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Oak Park is many things. Funny is not one of them. At least up until now.
Earnest. Maybe smug. OK, we'll give you occasionally wry. But funny? Not so much.
That's where Michael Gorham comes in. He wants to make Oak Park safe for stand-up and improv. Did we mention he is a finance professor at IIT? Now that's funny.
Gorham is the force behind "Comedy Night at Open Door" which kicked off its summer-long schedule June 22 at the new Open Door theatre in the Arts District on Harrison Street.
Gorham is a long-time Oak Parker and a big fan of Open Door. He found common ground with the theatre's Artistic Director Mary Pat Sieck when he suggested weekly comedy shows. A professor at IIT's Stuart School of Business and a student of improve, Gorham wanted to blend his interest in comedy with his home town roots.
"My ambition is to create an Oak Park audience," Gorham said, "I want to be able to go to see improv locally. I want Oak Park to become known for improv."
Local, affordable entertainment is increasingly popular with cash-strapped Americans. The Open Door offers ample parking and charges $8 for its Friday night comedy showcase. "I want this to be a viable ongoing event," said Gorham.
The first show last Friday featured a strong-lineup showcasing stand-up and improv. Comedian Jay Harris led off with a set featuring clever observations, original bits and some twisted insights. "Mirage parking spots," "napkin thieves" and soups of the day that can't handle long-term relationships were among his topics. Harris was also adept at "recovering" from clunkers.
He was followed by the improv duo Joy Joy Tragedy who explained their name, "We shoot for comedy but sometimes it becomes sad." Kevin Mullaney and Amrita Dhaliwal indeed wrung laughs from some edgy situations. The final act was 98.6 featuring Avery Lee, Orlando Lara and Frank Bieszczat. They started out with two dads agonizing about the coaching and reffing during a high school basketball game. Bieszczat also lamented the loss of his B-ball skills. "What do you mean? Last weekend at Costco's, you had all the moves," Lee assures him. From there, they morphed into nerds being driven home early from the prom by Lara, so they could be rested for the ACT.
Gorham caught the improv bug when he received a gift certificate for an eight-week class at The Second City. "I took all five levels of improv classes." He's also doing some intensive training during the summer. "I love doing improv. It's fun and therapeutic. You have to be emotionally truthful and go to a place inside yourself."
He described the basic rules of improv, which include not putting your partner on the spot, undermining their statements, or trying to outclass them. "Listening is very important," Gorham said, "You're always reacting. You always tell the truth. You don't go for the cheap laugh. It's our job to create the dots but we don't connect them. We let the audience do some work."
"It's the best hobby I've ever had," Gorham said, "It's made me a better teacher and a better speaker."
For tickets or information on "Comedy Night at Open Door," patrons can call (708) 342-0810 or visit www.opendoorrep.org.