Stand-up comedy is a tough, competitive game, especially in Chicago. Independent showcases in this town can have a notoriously short shelf life. One of the exceptions is the groundbreaking comedy collective know as Comedians You Should Know. Not only has CYSK built a stellar reputation by putting the best comedians available on stage, it has also done so on a Wednesday, in front of sold-out crowds.
Located a few blocks from the Magnificent Mile, which is not exactly a hot spot for comedy, CYSK has turned the back room of Timothy O'Toole's Pub into one of the hottest comedy venues in town. The collective celebrates its seven-year anniversary on February 21 by presenting two stand-up comedy showcases featuring Chicago's best comedians performing seven minute sets each. We talked with co-producer and tech wizard Michael Sanchez about the showcase's anniversary.
Why a seven-year show?
We always look for an excuse to party and CYSK's seven-year anniversary is as good a reason as any. I actually look forward to our anniversary shows more now that I don't perform stand-up any longer. After I stopped in 2012, the other guys insisted I still perform at the anniversary shows and it's super fun to jump back on stage and try out new stuff or old crowd pleasers.
How has CYSK changed the showcase game in Chicago?
Before CYSK there wasn't much going on in Chicago show-wise other than Chicago Underground Comedy, Lincoln Lodge and Edge Comedy shows, or I should say there wasn't much "quality" stuff going on. In starting CYSK we hoped to, selfishly, get more stage time for ourselves as well as eliminate the inconsistency of quality found at most shows in the city. We don't just book our friends to satisfy community politics—we book people who are consistently funny, that's it. I think our approach to booking separated us from the pack and helped give us the reputation we have now. I really wanted to bring a higher production value to our show than what I had seen. Proper lighting, good sound, good seating, velvet curtains, brand-name recognition, etc. It's cool to see other shows doing the same thing now; striving for something more than just a bunch of amateurs performing for drinks in an empty basement bar.
Why is CYSK a yardstick by which other shows measure themselves?
We've built a solid reputation over the past seven years for putting on quality shows with high caliber talent and production value. We put a lot of thought and effort into every aspect of what makes a show amazing and try our best to execute that without compromise. Sooner or later, people take notice, and that's how we've outlasted virtually every other new show during the last seven years.
What were some of your favorite comedian performances and guest spots?
We've had tons of amazing comics grace our stage and there's always hilarious surprises around every corner ,but some of my favorites have been the Lucas Brothers, Nick Vatterott, Hannibal Buress and of course I always look forward to seeing my good friend, CYSK's own Mike Lebovitz. Furthermore, I'd like to say that even seven years in I am still in awe whenever we sell out shows the way we do. We couldn't have done it without the amazing talent and wonderful audiences that fill our room every week.