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‘Rat Pack’ Comedy Comes Alive in Buena Park Bar

Blake Burkhart performing stand-up comedy at Holiday Club
Blake Burkhart performing stand-up comedy at Holiday Club. Photo courtesy: Scott Johnson

There are comedy clubs big and small, expensive and cheap.

But free? Those are hard to come by.

So, if you want to spend a night out– but not a fortune– and enjoy some genuine laughs with some great people and comedians, you should consider heading out to the Holiday Club.

 This small bar at 4000 N. Sheridan Road in the Buena Park neighborhood on the edge of the city’s North Side Uptown neighborhood, bills itself as a retro club. It has a Rat Pack theme that includes Rat Pack memorabilia on the walls, a pool table, and a working photo booth. On weekends, the back room turns into a dance club for people to let loose.

But on every other Thursday of each month comedians rule the room during Rat Pack Comedy, a free comedy showcase. On these nights a small stage is set up and candles light each table, giving the room that holds about 40 people an intimate feel. Every show has a different lineup of five or six comedians with a headliner at the end.

“People like the atmosphere; it’s a classy bar classy show kind’a thing,” said Terence Hartnett who has been organizing and hosting the Rat Pack Comedy at the Holiday Club for a year.  “People in this neighborhood love this bar.”

Hartnett added that the bar was the perfect choice because it has good food and no drink minimum.

“We’ve never had to cancel a show because no one came,” said Hartnett.

On a recent Thursday night, the room was filled with laughter and cheap drinks– but the show did not feel cheap. Many of the comedians who roll through are headliners at other comedy clubs in the city, where you’d have to pay to see them.

The comedians tackle all sorts of topics from coffee-drinking habits to breaking up with girls.

“I broke up with my ex-girlfriend recently over text, which is bad because we were in the same room,” said comedian Blake Burkhart. “The reason I did it was for good reason; she called out the name of her ex-boyfriend during sex. I mean, my name is also Mike but I know she was talking about him.” 

Many in the audience are also comedians. John Thompson, 32, a software developer by day, transforms into a comedian at night.  He has been doing this for about two years and recently attended his first Rat Pack show, which he described as “great.” Thompson heard about the show via Facebook and has met Hartnett a couple of times as well.

Jonah Jurkens, who has headlined at the Laugh Factory and Zanies in Chicago, was the main attraction at the recent Holiday Club’s Rat Pack Comedy night. It was his first time performing in the venue which he said was a “really fun show.”

Jurkens’ frantic and loud comedy style makes his microphone selection important; he sometimes worries about technical glitches.

“I was a little in my head because the mic was real sensitive, some pops, and I scream a lot,” Jurkens said. “So I was afraid I was annoying everybody the whole time for everything I was saying.”

Jurkens, who worked in marketing, moved to Chicago eight years ago with the intent of pursuing his “secret dream” of being a comedian.

“I’m from Milwaukee and nobody did the thing [comedy] I wanted to do,” Jurkens said. “So when I moved down here it was amazing seeing this huge atmosphere of people that only want to do what we wanna do.”

Chicago attracts comedians like Jurkens because it is known as one of the best places for comics to start their careers. Many have gone on from here to become big stars, like Tina Fey, Jim and John Belushi, Chris Farley and Amy Poehler, just to name a few.

That’s why having these free shows is a great place to network and work on your material for future shows, Hartnett said. That’s why there is usually a long list of comedians eager to perform for free.

“There’s too many good comics and it takes a long time to get everybody on the show,” said Hartnett.

Jurkens is currently living off his severance pay from his former marketing job, but his number one goal is to follow in the footsteps of Paul Scheer, best known for his role on the TV show “The League.” Besides being an actor and comedian Scheer is also a writer, producer, director, and podcaster.

“I would like to eventually pay every bill that I have, strictly through stand-up,” said Jurkens. “But… I’m 34, and with stand-up, a lot of it is luck—not only hard work, not only being funny—there is a lot of luck. So my head is like ‘Maybe my luck isn’t there.’ So maybe I should start my own theater down here, that’s where I’m at.”

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