Cook County Social Club received a predictably warm Charleston welcome during Comedy Festival last year. It was their first time in town, but the dynamic foursome managed to sell out shows, steal hearts, and snag the cover of the City Paper. They expect no less this year. Especially the part about the cover.
"Speaking personally, I will be devastated [if we're not on the cover]," says Mark Raterman. "It will be like winning the Super Bowl of Bad News where I'm the head coach and the players shower me with a Gatorade cooler of letdown." [Note to CCSC: Do not look at the cover of this newspaper.]
Besides reliving the glory days of last year's fest, the Chicago-based group has stayed busy and made a few changes this year. Most significantly, they've added a new member, Tim Robinson.
"Tim and I toured with the Second City together, and we had him fill in for Brendan over the summer while Brendan was filling in on the mainstage at Second City," Raterman says. "Everything worked out, and we added Tim to the group in the fall."
In other news, "One of us was married, two of us watched Avatar in 2-D (mistake), and three of us have had babies," Raterman says. "Beyond that, some of us have quit our previous jobs, some of us have quit smoking, and one of us quit on life when UNC lost to College of Charleston." Charleston feels for you. Really.
So attendees can expect a slightly different show from last year. In no small part because, for some performances, they're teaming up with Butterscotch, On the Rocks, a group with strong Charleston ties.
Butterscotch was founded by Henry Riggs, sure to be a familiar face to Theatre 99 regulars. The College of Charleston graduate performed at T99 for nearly five years before moving to Chicago in 2008. He began improvising songs with his roommate Chris Gingrich while still in Charleston.
"It just started as a giant experiment in Charleston, though we didn't perform it anywhere," Riggs says. "When we moved up to Chicago, we didn't have very many prospects, so we just found some venues and started performing for fun."
The duo then hooked up with Matt and Evan Bivins of Jump, Little Children fame (see story below), also recently migrated to Chi-town, and the full version of Butterscotch, On the Rocks was born.
"It's a bizarre set-up, but it's fun," Riggs says. Riggs and Gingrich both play guitar and mandolin, Matt plays accordion and harmonica, and Evan plays drums and percussion. The balance of music and comedy varies depending on the venue.
Although the Bivins don't always perform with Riggs and Gingrich, it was their accomplished musical past that caught the attention of Cook County's Greg Hess. As Raterman describes it, perhaps a bit loosely: "Greg slobbered all over Matt because Greg was a huge fan of Jump, Little Children back in the day. Matt took pity on Greg, I guess, after months of Greg's uncomfortable and borderline illegal advances and miraculously a mutual respect and admiration grew.
"They've played a number of our shows in the past and we've gotten to know them as friends, as well, so it's always a good time when we get to improvise together."
As with all great improv, the groups draw inspiration from each other for their own acts, creating a bizarre yet cohesive whole.
"Basically what's happened in the past with Cook County shows is we'll start it off with some music or underscoring and they'll improvise scene-work off of that," Riggs says. "Then we'll take that scene-work and sometimes underscore and sometimes take inspiration from the scene to make a song."
In other words, these guys make some beautiful comedic music together.