If you heard that comedian AJ Lubecker is moving to Los Angeles after a groundbreaking eight-year career in Chicago, you might guess two things. First, if he’s been a comedian for eight years, he must be in his thirties. Second, with his life about to change, his focus must be all about the move.
Both guesses would be wrong.
AJ is only twenty-three. He started doing stand-up when he was fifteen, too young to drive himself to the clubs or to hang out with the other comedians for a post-show beer. None of this presented an obstacle. Since then, he’s completed college at DePaul, all the while creating and hosting shows, including the Laugh Factory’s Funked Up Friday, a monthly turned weekly show which made him the youngest comedian ever to anchor the club’s prestigious 10:00 p.m. slot. Funked Up gained a reputation as an exhilarating night of music and comedy. AJ made the audience feel like welcome guests at the city’s most buzzworthy party.
AJ has appeared regularly on Chicago Public Media’s radio station, Vocalo, and his comedy has also been featured on ABC’s Windy City Live.
While AJ is getting ready for the big July move, his priority is giving back to his community now. To say farewell, he has created an ingenious philanthropic campaign to benefit Open Books’ literacy programs and his alma mater, Dundee-Crown High School, in Carpentersville.
AJ’s Chicago Goodbye is at The Playground Theater on June 23 at 8:00 p.m. Tickets are limited, so advance purchase is recommended. If you aren’t able to make it to the show, or if would like to donate, you can visit AJ’s fundraising page.
Read on to learn how AJ’s show benefits two causes with the same dollars, how he developed a big career at a young age, and about his plans for the years ahead.
Teme: How did you decide to make your last show a fundraiser?
AJ: I wanted to use my last show to do something good and to make a difference. I didn’t just want it to be a send-off, I wanted to use the opportunity to raise awareness and inspire students. The dollars raised from the show will stretch the most by buying books from Open Books, which will help literacy programs in Chicago, and then by donating the books to the students at Dundee-Crown. I know a lot of students there who don’t have the opportunity to just go out and buy whatever book they like.
Teme: That’s such a great idea – a winning situation for everybody.
AJ: Exactly. I wanted it to be a win-win-win scenario.
Teme: As a bookaholic, I was wondering which books you’re hoping to get for the school?
AJ: The plan is to go to both of the Open Books locations [downtown and in Pilsen]. They’ve been incredible working with me on this and being up for anything. They’ve said that I’ll be able to buy one book for every two dollars raised. With donations and ticket sales so far, we have already raised enough to buy 400 books. The goal is to be able to buy a lot more than that, but as far as the books themselves, I’m planning on getting as big a variety as possible of non-fiction, fiction, everything. Then, of course, my favorite comedian memoirs!
Teme: That sounds so great. Will the books go to the library or to students to take home?
AJ: I’ve talked with the principal at Dundee-Crown about the distribution. The plan is that teachers will nominate students to take a book home and the leftover books will be donated to the library.
Teme: Which are your favorite comedian memoirs?
AJ: I just read the Letterman biography by Jason Zinoman. I also really like Bernie Mac’s memoir.
Teme: I’d love to hear about your farewell show! What will you be doing?
AJ: I’m going to be doing a lot of stand-up, but I also came out with a mix tape a while ago, so I’ll have a guitar and piano that I will be playing. I have some stunts and other things planned as well.
Teme: What will you miss most about Chicago?
AJ: I’ll miss the community. I love The Playground. I love the Laugh Factory. I’ll miss those stages that become your home. I know everyone at both venues and they have been very supportive of everything that I’ve done. I’m very thankful to Curtis [Shaw Flagg] at the Laugh Factory and Matt Barbera at The Playground for always having my back.
Teme: Is there anything you won’t miss? I can imagine the weather is probably one!
AJ: Yes, the weather is the main one. I’m trying to think if there is anything else that I won’t miss. Not really, no. I’ll probably miss just about everything, but I’m pretty excited to be introduced into a new world in L.A.
Teme: What is your favorite memory of your career here in Chicago?
AJ: There are a lot of them. My favorite set in Chicago was the Funked Up Friday one-year anniversary last October. That show was a ton of fun and the crowd was awesome. Brian Babylon hosted it for me. I closed it out with a long set where I had the guitar on stage and I did a bunch of stunts and songs and things that I had written over the year for Funked Up.
It was a fun show that encapsulated the stunts and songs I had [previously] only done one at a time. That show was the first time that I strung it all together. It went over really well. That was a big step up for me. I saw that this stuff I was writing for singular performances worked together. That was the moment that I realized “Oh, I could do a longer set.”
