#235: Sitting Behind Chad the Bird

October 28th, 2013

The wooden carving covering the bar’s mirrored back had a poem about an Irish cop raiding a speakeasy because he didn’t get his cut.

The Waits-voice band was jazzy and gruff.

The entirety of the Green Mill kept its distinctive Prohibition flair, that time of class, grace and utter adult cool. Save the bald guy making up his own little dance to a 1940s novelty show tune.

And god help me, I’ll be doing that in a week.

No, I won’t be dancing as I lip sync to Betty Hutton’s 1945 smash “A Square in the Social Circle” from Paramount’s “The Stork Club” (thank you, Google). But I will be performing at the next Paper Machete, 3 p.m. Nov. 2 at the Green Mill.

Billing itself as Chicago’s Weekly Live Magazine, the Machete is a collection of comics, journalists and storytellers of all stripes who comment on the week’s news, pop culture and “American manners,” whatever that means.

Under the direction of the manic, Betty Hutton-dancing impresario Christopher Piatt, the Green Mill becomes a weekly salon in a saloon (their line), where actors act, singers sing and, at 3 p.m. Nov. 2, I’ll do whatever it is I do.

Oh, crap. Oh, sweet hyperventilating crapballs (my line).

As Piatt recited a rapid, rhyming “table of contents” giving the lineup of the weekend’s magazine, I sat in the back of the gangster-era bar, slurping beer nervously.

I laughed a bit. Then a bit more. Then as the band howled, the comics played, the rapper rapped and a radio play described the possible devouring of the father of a trick-or-treater by sound effect cats, I found myself like the rest of the crowd, swept away by the entertainment.

We laughed uncontrollably when things were funny — as they often were. We shivered or nodded when the pre-Halloween show was scary or insightful — which it often was. And I saw the puppeteer behind Chad the Bird.

Chad the Bird is, as the last sentence would imply, both a bird and a puppet. He’s also a surprisingly insightful op-ed columnist for the Machete. But from my seat at the back of the bar, I got to watch the crouching puppeteer Josh Zagoren at work bringing Chad to life.

Dressed all in black and crouching behind the rostrum, Zagoren had one moving Chad’s mouth from the inside. In his other hand, he held both a microphone and a Muppet-style arm stick to give the bird commentator more motion and gravitas. He was funny and insightful while operating a feather monster of his own devising.

And I have to share a stage with that next week. Oh god.

I’m actually pretty damn good at performing (as you’ll find out when you attend the next Paper Machete at 3 p.m. Nov. 2 at the Green Mill), but the stomach-churning to adrenaline ratio puts me solidly behind the keyboard instead of on the stage. I want to watch Chad, not be him.

But it is nice with Chad the Bird or a spoken word magazine, every once in a while, to see things from the other side.

Come out on Saturday. I’m going to be pretty good.

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Listen to a performance of mine from 2012

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