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Date Night #4 - Let's Get Zany!

If laughter is the best medicine, then Saturday night was the cure for all that ails us! We got a mega-dose on Date Night #4, when we doubled up with The Boys to go to Zanies in Rosemont. We probably needed it, too, because it was bitterly cold outside, and the scurry from the car to the club alone was enough for even the hardiest of stock to contract a case of pneumonia!

Before we get into Date Night, let's start with the weather - because it is Chicago in January, and those who haven't experienced it probably can't even fathom what it's like. The actual temperature outside was 7 degrees Fahrenheit. They say that's cold enough to freeze bubbles in mid-air! We haven't tried that, but we can attest to the fact that it will freeze your balls off in mid-stride.

The wind was 13 mph, which according to the National Weather Service, doesn't even reach the threshold for 'blustery'. In fact, 13 mph gets an official description of 'None'! These scientists have no idea what they're talking about. Thirteen mile-per-hour winds in seven degree weather feels like you're on the inside of a sub-zero refrigerator with convection mode turned on. The wind blows through you like an army of dementors from Azkaban. It sucks the soul right out of you, and makes your body try to collapse itself into a single ball of shivering muscles and bones. You want to cry, but don't dare do so because you know your tears will instantly freeze, leaving frost-bitten streaks on your face as life-long mementos of the bitterness you endured. And that's what it feels like when you do dress appropriately.

Fortunately, after surviving our harrowing 6 minute trek from the car to the venue, we were ushered to our seats where we comfortably settled in for an evening of merriment. Zanies is an intimate setting that's perfect for stand-up comedy.

They seated us at a remarkably tiny table, with four chairs nestled around it, all facing the stage. On either side and directly in front of us were similarly arranged tables, each just barely distanced enough to qualify as respectable elbow room. The place was packed, and being that close to our fellow patrons inspired a certain camaraderie that you don't find anywhere else. You could tell we were all there to have fun, and we were in it together. The energy in the room was palpable. We ordered some snacks and beverages, and almost immediately after they arrived, the lights dimmed and the host stepped on stage. The timing was impeccable. They clearly have the whole experience down to a science.

Vince Maranto was the host, and he was surprisingly entertaining! To be honest, we weren't sure whether there would be a host, or an opening act at all. It turned out there were both. Vince is a local comic, and while anyone would find him hilarious, he had the locals laughing about things only people who've lived in the Chicago area could truly appreciate - from traffic, to weather, to the recent legalization of recreational marijuana, to the absurd number of Brian Urlacher billboards promoting hair restoration. He had a short set, but it was great!

After Vince, Todd Thomas stepped in as the opening act, and he killed it! He talked about the bullying he endured as a child due to his mixed ethnic background - being a black kid with a white name - and how it better prepared him for life. He had a great bit about how being married severely limits his ability to have 'alone time', and contrasted what women do with their alone time compared to what men do with theirs. I can't do it justice, but trust me, it was hilarious! And then he had us ROLLING when he talked about his teenage daughter who communicates almost entirely in sentence fragments, dramatic facial expressions, and bizarre hand-gestures... "and she was all like..." (big facial expression), "and I was all like..." (hand snatches plum off imaginary tree), "you have NO idea..." (dramatic eye roll), "I can't EVEN...". You can't even WHAT? Formulate a complete sentence??? We were in stitches during his entire set, and were disappointed when he had to wrap it up and turn it over to the headliner. We would definitely go back to see him as the main act!