Teme: Who has been your biggest inspiration in comedy here?
AJ: Brian Babylon helped me a lot and introduced me to a different world in the entertainment industry. I had a segment on his radio show on Vocalo every Tuesday for a little over a year. That was an awesome experience. Then he took me to go onto ABC’s Windy City Live. I’m so grateful for both experiences.
Also, Chris Redd, who moved to L.A. a couple of years ago. He’s another good friend of mine and would always be the first to come and perform on any new show I was producing. He was the first comic to perform on the C4 show at The Playground and the first guy to perform on Funked Up. He also even performed at a fundraiser show I did my senior year in high school at Dundee-Crown. He’s always been inspiring to watch; his work ethic and how he works a room like nobody else does.
Teme: What is your advice for people coming up in the Chicago scene now?
AJ: Whatever your thing is, you have to commit to it and go all in, whether that means starting your own show or supporting other shows. Go out and do whatever feels right. I think it is important to trust your gut.
Teme: How did you know that was the key?
AJ: I always felt [comedy] was what I wanted to do, so I just did it. I was also lucky to have supportive parents, so when I couldn’t drive to shows I’d still be able to get to them. If you really want to do something and you’re committed, you’re not going to be bothered if at first you’re not doing well, which definitely, when I started I wasn’t.
It wasn’t anything incredible I was doing. I watch old videos of myself when I was fifteen. The jokes aren’t up to par with what I like to do now, but it was something I wanted to do no matter what.
Teme: How do you know when it’s time to leave Chicago and move to LA?
AJ: On March 1st, I was still going to be in Chicago. I was re-signing my lease. Then I went on a trip to L.A. for a week. I did seven shows out there, had a bunch of meetings with different comedians, actors, managers and agents. It just felt right. It took the whole week I was there to convince me.
I got to L.A. on a Monday and that night people were asking me if I was moving and I was telling them, “Oh, no. Definitely not.” Then by that Sunday I had a meeting with someone and after that, I was like, “Maybe I am going to move.” I’d say it goes back to trusting your gut. If it feels right, it most likely is.
Teme: How do you prepare?
AJ: The biggest thing is that it’s important to have a big network there. This last month in Chicago, I’m just taking care of the physical processes of moving; getting rid of my stuff, storing stuff. Things like that. Once I get there is really when I’m going to hit the ground running because it is a slow climb, but then also things do happen fast. That’s the nature of the beast. Things are always moving around and it’s just making sure you can keep up.
Teme: What will be the first thing you do once you’re there?
AJ: I have a show booked on July 16th. I’ll get there a few days before that. I’ll be getting ready for that show, but I’ll probably be connecting with my closest friends there. Grabbing coffee, getting dinners, reconnecting with people, and seeing where I’m going to go, where I fall into place out there. I have somewhat of an idea, but I feel like you don’t really know until you actually try to plug yourself in.
Teme: What is your vision for where you want to go?
AJ: I’ve done some acting in Chicago, commercial stuff and industrials and I’d love to explore that world a lot more.
Also, I have a lot of friends out there who have been writing and working at different production companies, so that’s another world that I’d like to explore, probably at the same time.
Teme: How does the L.A. comedy scene compare with Chicago?
AJ: When I was out there I did a bunch of shows with people I hadn’t met before and everyone was super nice and kind. The L.A. vibe is much more relaxed. It’s a different speed out there, I really felt people were following their passions and chasing their dreams. On the other hand, in Chicago there is a different Midwest energy- fast paced and everyone hustling. It was a great place to grow as a comic, but I’m ready for a new scene.
Teme: How does it feel to be leaving Chicago and setting off on a new venture in L.A.?
AJ: I’m very excited. Chicago will always be my home, but as far as opportunities go, there are just a lot more in L.A. There are more avenues to dive into and get involved with the entertainment industry. I’m also lucky enough to be moving out there with my girlfriend. We’ve been together for over four years and she’s great and supportive and I know I wouldn’t be as fearless if she weren’t taking this jump with me.
AJ’s Chicago Goodbye is at The Playground Theater, 3209 N. Halsted, on June 23 at 8:00 p.m. Advance ticket purchase is recommended. Tickets here.
AJ’s Chicago Goodbye on Facebook here.
To donate: https://www.youcaring.com/OpenBooksforDC
More information about Open Books here.
AJ and I spoke last year about the beginnings of his extraordinary career: I Talked with AJ Lubecker about Funked Up Friday and now I want to party