Friday, November 20, 2009

Riddles Comedy Club returning, in Alsip on 111th Street

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When I first got into comedy (the way I always do everything, with a bang and lots of controversy), Riddles Comedy Club was the first place that reached out to me to give me support. The Orland Park club supporting an Orland Parker was great.

I did my first three ever comedy open mics at Riddles Comedy Club beginning in November 2001 just putting together material and trying to figure out how to make American Arab comedy work. And then the owner at Zanies heard about me and scooped me up and put me on stage where I did thirty shows and then booked for a full week in August/September 2002 over the Labor Day Weekend. Just before the show, Jackie Mason announced a new Broadway play and he wanted to come through Chicago to practice and ready for New York and Zanies asked me to set aside three of my nine shows so Jackie could headline. Did I have a problem, they asked? No. But make sure to tell Mason I am Palestinian, I said. The owner and manager laughed saying the Middle East conflict had "no place" on a comedy stage.

Of course, I had sold out the nine shows to friends, family and news media. And the night of the show, Mason discovered I wasn't just an Arab -- gasp! -- I was Palestinian. And he told Zanies I could not perform with him "because I was Palestinian." Sure enough, that decision exploded in headlines and a five-day tsunami of controversy erupted. I think I did the Today Show, Good Morning America, CBS morning News, Donahue, Hannity & Colmes (Hannity is such an ass), ABC, NBC, FOX and CBS network news interviews, CNN and MSNBC and even interviews remotely in London, Paris, Moscow, Beirut, Jerusalem ... hey, doesn't everyone know Palestinians and Israelis don't seem to get along, and it's not really about the Hummus.

But that weekend when I was canned from Zanies -- and then decided to cancel the remaining six shows after I started receiving death threats (it was after Sept. 11, 2001 and I am an Arab who everyone thinks is Muslim and related to Bin Laden of course) at Zanies, Ken Stevens at Riddles reached out and invited me to do some sets on his stage not just for the publicity but because he cares about the comedy industry. He gave me tips, pointers and I still sucked! But hey, who cares? It was fun and the audiences loved it. I think I have some of the old Riddles shows on Youtube or Google video. Now I do standup all over the world (London, Dublin, Toronto, New York, LA with the Israeli Palestinian Comedy tour I have a performance this Sunday for Hadassah in Morton Grove and bookings through the coming year.

I really owe my comedy career to Bin Laden, my overall insane career in journalism, but most especially to Riddles Comedy Club which really gave me my first start.

Last night, I was performing at St. Xavier for 100 screaming little old ladies and seniors and that was a blast, too. And as I drove home on 111th Street I happened to see Riddles Sign back up on a club storefront.

Riddles is reopening at 5055 W. 111th Street in Alsip. The grand opening is this weekend, Nov. 20. Here's their web page Check it out. The place closed in Orland a number of months back, maybe even longer. It had changed hands and Ken had left. But Ken is back and professional comedy is returning to the Southwest Suburbs, finally. There isn't a better club around.

Break a leg Ken (and whatever else you can -- I love the fact that comedy is so full of violence!) I look forward to seeing you soon. (Check the Radio Chicagoland web site at Im working on getting Ken and some of Riddles' great comedians on the show soon.)

-- Ray Hanania

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