The headliner for the evening was Sam Morril. He's a legit rising star who's been on Conan several times, as well as Jimmy Fallon, Stephen Colbert, and James Corden. He dove right into sensitive territory with some butt-hole humor, and then proceeded to work his way through increasingly touchy topics like racism, Nazis, abortion, and even a stint on autism. He shared a couple of bizarre personal stories, like the time he ended up getting lured into an attempted threesome with a girl and her big, burly "roommate", that he narrowly escaped, and an evening of quasi-debauchery with a magician named Carl, who apparently owns Myrtle Beach. He is extremely funny, with a rather droll delivery style, and it's clear why he's on the up-and-coming list of comedians. I think the only knock we had on him was that he was practicing new material, and he hadn't quite mastered some of his sets, nor had he worked through the transitions. So, there were a lot of "ummm's" and "Let's see's" followed by awkward silence while he ruffled through his notebook. Over all, we really enjoyed his act, and would definitely recommend him.

While David and I had been to improv before at Second City, and had even gone to a couple stand-up acts over the years, none of them were quite like this. Improv is fun, but you don't get the same personal connection with the comedians as you do with stand-up. Improv is always performing a scene, and the actors never really reveal their true selves. Similarly, our previous stand-up experiences were always entertaining, but they were much larger venues and the acts were highly structured. They didn't feel nearly as spontaneous.

Our experience at Zanies was electric. We felt really connected with the comedians and the audience around us. We laughed almost non-stop throughout the performances - the kind of laughing where you get cramps in your cheeks, and an abs workout you could never achieve at the gym. Most of all, we connected with each other. At particularly funny points in the acts, we would look at each other knowingly, and laugh even harder. It was a kindred connection - unspoken but heartfelt.

All too soon, the comedy was over, and it was time to brave the elements once again. We hadn't eaten dinner yet, so our next mission was to find some nearby food - preferably within short walking distance... very short walking distance. We made our way to Adobe Gila's, a few doors down from Zanies. It was supposed to be a restaurant with southwestern flair, but what we found was a cheesy nightclub with pulsing music and a bustling bar with twenty-somethings swarming around it. That wasn't quite what we had in mind, so we chose to brave the elements once again. This time we headed to a place we had all been before, called Park Tavern, just to the other side of Zanies. It was really crowded there, as well, and the hostess said a table would be an hour or more. However, there was seating in the bar area, and we lucked out to find a four-top right away in a pretty good location.

Park Tavern is a self-described "contemporary gastropub", which is more or less an upscale sports bar with unexpectedly good food. We started with an appetizer of fried cheese curds, because, well, it's practically law in these parts. They were delicious, and it didn't take long for us to polish them off. Then came the main courses. I had a country fried chicken salad, which had generous portions of savory fried chicken strips served atop a heaping salad bathed in bacon ranch dressing; David had the spicy chicken sandwich, served on focaccia and topped with red cabbage slaw, pickles, and a tangy sauce; Dennis had the buffalo chicken sandwich, a generous heap of buffalo chicken nuggets piled on a huge toasted baguette; and Scott H had the fish and chips, which included a pile of delicately fried portions of what could aptly be described as "fish fingers". Most of us thoroughly enjoyed our meals, except for David, whose sandwich was disappointingly bland - especially for what was billed as 'spicy'!

While we ate, we chatted about the show, caught up on things going on in our respective lives, and tried not to be overly distracted by the women who were pummeling the snot out of each other on the TVs that surrounded us. It seems that women's UFC fighting has risen to a level where it has achieved top billing for Saturday night sports bar viewing. Who knew? We certainly didn't.

After filling our bellies, and thoroughly absorbing the contemporary gastropub experience, we decided it was time to embark on our final arctic expedition of the evening, from the restaurant to the car. We assembled our gear, layered ourselves in protective garments, did a head-count, reviewed our 'buddy assignments', practiced our hand-signals, mapped out safety stops along the route, and paused for a short but meaningful silent prayer. Then we formed a human chain and charged out head first into the arctic blast that awaited us. For the record, when four gay men form a human chain, no matter how dire the circumstances, it invariably turns into a conga line. So we conga'd our way back to the car and headed home.

Along the way, we marveled at the seriously ridiculous number of "Hairlacher" billboards - literal hair 'plugs that lined the freeway for miles on end, and chuckled all the way home. It was a fun night for all. Can't wait for Date Night #5!

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