Comedy showcase marks decade in Streeterville

By Doug Rapp

Kanye West’s “Homecoming” boomed through the dark room.

As the lights came up, host Blake Burkhart took the stage riling up the audience of 90 gathered in a back room at Timothy O’Toole’s Pub in Streeterville.

Taking off a beanie to reveal his newly shaved head, Burkhart said he was giving in to his baldness.

“I look like a room temperature John Malkovich,” he said, or even worse, “a young Dr. Phil.”

Burkhart was hosting “Comedians You Should Know,” or “CYSK,” a weekly showcase of Chicago comedians that’s been staged for nearly 12 years. Each Wednesday night, a rotating host and six comedians perform. The venue charges an $8 cover.

“It’s the cream of the crop as far as Chicago comedians go,” said Danny Kallas, one of the founders of the show.

 “CYSK” started in 2008 in Lakeview but moved downtown to its current home base nearly 10 years ago.

 “Our idea was to put on the best standup show we could put on,” Kallas said. “It’s a celebration of Chicago comedians past, present and future.”

 The 90-minute show features touring veterans as well as up-and-comers on the Chicago comedy scene. On a recent Wednesday night, three club headliners performed, including Marty DeRosa, Sean Flannery and Pat Tomasulo. Having more than one headliner on a showcase is rare, Kallas said, but their show attracts top Chicago talent.

Kallas noted many Chicago comedians who have performed at “CYSK” have gone on to national fame, including Hannibal Burress, SNL actor Chris Redd and Cameron Esposito. Over 25 comedy albums have been recorded there as well, Kallas said. The showcase has added weekly shows in New York and LA, making it the only simultaneous comedy show in the three biggest comedy markets.

 Jonah Jurkens, one of the show’s producers, occasionally hosts and performs.

 “We host the best comics in the city,” Jurkens said. “It makes you want to be a better comedian because you’re surrounded by the best.”

Besides the three touring comedians, three local comedians, Ed Towns, Malic White and Gena Gephart, performed that night.

“When you get on this show that’s when you know you’re starting to make your way,” Jurkens said.

Kallas said most people can name a handful of famous comedians but the average Chicagoan doesn’t realize how many great comedians live next door to them. They’re trying to attract more Streeterville residents to show the entertainment available in their neighborhood. 

“Take a chance on Chicago comedy,” he said.

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