A Relatively Brief History of The Paper Machete . . .
Created and hosted by writer Christopher Piatt (pronounced like hot apple PIE-it) The Paper Machete is a free, weekly “live magazine” covering pop culture, current events and American manners. Part spoken-word show, part vaudeville revue, The Paper Machete features comedians, journalists, storytellers and musical guests performing in the back room of north side bar. It’s a salon in a saloon.
When Piatt left his post as Time Out Chicago’s theater editor, he wanted to create a show that combined journalistic commentary with the kind of immediate cabaret performance found in his city’s storefront theater and comedy scenes. An alum of Kansas State University’s much-decorated speech team and an occasional public speaker around town, Piatt also hoped to build an incubator and showcase for his favorite craft: after-dinner speaking.
He knew that, in order to make such an event happen, it would have to be at a time when the city’s culture-makers aren’t already booked: Saturday afternoons. And he knew it would require the help of almost everybody he knew.
One of Piatt’s early sounding boards and collaborators was Machete co-producer Ali Weiss Klingler, an ace writer-performer from the show’s first trial run. A New York City native with a background in theater as both a published playwright and performer, Klingler became a natural showbiz traffic-cop partner for Piatt’s bustling cabaret. She created and produced the Machete’s early podcast and current Radio Magazine in partnership with WBEZ. She also wrote the Machete’s first grant and worked with Lawyers For the Creative Arts to secure the company’s status as a not-for-profit. As of January 2012, Klingler has stepped down from day-to-day production duties to pursue “other interests” (not the least of which is having her first baby!) but continues to serve on The Paper Machete’s Board of Directors.
Another key player in the Machete’s history is Anna Weber, an avid consumer of Chicago’s music and literary scenes, who served as Managing Editor for most of 2011 until moving to New York. Weber was key in many major Machete milestones, from our relocation to the Horseshoe, to booking tons of great bands, to producing our first-ever fundraising party, to finally making that sandwich board & posters we’d been all be talking about. NYC is lucky to have her.
The Paper Machete launched in January of 2010 to a packed house at Ricochet’s, marked by an inaugural address from the Machete’s Fairy Godfather, Dave Awl (who had given Piatt his first Chicago performance gig in The Partly Dave Show seven years earlier). With each subsequent show, more and more of Piatt’s colleagues from journalism, the arts and other various disciplines took to the microphone. The more steam and loyal following the Machete built, the more celebrated and emerging talent jumped at the chance to join the lineup.
Current Show and Podcast
The Paper Machete continues to bring a new bill of free citizen’s journalism every week. The show regularly features artists from Chicago’s major talent warehouses (iO, The Second City, Blewt!, the Neo-Futurists, the Factory Theater, the House Theatre) and journalism outfits (the Tribune, the Chicago Reader, WBEZ, The Onion A.V. Club). Chi artists now working in New York and LA will often stop by the show on their way through town, and every week selections from the latest show and archives reach thousands via The Paper Machete podcast.
Guests of note have included Julia Sweeney, Paul Brittian (both pre- and post-SNL fame), Oscar nominee Michael Shannon (Boardwalk Empire), Pulitzer winner Achy Obejas, William Ayers, Alex Kotlowitz, Ald. Ameya Pawar, Dan Sinker (aka @MayorEmanuel), theater legend Sheldon Patinkin, Tony winner Rondi Reed, Sarah Haskins (of Current TV’s Target: Women series), comedian Nick Vatterott, monologuist Mike Daisey, playwright Brett Neveu, Chicago Tribune film critic Michael Phillips, Chicago Reader media critic Michael Miner, Sun-Times columnist Laura Washington, Zach Wahls, Susan Messing, Dave Pasquesi and musical guests including Jon Langford, Robbie Fulks, Bobby Conn and Sad Brad Smith.
In June 2011 The Chicago Reader named The Paper Machete “Best Comedy Variety Show of 2011.”
The Paper Machete was made possible in part by support by a grant from The Richard H. Driehaus Foundation and from generous audience support. For information on how to support The Paper Machete, please visit us here.