Meet The Chicago College Class Clowns

By Robert Martin in Arts & Entertainment on May 14, 2015 7:25PM

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Photo courtesy of A.J. Lubecker

The Chicago College Class Clowns can trace their roots to a line about subtitles.

"I watched the Harry Potter movies with subtitles on just so I could say I read all of the Harry Potters."

DePaul University student A.J. Lubecker told that joke during his debut performance at a Thursday night open mic in Lincoln Park. The event promised a sober alternative to binge drinking and came with a cast of the usual open mic suspects: acoustic guitar bro, alt poet from Tumblr, first time stand-up acts—they're all here.

And none of them had anything on that subtitles joke.

It was the first funny thing DePaul student Sean Parker had heard all night. An amateur comic who started performing at the age of 17, Parker took an immediate liking to Lubecker and his brand of comedy. Fed up with the lame lounge act, the two joined forces to create their own project before the final notes of another "Wonderwall" cover could ring out.

Three years later, the Chicago College Class Clowns have expanded to five cast members and has a Thursday night residency at Lakeview's Playground Theater. The BYOB show features 10- to 15-minute original sets from Parker and Lubecker in addition to UIC students Kevin Lobkovich and Patrick Reilly and Columbia College's Aaron Branch. It's loud, vulgar and boozy but these kids wouldn't have it any other way.

In a sea of Chicago improv events, open mics and comedy clubs, C4 serves as the city's only stand up show run entirely by students. It was Lubecker and Parker that first shopped the class clowns around to The Laugh Factory, Playground Theater and several other venues. Every aspect of the production is helmed by students, from the weekly performances to light and sound duty. Still not convinced? The group also writes new material each week.

"Probably 60 percent of the people coming [to C4 shows] have gone before. Just out of courtesy for them we have to do new material," Parker said. "It would be robbing them of a show almost to do the same [act] over and over."

To assist in the mission to bring fresh jokes to the stage each week, the young stand-up team invites guest comics that have ranged from Comedy Central actor Tone Bell to Jermaine Fowler of MTV's Guy Code.

One night in 2013, the boys watched in awe as Rondell Sheridan strolled in for a quick set. An actor, Sheridan spent half a decade playing Victor Baxter in the Disney Channel hit That's So Raven and its spinoff Corey in the House. The role made the 56-year old comic a legendary figure among millennials who grew up with cable and his C4 appearance marked a significant point for a show that thrives on word-of-mouth promotion.

"Right when he walks up, everybody's phones out, like 'Oh my god, I can't believe he's here,' Parker said. "After the show, he was telling us stories about starting out and doing stand-up and how he did The Tonight Show with Jerry Seinfeld."

Surviving three years in the landscape of Chicago comedy hasn't changed the fact that C4 is a student production. These kids still have class to attend, homework assignments to finish and all of the concerns that make college more than a four-year party. They have aspirations outside of comedy too. Parker graduates next month with a degree in marketing and hopes to find work at a House of Blues or a similar venue, while still performing every Thursday.

Eventually the cast of C4 will pass the torch and put the show in the hands of a new generation of young stand-ups. Or maybe they'll axe the show completely. That remains to be seen.

"It's a big discussion and everyone has varying opinions on whether or not we should just kill it," Lubecker said. "It's been around a while, it's not self-sustaining but every week we know people are going to be there."

C4 goes on an annual summer hiatus after their show on May 21. That final performance is really worth checking out considering an announcement they have planned for Sunday.

The Chicago College Class Clowns perform every Thursday during the school year at The Playground Theater, 3209 N. Halsted St. $5 donation. Thursday's show features guest comics Tommy McNamara, Natalie Jose, Martin Morrow and more.