The host of “The Weekly Show” takes the stage with a rather impressive false penis hanging out of the front of his pants. After several jokes far too vile for polite publishing, he uses his prosthetic phallus as a phone to call in the next act. The previous week, he’d been a comedian singing about his hatred of ukuleles.
This variance occurs regularly at “The Weekly Show,” mainly because the word “regular” is not in its creators’ vocabulary. The brainchild of local producer and performer Monte LaMonte, the variety show is produced by one of five hosts each week in the South Loop’s Jazz Showcase. Sponteneity is its only constant aspect.
“I’m a little too lazy to put on a show and then maintain it,” says LaMonte. “Then I said, ‘Hey, let me get a group together, let’s see how many people I can get that would produce their own individual week. This way I could be a part of the show without actually running the show. And I thought, ‘Genius!’ ”
As host of the first week’s show, LaMonte greeted each guest, welcoming the audience into a venue with a storied lineage of performers. The oldest jazz club in Chicago and the second oldest in the country, there is scarcely a spot on the showcase’s walls that is not occupied by a photograph of a jazz legend who once played there. Each table has newspaper clippings of past performers embedded in the surface.
Despite the venue’s history, LaMonte’s theme for the first show was “Feels Like the First Time,” an announcement of the wonders of new experiences, scored by the legendary Foreigner song of the same name. With eight minutes each, no two performers were alike. Dan Shapiro, the phallus-bearing host of Week Two, sang for the first time in public about a trend that has driven him mad: ukuleles. Accompanied by one, he warbled and rhymed and name-checked Zooey Deschanel.
Immediately after Shapiro in the first “Weekly Show” was Meredith DePalma, whose performance of Bach on the flute while still dressed in her nurse’s scrubs spoke to the range of talent in the room. In between beautiful melodies, she waxed poetic about the process of DNA replication, asking the audience to feel their cells dividing. In addition to just good music, the crowd left with a better grasp on cellular biology than they’d entered with.
The next week, LaMonte was able to sit back, relax, and watch “The Weekly Show” bring in new acts and grow at breakneck speed, having passed the torch to Dan Shapiro of ukulele and dildo fame. It was an entirely different show. A slam poet saying, “I’m looking at you, jackass” to nearly every person in the audience, a Christopher Walken impersonator reading the week’s news, and a comedian’s take on the darker undertones of “The Lion King” were but a few moments of the night.
At “The Weekly Show,” the lines between audience, performer, and producer blur. There is no backstage, so performers mingle with other performers and audience members. Apart from entertaining people and ensuring a low-key, friendly environment, LaMonte has further plans for “The Weekly Show.” “What I would like to do is teach a class on how to produce shows. This is great because a lot of people in the group haven’t produced shows before…The truth is, in Chicago, eventually at some point or another you may have to produce your own stuff.”
LaMonte is using his experiment at “The Weekly Show” as a jumping-off point for creating more entertainment venues on the South Side, particularly for storytelling, an art performed by cast-member and third-week host, Angela Marie. For the first week, Marie told a story about the first job she was told she’d be good at—motherhood, a pursuit cut short by her infertility. She offered a heartbreaking reflection on her own maternal instincts and the other venues she found to apply them. Marie showed a different part of her life at the second “Weekly Show,” ruminating on her time working at the Chicago Board of Trade where her penchant for dirty jokes turned her from a piece of meat into a force to be reckoned with in the eyes of her coworkers.
Each show is unique; even regulars never perform the same act twice. The shows have so far evoked entirely different feelings; the first encouraged the audience to reflect on new experiences and the benefit of trying new things, while the second offered astoundingly raunchy humor.
Ultimately, LaMonte’s goal for the series is simple: he wants people to enjoy themselves. “I like the environment of just a good time. I hope that people walk away from this and say, ‘I had a lot of fun, and it was neat, it was entertaining.’ ”