There will be lots to laugh about when five of the most popular Chicago-based comics join forces for Chicago Comic Book on Aug. 13 at Gorton Community Center in Lake Forest.
Vince Maranto was in Las Vegas, performing at Brad Garrett’s Comedy Club at the MGM Grand, when we spoke. The veteran comic has appeared on NBC, ABC, and PBS and at comedy clubs across the country.
Maranto began developing his comedy skills at a very young age. “In grade school, I would entertain people at recess,” he said.
His first adult foray into the world of comedy was at a place called the Comedy Cottage in Rosemont back in 1982. Twice a week, a comedian would perform, followed by a five-minute spot for a new comic, then another comedian, and another new comic, and so on.
“After doing it only two times, they made me a regular there,” Maranto said. The starting pay was $2 a show.
He’s doing better now with performances at the various Zanies clubs, The Improv in Chicago, and, of course, the MGM Grand.
“I still enjoy some of the little one-nighters in small towns,” the comic said. “They really appreciate you.”
Maranto described his style of comedy as “pretty clean” and “observational — stuff that’s happened to me. I talk about everyday things.”
Laura Hugg’s performing interest started when she attended college in her mid-20s. “I was taking theater at Columbia. I wanted to do acting but I felt only comfortable doing it through a comedic lens, like a sitcom,” Hugg related. A fellow student encouraged her to take improv classes.
At 27, she began taking improv classes at the Players Workshop. Next, she attended the Second City Conservatory and graduated from that program.
After that, Hugg began immersing herself in the standup community.
“My first time performing at Zanies in Chicago was a big deal,” she said. In addition to performing in local clubs, Hugg has produced a monthly show at the Lincoln Lodge in Chicago for years.
“It’s my house in a sense, it’s my audience, it’s my space, and I feel very comfortable,” she said. “I get a crowd.”
The Gorton audience will hear Hugg share “autobiographical material — sort of self-deprecating,” she said. “I do talk about social and sometimes political issues but through my own lens of what I used to like and what I’m like now.”
“When I was a kid, I was kind of a mimic,” Michelle Krajecki recalled. “I was always a good kid but I was always mimicking my instructors or people I knew and I would get other people in trouble in class.”
Krajecki came by her talent for humor naturally. “My parents are funny people,” she explained.
She majored in theater in high school but Krajecki didn’t think about having a performing career, she said. Instead, she became a teacher, working with children with special needs.
She did take training classes at Second City, though and began doing comedy for the Christian market.
“I was getting booked a lot,” Krajecki said. “Then the recession hit in 2008 and nobody was getting booked.” Family issues added to that so “I took a step back,” she said.
Around eight years ago, Krajecki returned to performing seriously and has been booked extensively since then. She has toured with comics Leslie Norris Townsend and Bob Jay, performs at many clubs, and continues to do church events.
Krajecki’s comedy focuses on her life. “My persona basically is me,” she said, adding, “a friendly, sarcastic person.”
Hari Rao has only been doing comedy for five years, but you wouldn’t know it to see him on stage. He admitted that he was a “goofball” when he was a kid but he aspired for a musical career.
Rao actually began his entry into the field 10 years ago by ghostwriting comedy material for a cousin in Canada who was interested in doing standup.
“He never ended up doing it and I had all this material,” Rao related. “Even knowing that I wanted to do this, I was scared. I took classes at Second City’s improv program. I took a standup class at ComedySportz.”
He eventually overcame his fear and started doing open mics. He already had plenty of stage time having performed in bands since 1995. Since 2008, he has played bass guitar with a band called I Fight Dragons.
Rao indicated that he believes his comfort level performing for people in bands has translated into his feeling comfortable doing comedy, too.
Rao is looking forward to Chicago Comic Book. “I really love performing at Gorton. This will be my third time there,” he said. Rao also enjoys performing at the Laughing Academy in Glenview and Zanies.
He described his comedy style as “observational through a pretty quirky lens.”
The evening will be hosted by comic Rick Young, who has performed across the country.
Chicago Comic Book
When: 7:30 pm Aug. 13
Where: Gorton Community Center, 400 E. Illinois Road, Lake Forest
Tickets: $25 general admission; $32 premium ticket
Information: 847-234-6060; gortoncenter.org/event/gorton-center-live-comedy-all-stars-2
Myrna Petlicki is a freelance reporter for Pioneer Press.