A Relatively Brief History of The Paper Machete . . .

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.

Piatt watches a show at Ricochet's, the Machete's first venue.

The Paper Machete was created by host and writer Christopher Piatt (pronounced like hot apple PIE-it). 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.

Paper Machete Managing Editor Kim Bellware at the Machete’s original home, Ricochet’s.

Kim Bellware joined as The Paper Machete’s Managing Editor in 2011 after performing as a staff writer since the Machete’s earliest days in the back corner of Ricochet’s Bar. Now and editor for The Huffington Post, Bellware was a journalist writing for Chicagoist, CBS and other outlets in town when Piatt seized on her keen news judgement and ability to explain China’s geo politics as an allegory for “Mars Attacks!” In addition to running the Machete’s online presence and recruiting for the weekly lineup, Bellware has been spotted onstage singing and playing The Paper Machete’s intermission theme, Tex William’s “Smoke! Smoke! Smoke! (That Cigarette)” as guest-host when vacation duties call Piatt away (he always returns promptly).

Christopher Piatt and Ali Weiss Klingler. Photo by Evan Hanover.

One of Piatt’s early sounding boards and collaborators was Machete co-producer emeritus 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 stepped down from day-to-day production duties to pursue “other interests” (not the least of which is having her first baby!) but is still among the show’s strongest supporters.

Early Shows
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.

Machete regulars Chad (puppeteered by Josh Zagoren) and musician Sad Brad Smith

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). Chicago 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 comedian Hannibal Buress, Julia Sweeney, Paul Brittain (both pre- and post-SNL fame), Oscar nominee Michael Shannon (Boardwalk Empire), Pulitzer Prize-winner Achy Obejas, William Ayers, writer Alex Kotlowitz, Marc Maron, actress Janeanne Garofalo, theater legend Sheldon Patinkin, Tony winner Rondi Reed, Sarah Haskins (of Trophy Wives), comedian Kyle Kinane, 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 a grant from the Illinois Arts Council, a state agency. For information on how to support The Paper Machete, please visit us here.