Stephen Colbert, Michael Palascak and a big week in comedy

Lots of big comedy news over the past few days, much of it with Chicago connections.

Stephen Colbert

The Late Show with Stephen Colbert premieres on Tuesday, September 8. His guests are George Clooney, Jeb Bush and Jon Batiste. Here are some things Stephen Colbert has been doing since the end of The Colbert Report last December:

He has been tweeting as @StephenAtHome.

He appeared on the cover of Time the week of August 27th. The article is only available to subscribers, but there is content you can read for free.

He has been posting videos.

He gave some clues about The Late Show to The New York Times.

He had a dust-up with Jeb Bush who attempted to turn his guest spot into a fundraising raffle. How did that work out for Jeb Bush? The Washington Post laid it all out here.

He became a voice option on the navigation app Waze.

I wonder if the repeated instructions to “turn left” are a clue about the real Stephen Colbert?

Stephen Colbert is an alum of Northwestern University, Second City and The Annoyance Theatre (where he studied with Del Close). In 2013, Ben Hollis, of the legendary Wild Chicago, was working on the release of the Wild Chicago DVD (highly recommended) when he discovered he had a rare early Colbert cameo, taken when the comedian was still at Second City and liked to sunbathe in Lincoln Park (at 45 seconds).

Michael Palascak

Last week, Michael Palascak advanced to the finals of NBC’s Last Comic Standing. Tune in Wednesday night at 9:00 p.m. for the finale. I predict he’s going to win it all.  Michael is from Indiana and began his comedy career in Chicago. He studied at Second City, The Annoyance and iO and with his stand-up, became a much loved headliner around town. He now lives in L.A. but returns to Chicago often. Even before LCS, he’d made a big splash on late night with appearances on The Late Show with David Letterman, The Tonight Show with Jay Leno and The Late, Late Show with Craig Ferguson.  As a finalist, he’ll be part of the “Last Comic Standing Tour” which comes to the North Shore Performing Arts Center in Skokie on December 3rd.

Key & Peele

A uniquely brilliant five-season run comes to an end with Key & Peele’s finale on Wednesday, September 9 on Comedy Central at 9:00 p.m. CST.

According to an interview with director Peter Atencio in The Hollywood Reporter, this last episode will reveal the end of the “driving through the desert” series, sketches that were proposed earlier but put aside for being too personal or bizarre and for the first time, bloopers.

Like other creative duos who met in Chicago and ended up shaking the earth (Nichols and May, Poehler and Fey and for that matter, Kurt and Courtney), Key and Peele met when Keegan-Michael Key was a performer at Second City and Jordan Peele’s improv company Boom Chicago visited from Amsterdam.  They didn’t start working together until later, but that meeting was the beginning of their mutual admiration.

This is my favorite Key & Peele sketch. For obvious reasons, I love all their stuff dealing with surprising names. (Also, “insubordinate and churlish” is one of the best word pairings ever.) Mr. Garvey will soon star in his own full-length movie.

Jim and Jeannie Gaffigan

TV Land renewed The Jim Gaffigan Show, written and produced by Jim and Jeannie Gaffigan, for a second season. The show’s first season runs through September 23 and has averaged 4 million viewers per episode. It was one of the best parts of my summer. If you’ve missed any episodes, you can catch up here. Jim Gaffigan, who is originally a Chicagoan, kindly spoke with me in early August.

Bob Newhart

On September 5th, Bob Newhart celebrated his 86th birthday. Bob Newhart grew up in Oak Park, Illinois and attended St. Ignatius College Prep and Loyola University in Chicago. His comedy career began here. Chicagoans and fans of The Bob Newhart Show will recognize this building:

5901. N. Sheridan

It’s 5901 N. Sheridan and appeared in the opening credits of The Bob Newhart Show (1972-1978) as the home of Bob and Emily.

