Our new series, Nightmare Gig, gives performers an opportunity to excise demons and memories with a retelling of their worst shows. We’re beginning with Linsay Deming, a musician and comedian that’s part of Church Night. Church Night begins their new residency at Black Cat this Friday, December 19. -ed.
It was Church Night’s Chicago debut on June 1, 2014, a blustery and beautiful Midwestern Summer’s eve. The show was in Wicker Park at a place called @North (they are very difficult to find on twitter) and we had to be there around 5 p.m. We took the long drive down from our digs in Evanston during a long, golden sunset, the kind of sunset that tricks you into thinking your life is perfect. I was with my Church Night co-host, Landon, and our dear friend and stand-in organist, Emily. I felt comfortable with my pals and at home in the Windy City. I was very excited to do the show. “I’m a Midwestern girl in the capital of the heartland,” I thought, “What could possibly go wrong?”
A lot is the answer to that stupid question because our showtime happened to correspond with game 7 of the Western Conference finals in the Stanley Cup playoffs between the Chicago Blackhawks and the L.A. Kings which apparently was a huge deal. People love the Blackhawks in Chicago, like way too much, like an unhealthy amount, like I hate how much they love the fucking Blackhawks.
@North is a new bar in an up-and-coming neighborhood. I don’t think they figured out their identity, or at least they hadn’t when we were there. They have comedy open mics and rock shows, but they also have lots of flat screen televisions. They play sports on those televisions. They play the Blackhawks’ games on those televisions. They were playing the Blackhawks pre-game rigmarole on those televisions when we arrived and there was a group of people watching and drinking lots of beer, excited about hanging out at @North all night to enjoy the game.
We started getting text messages from the limited number Chicago friends we had. Most said they wouldn’t be able to make the show because they had to watch the game, apparently it was their civic duty as Chicagoans to watch that stupid game. Emily’s friends at Northwestern were also canceling last minute because their finals were the next week and they couldn’t spare the study time. Our only strand of hope was that a handful of faithful friends were still able to make it, but we knew our numbers were going to compare to that of the hockey fans in the bar with a ratio of about 1:1.
The game started at 7 p.m., the same time that our show was supposed to start. We had no audience members at that time, so we decided to push back the start time. This caused a host of logistical problems because one of our comics, the hilarious Stephanie Hasz, had another show to do and the timing wasn’t looking good for her. She adjusted her schedule to make it all work out in the end, but we had a real panic attack inducing freak out moment. Then we discovered that the batteries were dead for our audio recorder and Landon got a bout of acid reflux (probably from Chicago hot dogs….mmm hot dogs), so I had to walk about ¾ mile through hipsterville Wicker Park as Youth Minister Kathy Piechota to buy batteries and Tums at Kmart. All the while, our second comedian, Mike All, and our burlesque dancer, Diva la Vida, waited so, so patiently. I was guilt stricken because I didn’t know them at all, I think I found them through Twitter or something and we were not giving a good first impression.
While I was away, Landon was negotiating with Joe, the bar manager who happened to live above the bar, about the obvious clash between doing Church Night while, at the same time, a multitude of televisions played the sacred Blackhawks’ game. They settled on turning off all the TVs except the one at the opposite end of the bar from the stage so that Joe didn’t have to turn away paying customers and we could still do the show without going insane. When I returned from KMart, about five audience members had arrived and we decided that the show must go on. Then Joe made Landon, as Reverend Bidet, announce to the hockey fans that we were going to turn off their televisions and start a fun little show called Church Night. That was rough…really rough.
All in all, the show was a real struggle. Church Night relies heavily on an invigorated congregation and we ended up with only about ten audience members, but they had pity on us and participated in everything and stayed til the end, bless their hearts. The first bit of Church Night is always me as Kathy giving the “church announcements.” I had the distinct honor of competing with loud, screaming hockey fans, but I did my best to pretend like they were congregation members who felt the spirit so much they need to shout for the Lord, albeit in the middle of my punch lines. Throughout the show, Joe the manager kept disappearing upstairs to his apartment for various reasons – to take care of the dogs, grab something, bake our tots for the communion, but every time he came back downstairs he smelled stronger and stronger of pot. That was actually totally cool with us. Good for him.
A few cool things did come out of that pitiful Chicago debut. We got to talk a lot about how much Chicagoans loved Blackhawks, but in our accents that came out as “black cocks.” Kathy said something like, “Oh, finally I get to meet folks that are as excited about ‘black cocks’ as I am!” Also, there was an open mic after our show and we got to meet some really cool comedians. At the end of the night, Joe paid us about $120 in cash because he felt bad for us which was really, really sweet of him. But the best part of it all was that the Blackhawks lost – HA! I’m sorry, please don’t hate me for saying that, Chicago.