Putting the “Quip” in Sesquipedalian: Talking with Adam Burke

Victor Borge famously said, "Forget Victoria and her secret. The best Valentine's Day gift is tickets to Comedy at the Mette with Adam Burke."

Victor Borge famously said, "Forget Victoria and her secret. The best Valentine's Day gift is tickets to Comedy at the Mette with Adam Burke." Or maybe he said, "Laughter is the shortest distance between two people." But same thing. If Borge is right about laughter as a distance-dissolver, then Saturday night is a sure thing. Speaking of valentines, Burke is one of Chicago's most in-demand comedians, loved by both fans and peers. (To find out what his fellow comedians would ask him in an interview, read on.)

With his self-confessed sesquipedalian proclivities, Burke approaches life and language the way Picasso must have eyed a canvas; full of possibilities never before imagined. (Sesquipedalian, meaning "using long words" is a word I learned from who else - Adam Burke.) But if you associate SAT words with, well, the SAT, then you will leave the Theatre on Saturday night newly in love with the English language and its boundless comedic potential. It's a 21-and-over show, but if high school students knew vocabulary could be this recreational, Stanley Kaplan would be out of business.

Burke also brings a unique perspective to the absurdities of American and for that matter, all human mishegos. Born in Australia, his parents later moved the family to Northern Ireland and then to London. (Since it is almost Valentine's Day, perhaps it's not too bold to mention that the resulting accent is swoon-worthy.) It is hard to predict his topics for Saturday night - he regularly writes volumes of new material - but his fans' many favorites include deciphering American sports, dogs studying law at Northwestern, lazy physicists, the implied catastrophe of "alarm" clocks, his growing-up years, and all things Chicago (including Carl Sandburg, a joke which so succeeded at his album recording that it inspired a shouted epithet from a delighted audience member).

Elizabeth McQuern, the producer of Chicago Underground Comedy, calls Burke, "dependably brilliant." He frequently appears at Zanies, the UP Comedy Club, Kiss Kiss Cabaret, the TBS Just For Laughs Festival and Chicago Underground Comedy's excellent weekly showcase, among many others. He recently performed on the same bill as Austin Pendleton at the Green Mill's "Paper Machete" and hosts an open mic at Cole's Bar in Logan Square on Wednesday night. He is also a co-creator of Parlour Car, a new comedy room at Bar DeVille in Ukrainian Village. He has opened for Jeff Ross, Maria Bamford and Robin Williams. Burke's album, Universal Squirrel Theory can be found on iTunes, where it quickly reached the top fifteen, and on amazon.com.

In the spirit of Valentine's Day, we asked comedians who have previously headlined Comedy at the Mette to share the love and to pose the questions to Burke that they've always wanted to ask.

Sean Flannery (Comedy at the Mette Headliner: August 2010, February 2012)

Q: Has anyone ever interrupted one of your sets to ask what a word means? If so, what was the word?

A: Not an audience member, but local comedian Mike Lebovitz once approached me after a set and asked me what the word "bespoke" meant. I've also been corrected on words a fair amount of times. Someone objected to how I was using "Precambrian" in a joke once, and I've been upbraided about my use of the word "akimbo" in a bit, but I've kept it because that's one of the funniest words there is. I am also aware that I am pronouncing "callipygian" wrong, but I don't care.

Q: Your life is often like a Terry Gilliam set - hanging out with circus strong men, burlesque dancers, etc. What's the weirdest entourage you have ever arrived to a venue /party with (or weirdest you ever exited with)?

A: I usually end up closing out the bar on my own. One of my fondest memories is doing a show in Indiana during a hotrod festival. I ended the night next to the hotel pool eating White Castle with nine burlesque dancers. That's a "How is this my life?" moment.

