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Photograph: Michelle AlbaPIANO MAN Condren tickles the Casio.

Flight of the Condren

A Casio-toting sketch comedian takes off.


Chris Condren claims there’s an area in the tony northwest ’burb of Barrington consisting “entirely of midgets.” Condren wants to invade it with his friends. “We’re going to find that town, drive there and start fights,” the lanky six-foot-six stand-up says over a New York slice at Ian’s Pizza in Wrigleyville. “We’ll rent a Mini Cooper. That way, we’ll come in under the radar.”

This kind of shit comes out of Condren’s mouth all the time. It’s delivered, mostly in jest, at one of the city’s open-mic nights, at rooms like the Lincoln Lodge, and in Entertaining Julia at the Town Hall Pub, where he performs Sunday 5.

Currently single, unemployed and living in Libertyville with his parents, Condren was expelled from Libertyville High School and its learning-disabled program for two reasons, he says: refusing to take his ADD medication and flunking almost every class. He transferred to Glenview’s ENH Adolescent Day School for teenagers with emotional disorders or other problems. Condren describes it as “a lot of girls with eating disorders. One kid had schizophrenia. He got sent out. I guess I was his replacement.”

The 22-year-old (who turns 23 on September 11) has been fired from nearly ever job he’s held, including reading to kids at a bookstore. “I’ve been heckled more at Barnes & Noble than I have in the stand-up comedy scene,” he says. “It’s awful.”

Condren recalls his painful past with a hearty chuckle. “As a kid, people would tell me I’m dumb, and I kind of believed it,” he says. “My fourth-grade teacher said, ‘They’re not laughing with you, they’re laughing at you.’ It was a pretty awful thing to say to a fourth-grade kid.” Of her son’s childhood, mother Judy reflects, “He was never bad, but I spent a lot of my time chasing him down. Life was wonderful, and off he’d go.” (While supporting his comedy, Condren’s parents encourage him to pursue a day job.)

Yet with an instinctive knack for comic beats and a self-taught knowledge of the piano and guitar, Condren, starting in 2008, hashed out material at open-mic nights such as Your Sunday Best at Schubas. He became a fixture on the local comedy circuit and in June was tapped to perform in the Andy Kaufman showcase at Just for Laughs.

The scrawny comic typically hits the stage dressed in his trademark hunter’s cap, goggles and nerd glasses (braces add to the strangeness). On his Casio-3000, he bangs out ditties with a basic, early-’80s synth sound. “This one’s about a rapist,” he says, launching into his rendition of Tom Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down.” In his signature song, “Space Time Warp,” which he wrote in a summer writing program at Pittsburgh’s Duquesne University, Condren wails about a guy who builds a time machine that takes him first to a Nirvana concert and then to meet Helen Keller; he discovers Keller’s a leader of the Illuminati and has ninja assassins at her disposal. Condren sells such ridiculous fare with nerdy earnestness. “When he strolls onstage, you can almost feel the skepticism,” fellow comic Ken Barnard says. “But the crowd only needs about 15 seconds to know they’re seeing a very unique performer.”

Condren’s process includes writing at the piano interspersed with frequent jogs around the block. “I try and make myself the punch line,” he says. “I try and make people judge me because I think it’s really funny when people try and judge someone.” He draws parallels between his first love and his second: skateboarding. “I think skateboarding and comedy have a lot in common. You have to be balanced and you can’t give up. You’re going to get hurt, [and] you just have to keep trying until it works.”

Chris Condren performs in Entertaining Julia Sunday 5 at 9pm.

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