As I made my way into Schubas Tavern on Southport Avenue for the Guts & Glory reading, my excitement for it was more than any other reading I have attended. Not only had many people raved to me about this bar which typically radiates rock music, but I would finally get a chance to put a physical voice and face to Samantha Irby, a new favorite author of mine. Irby and her co-creator of this bold show, Keith Ecker, are the hosts of this series.
Creaking up the steps to the upstairs lounge upped the thrill as chatty voices got louder with each step. When I walked into the room, I immediately knew this reading would be different from others. There didn’t appear to be a silent person in the room or an empty hand without a drink. Liquor and people who love writing as much as I do? Yes please.
Keith and Sam made their way to the mic to introduce the show. This particular reading was special because it was the two year anniversary for G & G. “Two years of embarrassing ourselves and our friends. Talking about butts and bowel movements, from really sad shit to really funny shit,” Keith joked. Although Keith was joking, by the end of the event I would realize how true that statement was.
Sam also made a joke about the amount of brown people in the room. “I just want to applaud all the brown people that came to the show tonight. Guts and Glory usually has the most diverse audiences and tonight we have three brown people that came!” I secretly applauded myself for being one of the four brown attendees; she didn’t notice I was hiding in the middle of the audience. I became increasingly eager for the readers to begin, which has never happened to me before at a reading.
Todd Summar kicked off the show with an abstract approach to his thoughts on religion and struggles with the beliefs that came along with Christianity. It was heavily sarcastic, but bewilderment is what really came through. “Would the rapture come in the form of a mushroom cloud?” he asked, along with other questions that left him conflicted. Truthfully, my mind started to wander elsewhere. Readings can be tough; if the reader doesn’t lock me in right away, I have the tendency to space out if the words being read out loud are too abstract.
However, Sam Bailey was able to reel me back in from the get-go with her painfully real meditation on her strained relationship with her father. The way she was able to bring the audience into scene with their awkward lunch date was powerful. Although she got the crowd laughing and cheering, it was still evident that underneath the humor was a real level of heartbreak. When a reader can successfully convey that with spoken word, I cannot remain unaffected.
After the third performer, Amy Sumpter, it clicked why this reading series is titled Guts and Glory. These artists are literally laying out the gruesome details of their insecurities and gripes with life. It is a very brave thing to do, spewing out one’s most vulnerable emotions to a room filled with complete strangers. I feel exposed just letting people read my personal work to themselves.
From Sumpter’s emotionally draining job as a picture day lady, to body shaming and abortion, these performances covered some of life’s toughest battles and decisions. Anger was the emotion coming through the most with many of the pieces telling someone to “go fuck themselves.” With Sumpter’s introduction including how much of a comedic background she had, I was surprised that anger was the center emotion of her piece. It seemed like she just really needed to vent about how her life sucks right now, which is okay, but it began to border on just complaining and veered away from a gripping story.
Samantha Irby wrapped up the show with just as gritty of a story; at nineteen, both of her parents had passed away, and with nowhere to go she wound up living in a crack house. “Dude, everyone here is soo chill,” she marveled as she was shown her “new” place by the landlord. For her, this environment seemed perfect, until she wound up in a wrestling match with a man trying to steal something from her bedroom. A Dave Matthews Band CD to be exact. Irby left the crack house and was homeless until a man named Mel came to her rescue.
This reading was special for another reason; Mel was there in the audience to hear Irby read her story out loud of the embarrassing lies she told classmates while living under his roof. I couldn’t help but glance at him during the most bashful moments of the story to see his reactions. He helped turn her life from essentially rags to riches by providing her five-star classy meals every night and a big, black shiny Mercedes to drive to school. When she was confronted by a snobby classmate about whose car she was driving, it inspired a series of hilarious and outrageous lies that would be carried out for the next couple of years.
Irby wrapped up the show with everyone in the room laughing their hardest and loudest and extending a big thank you to Mel including an apology for making him sound like a pedophile. The laughter stayed through almost the entirety of the show, but the writers had the power to get the readers to stop and listen to take in the serious moments as well. One woman was even moved to tears by Carly Oishi’s raw story of abortion and being given a second chance at parenthood.
When I left Schubas, I felt inspired. Not only because of the talent I was lucky to be surrounded by, but inspired by the pain and beauty of the human experience. We all have a rough time and reach points where we just want to throw our middle finger in the air and forfeit, but we keep on or at least try to. Connecting over real human experience is one thing I find the most pleasurable and the writers of Guts and Glory made me feel a part of the family as I listened. It is no wonder they are self-described as “Chicago’s boldest, most bad-ass storytelling event.”
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Guts & Glory
The next show will be coming in October. Like Guts & Glory’s Facebook page to stay up to date on shows.