I’ve always been a fan of late night talk shows. I remember watching Johnny Carson’s last “Tonight Show” when I was 12, David Letterman’s first “Late Show” about a year later, and even a bit of Conan O’Brien’s first “Late Night”. While my opinions of different hosts have differed over the years, I’ve always loved the format they all pretty much shared that were based on the template that Carson and Steve Allen before him have forged: Monologue, Comedy pieces, Interviews, etc.
During the fervor over the 2010 Tonight Show Scheduling conflict, a show was announced by a group of local comedy writers- a late night talk show for the Chicago area called The Late Live Show. I thought the idea was absolutely brilliant- take the format of a late night talk show, and place it in the arena of a stage show- with cameras, commercial breaks, live music acts, the whole bit. I planned to see a show, and then I completely didn’t attend a single show for a year. I was going through my own personal turmoils during that time, but I knew that it would be a show I would one day want to attend.
In 2011, the 3rd season of the Late Live Show was announced, and their season premiere had none other than Danny Pudi- Second City alum and star of “Community” on NBC. I had to see that. So, a friend and I caught our first episode at Second City’s DeMaat Theatre. I thought it was hilarious, and I knew I wanted to see more.
And then, I didn’t catch another episode for a few weeks… until I heard that Second City didn’t want Late Live on their stage anymore. It was the Conan-NBC conflict all over again- taking a show that was gaining momentum and cutting it off before its prime. Their last episode in Second City was announced, and I made sure that I would attend that episode. My brother and I arrived at the DeMaat good and early, and we had front row seats to watch the more loose, what’re-they-gonna-do-fire-us, yet still professional show they put on.
It was a fantastic episode. I wore some of my Conan attire to the show (including my Tonight Show cap), and after it was over, the host, Joe Kwaczala, noted that he had a cap very much like mine after attending the taping of the first Tonight Show with 2009. I enthusiastically said that I was at the taping as well. :)
A few weeks after the last episode, the show decided to throw a fundraiser (this was before Kickstarter took off, so they raised funds the old-fashioned way… with raffles and booze) to get a hard drive to save all their previous episodes on. I was among the only people at the fundraiser who wasn’t connected in some way with anyone who worked on the show. I was simply a fan. I got to meet a lot of the people who wrote for the show, and had a fantastic time all around. I even won a couple raffle prizes- including the Tim Guiliani-designed Merman NBA logo.
In the mean time, the people who worked on the LLS put on a show called “The Cosmo C. Lafredo Show” at the Playground Theatre. Using sketches that were planned for LLS episodes as well as original sketches on their own, the show was an entertaining mix of host segments and character pieces- including a performance of LLS Sidekick Joe McAdam of his “Andy Rooney in Hell” character. McAdam also stopped by to see my stage show, “Recession of Wisdom” which was playing around the same time at the Athanaeum Theatre, which I really appreciated.
Some months later, a new season of shows was announced at Stage 773 (after a special appearance from the show at Sketchfest). I decided that I would make it my main activity on Saturday nights to stop by the LLS and catch the show as much as I could. Didn’t matter what I was doing up until then- if it was close to 11pm, it was time to go to Late Live. The show was really starting to hit its mark in Seasons 4 and 5 at Stage 773, providing sketches and comedy pieces written expertly by the writers and the interviews done brilliantly by Kwaczala and McAdam. I caught every single episode of the seasons in Stage 773, usually bringing a friend or my brother Alif. After the last episode of season 5, the guest for that episode, Chicago Tribune columnist Amy Dickinson, went up to me and told me, “I hear you’re the king of Movieoke…” My reputation precedes me. ;-)
There were two special shows that took place after Season 5- another appearance at Sketchfest (which involved a great cooking segment and my all-time favorite pun- “Bolognius Monk”- in their comedy pieces) and a special Christmas episode. Both were absolutely fantastic.
Season 6 (this time at the Del Close theatre in iO Chicago- a long-term goal of the creators of the show) was announced earlier this year; around the time I started taking a Late Night Writing Course taught by Late Live co-creator and original sidekick C.J. Toledano- who went on to write for Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. It was also announced that it would be the final season of the Late Live Show. While I was sad to see it go, I knew that Chicago was getting a little too small for some of the writers and cast, who were clearly going to act on their aspirations of moving to Los Angeles and making it there, so this was the right time to go. The show was firing on all cylinders in the final season, and while the finale was quickly approaching each week, it wasn’t reflected in the cast and crew, who put on the show as if they were going to stay for years. The theatre was a great fit for them- with a working projector system, doors and curtains to the stage, and a vastly larger audience seating area. The guests were also quite choice- from big names like Lucas Neff and Rick Bayless, to familiar favorites like the Filmspotting Podcast hosts and the AV Club’s Nathan Rabin.
With the premiere and finale of Season 3, two SketchFest appearances, one Christmas Special, and all of Seasons 4, 5, and 6 (at 6, 6, and 8 episodes respectively), I have seen 25 episodes- including the series finale…
The finale took place on May 11, 2013. It was probably their boldest episode yet, and also the most bittersweet. After the monologue (including one last appearance of Spuds McKenzie), but before the desk piece (a final installment of the hilarious “Alternate Sign Meanings”), Kwaczala, who would normally talk about who would be on the show next week in previous episodes, instead spent the time to acknowledge a fan of the show. The show didn’t have a lot of superfans, but there was one who has been to half of their 50 shows, and this fan grew to become a bit of a good luck charm for the cast. It was me. :) I got applause (including from my brother Alif, who was right next to me) when Joe mentioned me by name, and he later gave me a Late Live Show hat (a rare item since it was never mass-produced) as a token of appreciation for my enthusiasm for the show. I was wearing the Tonight Show with Conan cap I wore to the 3rd Season Finale (or first Series Finale given the uncertainty after Second City), but I quickly put on the new hat, again to applause. :)
The final comedy piece for the show (that took place after Kwaczala delivered a final thank you to the cast and crew that was reminiscent of Conan’s final speech on “Late Night”) ended with the song “Fuck the Late Live Show”. Irreverent to the end. Nothing was sacred on the LLS… including the LLS. After the show ended, Kwaczala’s parents brought in a cake for the audience, and I went around to all the writers and hosts to get them to sign my ticket for the episode.
After 50 shows, the cast and crew ended the show their way on their time instead of it being due to a theatre being mean to them. The show produced writers who would later go on to write for the Onion, and the host, cohost, and some of the writers are ready to seek excellence in Los Angeles. And I know I’ll see them on TV or the movies (in front of or behind the camera) quite soon enough.
I’m so glad to have caught the show at its prime, and see it through to the end. My thanks as always to the cast and crew of The Late Live Show, the iO Theatre, Stage 773, and yes- even Second City for giving this rag-tag bunch of writers and performers a chance to create what became a Chicago comedy institution for the decade. Best wishes to those who are going to CA to seek their dreams, and to those still sticking by Chicago for a bit, I’ll see you on stage elsewhere. :)