Calling itself the “metropolitan” version of “A Prairie Home Companion,” this monthly live radio-show-cum-podcast takes what Garrison Keillor has been doing for decades and adapts it for a younger, hipper crowd, throwing in more laughs (and more swearing). Led with a mix of wide-eyed earnestness and subtle cynicism by artistic director and head writer Matt Lyle, “The City Life Supplement” even has its very own Lake Wobegone: the fictional north Chicago neighborhood of Ravens Park, where you can get a five-dollar haircut from a Serbian named Milos or listen to your favorite hipster soap opera “As the World Sighs” (set in Wicker Park, natch). Boasting a large cast of adept vocal talent (who portray an even larger cast of characters) along with a killer in-house band (guitarist Phil Garno and pianist Eric Loughlin) and a winsome foley artist (Chad Spear), the taping of the inaugural episode clearly showcased the ingenuity of the troupe and the charm of Transistor Chicago’s tight quarters. With a wink and a sideways grin, “The City Life Supplement” deftly maintains a balance between wholesome radio shows of yesteryear and the snarky comedy of today.
RECOMMENDED - A new Prairie Home Companion knock-off springs up every week or so, it seems. Not every set of overgrown kids hamming it up for a live audience and a hot mike lives up to the Keillor Standard, but The City Life Supplement's first show was funny, lighthearted, and easy on the ears. The second installment in the saga of Chicago's "Raven's Park" continues Saturday with a love-themed show.
So a couple of weekends ago I wound up feeling like a real doofus. Regular listeners may recall one of Weekender's picks in early February was the Flynt Flossy/Turquoise Jeep show at Reggie's Rock Club in the South Loop. Well, late that very same Saturday night, I decided all spur of the moment to go. Here was my thinking: Yes, it's Saturday. And sure, the Jeep's mighty popular. But Reggie's is huge! And in Chicago, a city where diverse entertainments are almost as plentiful as parking meters? My impulse for hip-hop would not be denied. Right? Right?!
Wrong. Dead, dead wrong. Show was so sold out. The duo managing the list looked at me and my friend like we were nuts, thinking we could just waltz on in the place ( don't they know I like to dance? ). Then, adding insult to injury, we had to RETURN the wrist bands allowing us to get our drink on, which had only taken 10 minutes to get in the first place! What, no mementos? Note to management: From my admittedly limited P.O.V., it might be more efficient - or at least humane - to flip that order of business. But really I have no one to blame but myself. I got blindsided by something I well know to be a fact of life around this city: You gotta plan ahead. Stuff sells out. This is a reality Weekender (and Vocalo.org) producer Adam Peindl and I face every week. We'll find something we think sounds great, but by the time we're actually putting together the segment, there are no tickets to be had. That's the case with the City Life Supplement, a fun new radio show taking place this Saturday at Transistor, a truly creative space. So I thought I'd use this space to give you fair warning - if you think the show sounds cool, then make reservations now for their March (or later) date! I have a theory that Chicago's sold-out scenario has been ratcheting up a bit of late - more on that in a future episode. In the meantime, here's a novel way to guarantee you'll get into a show -be a part of it. Yet another early warning for ya! More immediate-to-hand entertainment options are below - enjoy!
Center Square Journal
The Best Live, Recorded, Theater, Radio, Sketch, Improv, Comedy, Drama, Music Show Podcast You Haven’t Heard of…Yet
And now, for the latest episode of As the World Sighs. Shay is about to marry Dustin, the evil twin of her true fiancé, Justin, who’s been kidnapped and held in a bunker … without Wi-Fi. Without Wi-Fi!
As the World Sighs is just one of the creations of the City Life Supplement, a collection of songs, sketches, stories and music performed monthly at Transistor, 3819 N. Lincoln Ave., and recorded as a podcast, most recently on June 30. The show is often described, admittedly by CLS’ own website, as a slightly naughtier, more metropolitan version of A Prairie Home Companion that takes place in the fictional Raven’s Park, Chicago, but comparisons to a smarter Saturday Night Live (sans Gilly) or the Carol Burnett Show would be just as apt. To grasp even further into the past for an analogy, if The Artist can bring back silent black-and-white movies, CLS just might resurrect the radio play.
“We thought the podcast would be a great way to reach a younger audience that doesn’t go to live theater,” says Jennifer Youle, a member of the CLS writing, acting and producing troupe. “But people really like to come to see the live show.”
Good luck getting a ticket. Just six months into its existence, CLS routinely sells out shows (BYOB, a suggested $10 donation at the door) weeks in advance, due in no small part to Transistor’s limited seating capacity. Cast members have even had to turn away family and friends asking for comps.
“We didn’t want a theater, we didn’t want to be on a stage,” says Matt Lyle, CLS artistic producer, head writer and host. “We wanted to feel like we were inviting a bunch of friends over.”
In a way, that’s how CLS formed. Much of the company, including Lyle and his wife Kim, hail from or spent time in Texas, connecting through the Dallas Children’s Theater or Bootstraps Comedy Theater, which the Lyles co-founded and re-located to Chicago in 2008. Most of the writers and performers have theater and/or improv backgrounds, and most also have day jobs.
“When I first got out of school, I auditioned for everything,” says Lyle, who works as a box office supervisor at Steppenwolf Theater. Now that he and his fellow CLS cast members are more settled, the once-a-month shows offer a way for them to come together creatively without the commitment of a six- or eight-week theatrical run.
The process of pulling a show together typically involves an initial writers meeting that’s more of a brainstorming session. Certain elements recur every month, like a reading of and commentary on Craigslist’s “Missed Connections.”
“We do a lot of rewriting,” says Lyle, a graduate of Second City’s sketch writing program. “Then we get the actors involved and then we rewrite again.” During two quick rehearsals the week of the show, some bits might not even receive a once-over, he notes, which helps keep the material fresh.
The result is a mash-up of social commentary, musical interludes, storytelling and general silliness that’s surprisingly sincere. “I can watch Jon Stewart just rip into people but I don’t feel comfortable doing that,” Lyle says of his more gentle style. “We’re all from Texas, we’re all polite people.”
With irony the predominant feature of American culture — infiltrating everything from television to t-shirts to facial hair — CLS is the rare form of entertainment (Parks & Recreation also springs to mind) that isn’t afraid to wear its heart on its sleeve. “A heart is exactly our aim,” says Lyle.
Which doesn’t mean he’s without ambition for City Life Supplement. “You can’t help but dream,” he says. “I’d love it to be kind of a staple when you think of Chicago.”
After producing six shows in a row, CLS is taking a break over the summer and returning in September. In the meantime, you can catch up with podcasts online and put your name in the running for tickets to the next live show.