Write Club: at a funky old-school neighborhood place with a suspended Old Style sign called The Hideout at 1354 Wabensia near Chicago’s Goose Island, a funky old-school emcee with a brash attitude and a string of biting ironically-clever quips (name: Ian Belknap) holds rein over a melee. Almost. The format is fun and involving for a motley crew of an audience most of whom seem to have some connections with all things writerly in Chicago.By the 7 pm start time the place is standing-room only. This is going to be a beat-down for Beats.
It’s a Tuesday evening just after Tax Day, when the faithful faithless gather in a darkly cavernous back room to hear six brave souls, two at a time, stand and deliver. The mood is subdued, yet raucus; the procedures convoluted, yet systematic; the voices foul, yet sublime. They’ll meet in yin-and-yang fashion on familiar battlegrounds: Blessed vs. Damned; Saint vs. Sinner; God vs. Devil. The tone is not as ecclesiastical as might seem, mostly due to the four-letter words, seemingly required for this lubricated occasion. Humor is on demand, but it isn’t a comedy competition; though performance is required, writing reigns supreme over wit. The word’s the thing: let the words flow.
There are rules:
The first rule of Write Club is you talk about Write Club. To five to ten people. You spread the word, get the thing going, grow the beast. It’s already in seven cities, counting Evanston, a concept almost ready for syndication.
The most telling rule: readings are timed with a severe 7-minute limit, enforced by an unforgiving audience-generated, enthusiastically-voiced, nasally-toned buzzer noise over which it is impossible to continue. Seven minutes, it is explained, works more smoothly than ten as it’s able to save many in the audience from hoping for an early death.
There is a motto: “Eats trouble, shits money.”
This refers to the point of the whole thing which is to have a good time while promoting a good cause. Each competitor arms himself with a favorite charitable cause, bringing to the fray hopes of a share of winnings: the gate divided up after each visitor has paid $10 admission. The winners this night all support various local groups trying to invigorate an artistic or literary cause, usually with kids involved. Winners are decided by audience applause, and this night’s bouts pitted:
- Blessed (first-year high school English teacher from Detroit), vs.
- Damned (veteran stage host and format originator, Ian himself);
- the winner: Damned
- Saints, (a local stage host who exhorted the crowd to look for the best within even as they know they’ll fall short), vs.
- Sinners, (another local host convinced by Mom he could do no wrong, and constantly paying the price);
- the winner: Saints
- Devil, (a 20-something accomplished poet, the only female on stage this night, reminiscing about her teen dabbles in Satanism), vs.
- God, (a sic-fi writer using a narrative approach with a devil-went-down-to-Somalia story in which God bests the Devil);
- the winner: God
Belknap as host is enough of a stage-hogging lord and master that he not only runs the show but gets to crown his favorite lines including outright jokes, tight cultural references, twisted memories, and biting observations: mauled by a cow; shopping IKEA with Jerry Sandusky; and owning up to a LiveJournal account all made his short list this night.
Write Club seems destined for greatness.