Liz Baudler reviews You’re Being Ridiculous

[Image credit: Jill Howe (c) 2014] [Image credit: Jill Howe (c) 2014]

They’ve got heart, these storytellers. That was the impression I came away with from the inaugural night of You’re Being Ridiculous at Mary’s Attic just above Hamburger Mary’s. It’s running for the next few Friday nights at 7:30. By the time you read this, the lineup will have changed, but hopefully the spirit will remain. It’s a storytelling show, true stories. You’ve probably been to one before. It’s not 2nd Story—the production value isn’t the focus, and it’s not The Moth—the readers have the paper right there. The title sort of captures it—this is a little like stand-up, especially when the readers reacted to what we were doing out there beyond the lights. Jeremy Owens’ hosting contributes to that feel. Man, is he sassy, and I can’t tell if he’s always like this or if he was enjoying the bar, but phew.

If you’ve never been to Hamburger Mary’s, you should go and go with a friend. It’s not that the food is astronomically fantastic—although actually managing to cook a burger medium rare is an incredible feat around these parts—but the vibe is very friendly. Chatty sweet bartenders and feisty waiters. Truth in advertising—Mary’s Attic is an attic. There’s a little door in the bar section of the restaurant that leads you up there—oh, you can take the restaurant food up with you. The attic, which has a bar, is cramped and looks like it was decorated by your sixty-year-old aunt who lives in San Francisco. I could be wrong, but I remember a lot of lavender and teal and possibly a chandelier.

The crowd was medium-sized, appearing to be a lot of the readers’ friends and relatives. I mentally kicked myself for coming alone. It just seemed ridiculous. If it’s a night devoted to the ridiculous, ridiculousness should be a shared experience. Actually, though, I’m not sure some of the pieces qualified as ridiculous, but all possessed very large beating hearts.

Karie Miller led off and led off by telling us this was her first time doing a story for an audience. While her story, about an odd-couple friendship in high school, was flimsy in narrative arc and plot, when her voice adopted a high-falutin’ serious tone to quote Anne Sexton and Arthur Miller, she killed the audience, including me. I’ve never laughed so hard at the word “uterus”.

It seems a lot of the first half of the show featured tellers who perhaps hadn’t done this very much, or, even if they had, relied overly on a thesis, like, “frenemies are tough” or “I can solve problems related to drunken escapades” That’s not to say they weren’t funny or enjoyable listening. Seriously, I can’t stress enough, I had a good time, and I really commend You’re Being Ridiculous for having some less seasoned performers up there. That’s how they get seasoning. I laughed, I smiled, I was invested, but at the same time, the thesis thing stood out to me.

There’s a few ways to go with a live story, and a lot of these tellers seemed to follow advice I once heard about writing a radio story—tell them what the story’s about. And that’s fine, but it is a convention of the amateur. A little more scene, as opposed to quick visuals—bottle caps and vomit, graffiti on a bathroom wall—would have made some of these pieces so much deeper. Elizabeth Gomez went there with her story about her immigrant mother’s struggles with their dissolving family. We were in the bed with Elizabeth hearing her mother shout in her peculiar brand of English. Yet this was a slightly discordant note in an evening that rarely touched on the serious.

When Dana Norris, Brenna Kearney, and Jeremy Owens took the stage, the difference was clear. And it’s not like they weren’t serious in spots. My god, there was a conversion scene, complete with circumcision…sort of…just go listen to the piece yourself, would you? an apartment fire, and a mentally ill roommate who covered a bathroom in shit. But each of these pieces was so much more rounded. They felt longer, fuller. Time did not proceed linearly. Chicago accents were brought out. Maniacal laughter unleashed. When the thesis came, it was so contextual, it barely registered, but yet hit us where we lived. Norris, sitting on her soaking wet couch in her ruined apartment, realized that she didn’t have anyone to call for help, but that it would be OK, and that’s maybe not the most profound thing ever, but god, don’t you just end up realizing this every day when you’re an adult, or is it just me? Brenna Kearney could have veered in the cliché with the roommate from hell, but ultimately it was more about the kind of roommate she was, not about how crazy the other one got. Jeremy Owens blossomed into our flaming host through…Yentl. You know, the Barbra Striesand movie? His piece and Dana Norris’s are the ones that I really want you all to hear.

OK, real talk. I was comped in, and if I had to pay $15 for this show like you will if you go, I might think that was kinda a lot. This is not a unique venue or concept by any means, and a few of these performers could be heard other places if you were desperate. But you know, I think you should go, to support a show where new voices are getting up on stage, and where you can feel free to laugh loudly and heartily. Because you will.

You’re Being Ridiculous runs Friday May 23 & 30 at 7:30pm at Mary’s Attic (5400 N. Clark St Chicago). 21+ and the show is $15.  Tickets can be purchased at yourebeingridiculous.com or with cash at the door.

Performers at the May 16th show included Elizabeth Gomez, Anita Mechler, Karie Miller, Dana Norris, Jeremy Owens, Brenna Kearney and David Lipowski. Lineup appears subject to change, so check the website for up-to-date info.