It is a scientific fact that every other person under the age of 30 in Chicago (and every server at every restaurant) is a member of an improvisational comedy troupe. Comedy is one of Chicago’s top industries; besides the big dog in town, Second City, there are approximately 10,000 improv troupes and an unknown (large) number of storefront and basement theaters.
Young people come to Chicago from all over the Midwest and elsewhere with dreams of breaking into showbiz and becoming the next Stephen Colbert or Tina Fey. The vast majority fail, of course, which is the nature of dreams. If success were likely, you wouldn’t call it a dream, you’d just call it an item on a to-do list.
Native Chicagoans—of all ages and backgrounds—tend to be natural comedians. They have no professional theatrical ambitions, but they appear to see themselves as direct descendants of Belushi and Murray. They’re always playing to the gallery, performing for strangers. At least that’s the best explanation I can come up with for why they talk so bloody loud.
The kind of comedy you see every day on the streets of Chicago is not particularly subtle or dry. It’s not the drollery of Wodehouse. It is loud, absurd, and quintessentially human. More than anything, it’s loud. Like an amped-up Samuel Beckett fattened on pierogi and beer.
Case in point: Yesterday, on an uncommonly “warm” (40 entire degrees, Fahrenheit) and sunny December afternoon, I was walking home from the produce market when I encountered the two stereotypically “Chicago guy” home-improvement dudes from my earlier post about regional dialects. I figured they were just getting back from a quick trip to Home Depot—or, more likely, Crafty Beaver (“Serving Chicagoland Since 1934”)—because they had just gotten out of their pickup truck, parked at the curb outside the two-flat they’ve been rehabbing for the last few months.
Just as the last time I wrote about them, the dominant alpha stereotypical Chicago guy was yelling at the smaller beta stereotypical Chicago guy, but the beta guy wasn’t taking it lying down. I couldn’t help but overhear the conversation—in fact, since they were shouting loudly enough for the ground crew way out at O’Hare to hear them, on the tarmac, among all the jet engines, I’m pretty sure they wanted me to hear it (and everyone else in the neighborhood).
“Not a day goes by you don’t forget sumpin!”
“Ah, yeah, ah, that’s cuz you never, ah, you never leave stuff out where I can see, and everything accumulates and gets all buried, and everything gets all covered up by alla your crap! So I can’t even see it!”
“Oh, so it’s my fault!”
“Yes! Ha ha ha! That is why I love you, brother! Cuz you tell it like it is!”