Attending The Late Show (the David Letterman version) can be a bit of a hassle. To get tickets, you must enter an online lottery. If your number is chosen, a representative calls you with a trivia question about the show. Get that right and you win free tickets, hopefully to attend on a day when you’re available and in New York City.
At the show, attendees arrive three hours before the taping to pick up their tickets. They’re then sent back out into the city for an hour and told to return at a designated time — not a minute later. Make it that far, and you’ll then spend the next hour standing on the sidewalk while a group of interns tells bad jokes and instructs you in proper laughing technique. Give one of those high-pitched squeals common at concerts and bachelorette parties, and you’ll be booted out the door.
Joe Kwaczala understands the reasoning behind such guidelines, but he doesn’t enforce any similar rules at his Late Live Show, a sketch and stand-up comedy hour that follows the format of a late-night talk show.
“On the [televised shows], people in the studio audience may be thinking, ‘I’m going to make a noise that’s very distinctive, so I can tell all my friends to watch it and then they’ll hear me,'” he hypothesizes, adding, “It’s also very distracting and annoying.”
As the host of the Late Live Show for all of its five seasons in Chicago, Kwaczala has heard his share of obnoxious hoots and hollers. Most of the audience noise, however, is genuine laughter. With a creative staff who double as writers for Windy City-based funny-factories like The Onion and A.V. Club, the Late Live Show serves as an outlet for off-the-wall sketch ideas and jokes that might not work in another format.
After the host attended tapings of The Daily Show and Late Night with Conan O’Brien on a trip to New York, he realized he wanted to replicate that sort of energy and studio vibe with his own comedy. Rather than wait for a big break, he created an outlet in the Late Live Show.
“There are tons of stand up and improv sketch shows in Chicago, but there’s nothing like this anywhere unless you attend one of the four or five shows on TV, and those are all filmed in New York and Los Angeles,” Kwaczala explains. “Typically, we lose money, but we do this totally for the love of the show.”
Guests on the show have ranged from pro wrestler Colt Cabana to actor Danny Pudi (Community). To fund their sixth season, the Late Live Show recently launched and successfully completed a Kickstarter campaign, raising $240 more than their $3,361 goal, an itemized amount that was exactly enough to cover a theater rental and PA purchase.
The campaign also helped inspire them to stretch out from Chicago — their Charleston Comedy Fest appearance marks the first Late Live Show to take place outside the state of Illinois. Kwaczala sought out the festival due to its lack of restrictions on show format, a hold-up at other events focused solely on improv, stand up, and sketch. Along with the show’s team of five comedians, they’ll be drawing on surprise guests — possibly including a chef and local musicians — for a “best of” performance that highlights their favorite bits from the show’s five seasons.
Already, Late Live Show co-creator C.J. Toledano has graduated to a full-time gig writing for Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. Kwaczala hopes to continue that trend, serving as a farm team of sorts for comedy TV writers, much like Chicago’s Second City has for sitcom and Saturday Night Live sketch actors. To that end, Kwaczala maintains a professional environment around the set. Even though he could be sipping scotch, the mug he sips during interviews at his desk is nothing but “delicious tap water.”
“I like to keep it pretty sharp,” says Kwaczala. “I keep the temple clean.”
That doesn’t mean the audience will be subjected to bothersome regulations about their style of laughter, although the host does appreciate those who limit their shrieking. “Keep the annoying noises at a minimum,” Kwaczala urges. “I would say that’s a pretty good rule for anything in life.”
Fri. Jan. 18, 8:30 p.m. $10. Stars at the American Theater