Many Chicago born-and/or-bred comics are making major moves in the entertainment world these days.
African-American comics and hometown boys Hannibal Buress, Deon Cole, DeRay Davis and Lil Rel Howery all have made memorable appearances on the big and small screens as of late, while Pakistani-American funnyman and “Silicon Valley” castmate Kumail Nanjiani, who previously moved to Chicago to pursue stand-up, is currently the toast of the art-house theaters, starring in the indie rom-com “The Big Sick,” which he wrote with his North Carolina-born wife, Emily V. Gordon.
And then there’s Andrew Santino, a comedian who’s very proud to rep the Windy City. In fact, his debut stand-up special, “Andrew Santino: Home Field Advantage,” which premiered on Showtime last month, was shot at Chicago’s Vic Theatre.
“I think Chicago has provided, for quite a long time, a very high level of stand-up comics that make their way out to New York and L.A.,” says Santino, 33, calling from, of course, Chicago. “I think Chicago’s kind of a comedy hub, and I think it always has been. … It kind of promotes a lot of stand-up and sketch and improv, you know, which circulate each other.”
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A decade-long vet in the stand-up game, the bearded, ginger-haired Santino (who will be performing at Goodnights starting Thursday) didn’t start doing stand-up until he moved to Los Angeles. “For me, it was more of a struggle because it’s where so many guys who had already kind of perfected their voice move to,” he says. “So, it was hard.”
Along with working the rooms and finding his comic voice, he also found time to act, landing main-cast gigs on the short-lived sitcoms “Mixology” and “Sin City Saints” and doing guest shots on shows like NBC’s “This Is Us.” These days, you can see Santino doing stand-up on a the new hour-long drama “I’m Dying Up Here,” on Showtime.
Set in hedonistic Los Angeles during the 1970s, “I’m Dying Up Here” (which is based on the book by William Knoedelseder and executive-produced by Jim Carrey) follows a bunch of comics looking for fame and fortune in Hollywood, usually trying out their material at a Comedy Store-esque club, run by Melissa Leo’s tough-but-influential denmother. Santino plays Bill Hobbs, a cynical comic who is rarely excited when other comics get their moment in the spotlight.
Even though “Here” is a period piece, Santino confirms you can still find comics like his character on the regular.
“If you’re familiar with stand-up, you know a lot of guys are like that,” he says. “There’s a lot of bitterness, especially when you’re young. There’s a lot of resentment. There’s a lot of jealousy. I think my character is an amalgamation of many, many people that exist in the stand-up world, because it’s a true, competitive field. There’s a lot of competition, and if anybody says they’re not jealous, I mean, that’s kind of a lie.”
Since he’s a comic starring in a show about comics, Showtime wanted to give Santino and his fellow stand-ups who co-star on the show their own one-hour specials. Fortunately, Santino had the aforementioned “Advantage” recorded and ready-to-air.
“It was kind of a great combination of timing more than anything else,” he says. “We shot the pilot in November of 2015 and I shot my stand-up special last July, here in Chicago. It was kind of wonderful timing.”
Don’t expect Santino to be as acidic on stage as he is on “Here.” Armed with a dry-yet-jovial wit, a deadpan delivery and a wicked ability to riff on people’s flaws and contradictions (including his own), Santino has no problem sometimes tackling serious subject matter that divides us – and, eventually, makes us all collectively laugh about it.
“I never tell jokes out of malice,” he says. “If I’m making fun of race or making fun of the differences of us, it’s just because it’s a reality of the situation of the world. And, if you can’t laugh at it, that’s kind of a bummer.”
Who: Andrew Santino
When: 8 p.m. Thursday, 7:30 and 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday
Where: Goodnights Comedy Club, 861 W. Morgan St., Raleigh
Info: 919-828-5233 or goodnightscomedy.com