There’s a saying that success is one-percent inspiration, and ninety-nine percent perspiration. Cipha Sounds (aka Luis Diaz) has shown plenty of both in his career combining the worlds of DJing and comedy.
Building off his start as a popular DJ in some of NYC’s biggest clubs, Diaz has gone on to become the humorous DJ on the legendary “Chappelle’s Show” before touring the world as one of Dave Chappelle’s opening comedy acts. Along the way, he’s also been an MTV VJ and a cohost on the top-rated New York radio station Hot 97, and his streetwise and highly improvised sense of humor has led him to headlining clubs across the United States.
Sounds will be headlining five shows at Zanies Chicago from April 13-15. With his combo of rapid-fire observational comedy, a background in improv that powers audience interaction and an arsenal of music-industry anecdotes, his sets are always unique—drawing on the energy of the room and the audience.
“I’m Puerto Rican from the Bronx originally,” Sounds says. “Since I was a kid, I’m like the sarcastic, New York, quick-quick, from-the-hip kind of funny, but I was never the class clown or anything like that.
“When I used to DJ for Chappelle, we would warm up the crowd together and I was just being me, and he told me ‘You’ve got chops, you should think about doing comedy because you’ve got timing and all the other stuff.’ At the time, I was like, ‘What are you talking about? I’m a DJ!’ But things kept building and here I am.”
Sounds first made a splash in the live comedy world as the host and producer of a wildly popular monthly show at Caroline’s, where rappers, ballplayers and celebrities packed the room. As the show’s reputation soared, he decided it might be time to move beyond winging it and actually write jokes.
Even so, Sounds doesn’t try to compete with expert wordsmiths like Jerry Seinfeld. Instead, “I’m a very likable guy that sometimes says soul shit and then gets embarrassed by it.” He draws his laughs and popularity by creating a vibe that permeates his onstage presence.
“I’m like a nice guy that got a little tipsy at the party, but I’m saying it funny. It’s relationship stuff and human behavior and then I’ll throw in some hip hop stories and I’ll sometimes DJ while I do standup,” he explains. “I have a set that I play music while I tell jokes that kills all the time. It’s almost like crowd work with music. I’ll be like ‘Look at this guy, he looks like Bon Jovi’ and then I’ll have the Bon Jovi ready.”
Sounds headlined Zanies once before, amid the pandemic winter of 2020-21, when the club was just reopening with social-distanced seating as well as a snowstorm that hit the city. He recalls drawing just twelve people to a Saturday night show, so he’s eager to show off his skills to full houses.
“Chicago is a very special city for comedy for me, because I was a longtime regular improviser at Upright Citizens Brigade in New York and Chicago is the birthplace of improv,” he says. “This is a comeback story, and I’m ready to go. My career has been a slow burn, but people know Cipha is the most reliable guy there is, and I top it all off with being funny and it’s now starting to kick in.”
Cipha Sounds performs at 8pm on April 13; 7pm and 9:15pm on April 14-15 at Zanies, 1548 North Wells. Tickets are $30, zanies.com, (312)337-4027.