He has said that his favorite routine is “Abe Lincoln vs. Madison Ave.”  “Abe Lincoln” is the first track on The Button Down-Mind of Bob Newhart which in 1961 won the Grammy for Album of the Year. It was a first for a comedy album and also the only time a comedian has been named Best New Artist.  “Abe Lincoln vs. Madison Ave.” is as true today as it was when it was written. Maybe even truer.

Joan Rivers

September 4th was the sad one-year anniversary of Joan Rivers’ death. As you may know, Joan Rivers’ year at Second City (1961) was very influential in her career. You’ll be interested in this Interrobang article which includes her death as one of the events of 2014 that changed comedy forever. Dan Schlissel, who heads Stand-Up Records, had very interesting insights about Joan Rivers when he spoke with me about his re-release of the rare Next to Last Joan Rivers Album last April.

Cathryn Michon

Speaking of Second City alums, Cathryn Michon’s Muffin Top can be streamed on Netflix as of August 30. This film, which has been called “a body image rom-com,” is one of my favorites of all time. You can read an interview here.

Roger Ebert Biopic

Comedian Josh Gad will star as Roger Ebert in Russ & Roger (originally titled Russ & Roger Go Beyond). “Russ” is Russ Meyer, a filmmaker who worked with Roger Ebert on the Ebert-penned film, Beyond the Valley of the Dolls (1970). Will Ferrell plays Meyer.

An interesting Josh Gad story reported on Windy City Live last week: Josh Gad wanted to quit comedy early on. When he called his mom to tell her, she cried and begged him to reconsider. He went on to star on Broadway in the Book of Mormon and has had numerous lead roles in movies and television, including this summer when he co-starred with Billy Crystal in the FX series, The Comedians (which, sadly, was not renewed for a second season).

Craig Ferguson

All of us who desperately miss Craig Ferguson can get a fix on Thursday, September 10th when Epix airs the comedian’s one-hour special, Craig Ferguson: Just Being Honest. Not a subscriber? No worries. The special is airing during Epix’s Free Preview Weekend from September 10th to 13th when it will be available to non-subscribers on

Lucille Ball Biopic

Cate Blanchett will play Lucille Ball in an upcoming movie about the comedian’s marriage to Desi Arnaz. I know I should keep an open mind, but I hate this idea. I love Cate Blanchett, but I love Lucille Ball even more. No one can replicate Lucille Ball’s braininess and zaniness, not even an Oscar winner. Only Lucy could play Lucy.

The movie is being produced by Lucy’s kids, Lucie Arnaz and Desi Arnaz, Jr., so what do I know more than them, right? Then again, a reader of Comedians Defying Gravity commented very accurately that Debra Messing would be a better choice. That comment rang a bell and I found an article from just last year reporting Lucie Arnaz’s promise to Debra Messing that she would be first in line to play Lucy. I would love to find out what changed between now and then.

Daily Show with Trevor Noah

The Daily Show with Trevor Noah premieres on September 28 with three new correspondents: comedians Roy Wood, Jr. and Ronny Chieng and actress Desi Lydic. Correspondents staying on from the Jon Stewart era are Jessica Williams, Jordan Klepper, Hasan Minhaj, Aasif Mandvi and Al Madrigal. Lewis Black, Kristen Schaal and John Hodgman continue as contributors. (John HodgmanLewis Black and  Aasif  Mandvi each have shows in Chicago this fall.)

Second City

Chicago theaters and other venues rallied to support Second City after its offices were destroyed by fire on August 26th.  The theater complex was more severely damaged than originally thought and also shut down until water damage, electrical wiring and plumbing can be repaired. Second City projects a September 20th reopening.

C.J. Tuor, a writer and performer at Second City, reviewed and gave notes to the August 26th fire on its performance.

Despite the fire’s efforts, the shows will go on. Second City’s tweets are keeping audiences informed and also say something moving about Chicago’s comedy and theater community (note all the venues pitching in):






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