When I first moved to Chicago (and before I was a stand up) I had a friend who was a Belly Dancer. About 2 weeks after I moved here I followed her troupe along on a couple of gigs; they had two in one night. After the 2nd one, they wanted to relax with a beer, so with them still in costume, we went to this old man divey bar on the North Side. We entered the bar to find a dozen or so real Chicago types-barflies-sullenly listening to a Fleetwood Mac cover band (I wish I'd gotten their name; let's just say they were called "Landslide"). Anyway, we take a table and this guy comes over and starts inquiring about the ladies' outlandish attire; he thought they might be of an obscure religious order. Upon learning that they are belly dancers, he asks if they wouldn't put on a show. I was quickly pressed into being their ad hoc manager, and we negotiated a price for a show. The guy goes round the bar and takes a collection so that the girls will put on a show. Landslide were asked to vacate the stage. That was my introduction to the showbiz dreamland that is Chicago, IL.

Chad Briggs (Comedy at the Mette Headliner: April 2011, March 2013)

Q: With the NBA season halfway over, the Bulls find themselves in surprisingly good shape without the services of their star player, Derrick Rose. With Rose's return imminent, how high are your expectations for this team? Do you expect an awkward period of readjustment once Rose returns?

A: Michael Jordan notwithstanding, we all know one player does not a team make. Also, with Joakim Noah possibly sidelined through injury, the Bulls have to make sure that they don't put too much of the workload on the returning star. Tom Thibodeau will have to make shifts in the playing times of those players that have stepped up during Rose's absence, notably Nate Robinson, Rip Hamilton and Marco Belinelli. Luol Deng and Carlos Boozer will probably be under less pressure as scorers; however, their presence as support to Rose will remain key to the Bull's playoff chances. Rose will also be encouraged to be mindful of overexerting his knee, and I will be forced to apologize to bleacherreport.com for heartily plagiarizing them in order to answer this question.

Ever Mainard (Comedy at the Mette Headliner: September 2012)

Q: What is his favorite Whiskey and where is his favorite bar? I would love to know why he has such a passion for vocabulary. Does he smoke cigars? Has he memorized all of the words in Webster's Thesaurus?

A: Favourite whiskey is Maker's Mark, although I've a developed a fondness for Jack Daniel's Honey, much to the dismay and disgust of some of my fellow imbibers.

My favourite bar: I have to give a shout out to Cole's (2338 N. Milwaukee) where I have hosted an awesome open mic. Also I love the Galway Bay on Pine Grove and Sheffield. Where else? I like the Matchbox: they have the best whiskey sours in the city.

I think I have a penchant for logophilia because of laziness; I figured it would be easier to learn more English words than to learn a whole new language. Which is why I remain staunchly monolingual.

Dave Stinton (Comedy at the Mette Headliner: January 2013)

Q: What is your favorite romantic comedy?

A: Oh wow. Good question. My gut reaction is to say It Happened One Night, which I think not only invented (or at least cemented) the screwball comedy but also most of the tropes of the Romantic Comedy. It's really funny and I always find something new in it. There're a lot of movies that are just unofficial remakes of It Happened One Night.

I'm also very fond of The Awful Truth, which is pretty amazing, and it's hard to beat The Apartment. Oh and Trouble In Paradise, although I really need to watch that one again.

Paul Thomas (Comedy at the Mette Headliner: September 2011 and as a member of com-rock band, Lola Balatro: March 2011, November 2012)

Q: You have a predilection for perspicaciousness that is masterfully articulated, and it's interesting that your acerbic witticisms often times seem to belie your convivial spirit. That said, how has your pastiness informed your point of view?

A: I take it you're referring to my lack of pigment. Well, I'm not sure how much it has played a role but you'll notice I don't have that many bits about surfing, orienteering, or otherwise being outdoors.

Comedy At The Mette is at 9:00 p.m. on Saturday, February 9 at the Wilmette Theatre, 1122 Central Ave. Tickets are $12. The show features Saurin Choksi and is hosted by Caitlin Bergh. This is a 21 and over event. For more information or for tickets, call 847-251-7424 or visit http://www.wilmettetheatre.com/events/.


For the Fall 2012 interview with Adam Burke: http://wilmette.patch.com/blog_posts/ha-ha-la-hes-staying-here-for-now-talking-with-comedian-adam-burke

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