A friend of mine shared with me an article by Brianna Wellen about underground comedy in Chicago. It is a fantastic read in full (here). Here are some passages that struck a nerve with me:
“‘We’re not called the fucking Comedy Castle’, Bartz explains. ‘With Shithole you’re absolved of all expectation’. It gave them total freedom and a sense of gratification they weren’t finding from performing in bars and clubs such as the Comedy Bar and Second City”.
“‘We’re doing a show, and it’s under our rules'”, Bartz says. ‘If we can’t be happy doing this at the Shithole, then we’ll never be happy doing it. So here we just have to do it—not for an audience, not for a resumé, not to succeed, but to make it work'”.
“What most sets the Shithole apart from other comedy shows is that it isn’t just a comedy show; it’s evolved over the last two years into an artistic collective, with each of the founding members also working in mediums outside of comedy. For instance, Egeland, originally the Shithole member doing the most in the realm of visual art, bought the quartet matching sketchbooks to encourage everyone to explore drawing as a creative outlet”.
“The Shithole also serves as an incubator. Stand-up Cleveland Anderson says he owes his comedy career to the Shithole. Rooming with Bartz, Gerrity, and Wilcop at the house where the first Shithole performances took place, he was hesitant to get onstage after a few unpleasant open mic experiences. Eventually he began cutting his teeth in the more convivial environment of the apartment shows, and now he hosts the Pilsen stand-up showcase “Hooray for Me'”.
“‘I tell Zach all the time, Thanks for doing the Shithole, because if it wasn’t for that I wouldn’t have gotten back into [comedy]’, Anderson says. ‘You can just be yourself and be weird, and that’s punk'”.
What is unique about what The Shithole is doing is its situation between an open mic and a venue. They are serving as a safe space for artists to push themselves, trying new things and perhaps failing in the process. Although with a supporting audience, failure is not frowned upon. The only thing that they provide is encouragement.
These kind of safe space groups can benefit music in so many ways. Imagine, for instance, classical and folk punk musicians playing together in the same night, learning and communicating with each other and those in attendance. Barriers could be broken and possibilities could be realized.