By Matt Byrne. Byrne is a freelance writer based in Chicago, IL. He runs The Steamroller, a blog about the alt/not shitty comedy scene.
This week’s Funny Human of the Week is gonna be a weird one! I’m here to pay tribute to the Upstairs Gallery, a performance space in Chicago that closed its doors this past weekend so it’s more Funny Humans Who Were Regulars at a Closed Place of the Week or Funny Closed Venue of the Week. For the last 3 years, the Gallery was run by a trio of improvisors: Alex Honnet, Caitlin Stephan, and Walt Delaney. Let’s hear about the early days of the Gallery from an interview with Alex and Caitlin on the Improv Nerd podcast!
Like other big time improv theaters, the Gallery had a stable of performers called house teams, resident collectives of sketch and improv teams that regularly perform at the space. Teams like Super Human, The Dirty Shame, and WiseSnatch got their start at the theater, and are now among the most acclaimed groups in the city, regularly performing at big time venues like iO and The Annoyance.
The Upstairs Gallery acted as an incubator for not only their house teams, but for many of the monthly comedy showcases and short runs that happened there. After a month of at-capacity shows, The TomKat Project, a mindblowing two act play based on the weirdo circumstances behind Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes’ six year marriage, went on run of sold out performances in Chicago and LA. Let’s watch a clip of TomKat now.
Wes Perry was another performer whose monthly show outgrew the space. Seeing Making Out with Wes Perry, a highly original variety show which features storytelling, music, comedy, and performance art and has been described as “gay church” by both audience members and performers, in the overfilled, underventilated Upstairs Gallery remain some of my fondest memories of the space. Here’s a clip of Wes!
This is a very limited overview of the space, for sure. It’s limited to what’s available online, what was archived on YouTube. What makes spaces like the Gallery special is what goes on when there are no cameras rolling, no industry scouts in the crowd, and no overbearing rules from the venue. When expectations to fill the house and sell a bunch of booze at the bar go out the window, performers are able to find their voice in a safe, supportive environment, often doing shows to a handful of their friends and members of other teams. As an audience member, I’ve had some very nice times there as well. It was a good place and I’ll miss it.
To play us out, let’s watch this video from Chicago-based comedy band the Shock T’s, which was shot at the Gallery. Because nothing good lasts forever, Shock T’s are breaking up in October after 5 years together, and I highly recommend you see them live before then if you can!
RIP Upstairs Gallery, RIP the Shock T’s, RIP everyone.