Monday, July 01, 2019

I Like His Style: Final 'Last Comic Standing' Winner Clayton English Makes Me Laugh in Schaumburg -- Chicago Comedy Review

Comedian Review

Clayton English
w/ openers Mike Maxwell, Rudy Ruiz
Improv Comedy Club
Woodfield Mall, Schaumburg, IL
June 30, 2019 (also performed 6/29)

It may not be obvious to readers of this blog, but comedy—and specifically stand-up comedy—is one of my favorite art forms.

Each year, I tell myself that I should get to more comedy shows, but besides Second City, I largely haven’t.

A quick search of Seth Saith reminds that since 2010—when I started to review nearly everything I attend—I had written about Steven Wright in 2016, Joel McHale in 2013 and seemingly no other stand-up reviews.

Granted, prior to that, I had seen several of the greats: Chris Rock, Robin Williams, Jerry Seinfeld, George Carlin, Jackie Mason, Jon Stewart, Joan Rivers, Don Rickles, Bill Maher, Gilbert Gottfried, Martin Short, some—as with Wright—repeatedly.

I’ve also seen a guy I liked at Zanies—Michael Palascak--once or twice, and in Las Vegas in 2014 caught Ben Morrison, who was pretty good.

But the point is that I haven’t seen as many stand-up comedians of late as I should. In part, this can be explained logistically, as though I don’t mind attending shows alone, I’m less inclined to attend a cabaret-style comedy club without a friend or date alongside (as opposed to a theater).

And between some of the big names above (and other favorites) having passed away, and others either not touring much or being too pricey for sets that may soon show up on TV, my active support of the stand-up art form is considerably less than my appreciation of it.

Just the other day I was talking to a friend about how brilliant one must be—genius even—to be a truly first-rate stand-up comedian.

And while the legends are one thing, just to be a headliner at clubs around the country would earmark you as pretty damn good.

All of which brings me to having seen a comic named Clayton English Sunday night at the Improv comedy club within Woodfield Mall in Schaumburg.

Neither his name or work were familiar to me, but though I’d only been to the Improv once—to see McHale with workmates six years ago—the comfortable club seems to draw pretty good comedians. (Only the Zanies locations seem to get comparable talent, excepting theater shows.)

So wanting to see some stand-up comedy, I went to see some stand-up comedy.

$22 + fees + 2 menu items seemed to be a reasonable price, although I could’ve saved a few bucks by being faster on the draw for a Goldstar discount offer.

The 7:00pm performance was opened by Rudy Ruiz, followed by Mike Maxwell and then English, and qualitatively, the pecking order was proper.

The bald Ruiz had fun quips about his alopecia—lack of eyebrows—and a clever bit about ordering via the McDonald’s drive-thru while both high and rather aggrieved amidst his second divorce.

Maxwell, who spoke of being happily married with two kids, made me laugh with a joke referencing Tetris, and especially one about how his C-section born toddlers had trouble putting on sweaters.

Rather than going straight into jokes, or funny observations as per the common domain of stand-up comedy, headliner Clayton English—hailing from Atlanta, living in L.A. and adorned in a Chicago Bulls pullover—began with a laid back approach, heavy on audience interaction.

He touched on Chicago food favorites such as deep dish pizza, hot dogs with all the trimmings and dipped Italian Beef sandwiches, but his comments about these usual suspects came off rather fresh. 

And while the tall African-American comic had some LOL quips regarding his living in Los Angeles’ Koreatown—where he's experienced earthquakes, has has trouble finding his beloved grits and saw his Mexican neighbor slyly cover for him when the police came calling—as much as any specific material, I enjoyed English’s demeanor and style.

Unlike some extremely gifted comedians who are likely wallflowers at a party, English struck me as a guy who’d be a hoot to chat with. And even in joking about some pretty serious stuff—police brutality against blacks, the inanity of our current president—he did so in a way that was more wry, and sly, than overtly in-your-face.

English had won NBC’s Last Comic Standing competition in 2015—its final season—and has a few film/TV writing & acting credits.

So it’s not like he’s a complete unknown, and he nicely filled the room at Improv on Sunday night after playing a pair of shows on Saturday.

Understandably, given the names I cited above and my regard for many of their performances, he won’t rank high among the very stand-up comedians I’ve ever seen.

But for a guy I took a flier on just because I wanted to see some stand-up, he was really enjoyable, with his set of about 45 minutes nicely abetted by the two openers.

So I end where I began, with Clayton English serving as a fine testament:

I really should see some more stand-up comedy.

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