Funke character, a flamboyant actor/psychological analyst and therapist (a self-proclaimed “analrapist”) who’s oblivious to his own homosexuality. And his work with Bob Odenkirk on “Mr. Show” represents the closest America came to emulating a Monty Python-esque sketch show—full of delightful non-sequitirs and ludicrous characters. That said, when he gets all riled up, Cross’s stand-up rountine can be infectiously crude and crass, as he possesses the uncanny ability to chew out those who deserve a tongue-lashing, like his analysis of post-grunge acts Staind and Creed: “I would rather hear the death rattle of my only child than listen to that fuckin’ shit.” That is a spot-on critique. (Andy Seifert)

October 4 at Congress Theater, 2135 N. Milwaukee, (312)458-9668. $37.50.

Preview: Patton Oswalt/Congress Theater

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A stand-up stud in indie circles (an automatic distinction once Sub Pop releases one of your performances), Patton Oswalt—along with his “Comedians of Comedy” cohorts Zach Galifianakis and Brian Posehn—represents the best in nerdy, heavy-set comics. Oswalt has the gift of being able to rip on the absurdity of Middle America (his critique of the KFC Famous bowl has become a classic take on America’s total lack of dignity), but still knows how to rip himself a new one. One of Oswalt’s best bits recalls a lavish Hollywood party where he’s tempted by a glorious display of food that none of the thin celebrities are eating, when who should emerge but actor Brian Dennehy, who embraces Oswalt as he grabs a plate full of food, telling him “Character actors, who gives a fuck if we’re fat?” Credit Oswalt for finding a lead role in a film without having to shave off calories. He currently stars as the biggest New York Giants fan in the world in the critically acclaimed indie film “Big Fan.” (Andy Seifert)

October 2 at Congress Theater, 2135 N. Milwaukee, (312)458-9668. $29.50 – $32.50

Preview: David Alan Grier/Zanies

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david alan grierRECOMMENDED

Comedy vet David Alan Grier has taken some pretty awful roles in a few godforsaken films—like Damon Wayans’ sidekick in the 1994 superhero parody “Blankman, ” or as a bumbling American soldier in the Pauly Shore bomb “In the Army Now” – but he’s become a pretty dependable and relatively enjoyable stand-up, based on his sarcastic outbursts alone. Grier’s latest project, Comedy Central’s “Chocolate News,” a “Daily Show”-style satirical news show with an African-American perspective, was recently cancelled, and though the show never really lived up to its premise, you could tell Grier still had some comedy left in him. With an enormous, boisterous on-stage persona, Grier’s the type to express wit through incredulous eruptions. Perhaps the best indicator of Grier’s reputable goofiness: his Wikipedia entry states that he’s in talks to star as Louis Farrakhan in “The Nation,” a comedic bio-musical about the minister’s life. The report, according to Grier, is untrue, yet people have been persistently asking him about it, as if it’s clearly the part he was born to play. Honestly, unless Pauly Shore comes calling again, how could he not capitalize on that idea? A Louis Farrakhan musical has “career-defining triumph” written all over it. (Andy Seifert)

Sept 23-25 at Zanies, 1548 N. Wells, (312)337-4027.