Last week, I was able to participate in a farewell/retirement party for Mayor Richard M. Daley. And when I say able to participate, I mean I was given an audience with the King. Alderman Ed Bus was asked to perform.
The party was thrown by Chicago furniture celebrities, the Walter E. Smithe Brothers, to celebrate the mayor, but to also record a commercial for later airing. You can find out about all the celebrities and luminaries in attendance in today's Stella Foster column.
My sketch comedy group (Schadenfreude) was asked by Tim Smithe to do a comedy bit for the event. It was sort of last minute, but we accepted for one main reason: the chance to perform Alderman Ed Bus and family in front of Mayor Daley.
See, we have been doing comedy for 12 years in Chicago and made our name (lowercase 'name') by doing Chicago-specific humor. Local neighborhoods, local celebrities, local politics. And no one has played a bigger role in our sketch comedy throughout the years than Mayor Daley - so much so, we put his name and phrase on the back our t-shirt (Front says Schadenfreude, back says "Richard M Daley, Mayor").
Our early years in Chicago's blackbox theaters included jokes about Daley's press conferences, Daley's beautification of the city and of course, a personification of Daley's Chicago machine through a fake alderman named Bus. We would end every Alderman Ed Bus sketch or monologue with "Thank you, and don't forget to vote for Daley/Bus."
Later, we brought Bus to the mainstage of the Chicago Improv Festival, The Goodman Theater, Steppenwolf, Second City and even on college tours and European festivals (there is tape of us somewhere doing Bus in a parade in Scotland). Bus was the embodiment of the 'Chicago Way.' But it translated to world-wide audiences because, as we know, all politics is local.
When we heard the news this past fall that Daley was going to retire, we jumped up and decided to use our character to parody the circus dedicated to replacing him. We had grand ideas to try and get Daley to be in our last episode of "The 53rd Ward." It would be almost like an ode to Da Mare, with a cameo to replace all cameos. It never happened. But what did transpire last Thursday night might just be better.
The Walter E. Smithe Brothers did a magnificent job of getting media, celebrities and politicians together to toast the mayor. It was really a cocktail party with a 5 minute show. The brothers did a toast to the mayor and before they did a rendition of "My Kind of Town," they brought up Schadenfreude.
I'll be honest. I've played big gigs and high profile events before, but I don't know if I've ever been as nervous as I was for Daley. First off, I thought he would be in the audience for the show, but realized before we began that he was going to sit behind me on stage. And secondly, it's Daley. If he doesn't laugh, the crowd won't laugh. If he is offended, I'm going to jail. This must be how the court jesters felt if their bits weren't working for the King. But when Sandy (the hilarious Jason Challenger) was introducing Bus, I committed to the bit and jumped on the stage and sat next to the mayor. He looked straight at me. I leaned in and said, "Mayor Daley - I'm Alderman Ed Bus." He stared me up and down...and then chuckled. It was at that point that I realized what I should have realized all along: Mayor Daley is the perfect audience member for Ed Bus. Really, he gets everything I'm trying to do. Every joke about a street, a neighborhood, a topic, he gets. There is no confusion. Just Chicago jokes. It's not in the clip above, but I tell Daley that we're renaming Ada between Fulton & Lake Streets after him. And before I was done with the intersection, he was laughing. A) He knew how stupid it was to honorarily name streets, and b) he got that the street in question was very, very meaningless.
When the bit was over, I had a chance to get my picture with the mayor. He saw me, reached out his hand and said, "I liked your skit."
I liked your skit too, Mayor Daley. Thanks for the years. And thanks for the laughs.
Here is a clip of some of the jokes performed. It's not the whole routine, but it gives you some visuals behind the story. It was shot by the great Bill O'Neil, who does the Walter E. Smithe commercials. He went out of his way to give me this video. Thank you Bill!