Student comedians bring next generation of laughs

By Brandon Howard

Do not let their foolish moniker deter you—the Chicago College Class Clowns, C4, are go-getters in the city’s famous comedy scene.

Consisting of AJ Lubecker, Kevin Lobkovich, Sean Parker and Patrick Reilly, C4 is a student-run comedy collective that hosts a weekly stand-up show Thursday nights at The Playground Theater, 3209 N. Halsted. 

Born out of Lubecker’s desire to hone his stand-up routine and produce a show featuring students from across the city, including DePaul, University of Illinois at Chicago and Columbia College, C4 began in January 2013 when the four members were freshmen. From the start, Lubecker wanted to set himself apart from the typical stand-up fare, so he adds something fresh to the roster every week. 

 “We’ve had multiple bands open the show,” Lubecker said. “Different musicians, bucket boys, drummers, yo-yoers and break-dancers. We like to start off the show with some sort of variety act. We like to get other people in the community involved.” 

After all, it was the communal aspect of the Chicago comedy scene that allowed C4 to produce, book and perform their weekly show. 

Before starting their college careers, Lobkovich saw Lubecker perform at different shows and sent him a Facebook message suggesting they to attend open mic events together. From there, the friendship blossomed and they went on to meet third C4 member Sean Parker at a comedy event at DePaul,  Lubecker said. Lubecker also formed a friendship with Second City comedian Chris Redd, who gave him a glowing recommendation to owner of The Playground Theater, Matt Barbera.

Barbera took Redd’s endorsement for the young comedian to heart and saw the shows as a great opportunity to foster the next generation of Chicago comedians.

“We take a lot of chances with groups performing, and sometimes they work out and sometimes they don’t,” Barbera said. “C4 just hit the ground running and they got crankin’ from the get-go …. One of the coolest things is that not only are they really talented stand-ups on their own, they are huge fans of comedy. They are able to cultivate a group of performers that they think are hysterical, and that really seeps into the audience’s experience.”

Lubecker said Playground Theater allows performers to experiment with new material without judgment, making it a perfect venue for the college crew.

“It just has this ‘anything-goes’ kind of vibe,” Lubecker said. “It’s a fearless atmosphere. I can go out there and do something really weird and not have to worry about not getting booked again. I can take a lot of risks, which is pretty awesome … I’ve found what I want to do with my comedy, which is kind of just trying to be as unpredictable as possible.”

A lot of the group’s variation comes from surprise drop-in guests it booked on a weekly basis. If a renowned comedian swings by Chicago while on tour, C4 is not afraid to ask if they could do a set for the show.  

John Roy, who’s appeared on the Craig Ferguson show, dropped in for a surprise set at the debut show. Lubecker said he also fondly recalls an appearance by “That’s So Raven” star Rondell Sheridan, who played Victor Baxter, Raven’s father. 

“He walked out [on stage] and was like ‘this s–t is nuts,’” Lubecker said. “People kind of lost their minds.”

John Drain, who has attended C4 shows every week since fall 2013, said it is the performers that keep him coming back because he enjoys their individual styles and each comedian’s perspective.

“Kevin is a very traditional stand-up, and Pat has a lot of literary references in his stand-up. He is very intellectual,” Drain said. “Shawn is mainly a storyteller, and AJ mainly does traditional stand up peppered with postmodern absurdity.”

C4’s easygoing, side-splitting atmosphere has caught and held the attention of many college students.

“The playground is kind of a hole in-the-wall theater, and it’s BYOB …. No one is dressed up.” Lubecker said. Everybody kind of gets there and hangs out. I’ve met so many people through the show. Other students that I’m friends with now and hang out with, I’ve met because of [C4].”

Lubecker, Parker, Reilly and Lobkovich are following a long tradition of comedians breaking into the culturally rich Chicago comedy scene. Charna Halpern, artistic director and founder of iO Theater, said although she has never seen C4 specifically, that, in general, college students are essential to the growth of the comedy scene in the city. 

“I think college kids have greased minds, they’re educated, they’re ready to roll and they’re the best,” Halpern said.