April 10 will be Matt Griffo’s first time on a big stage since before the pandemic, and he’s pretty excited to get back – even if the show he’s booked on has the word “2020” in title.
The Chicago-based improviser and musical accompanist explains the significance of dropping into Houston’s Studio Regina for 2020 In My Rearview Mirror, an all-day outdoor celebration for those who might not have been outdoors in about 13 months. “This will be my first time back onstage for a big event,” Griffo says. “I’ve played shows in private houses for an event, or a little tiny something, but this... I need to practice! I have a lot of friends in the burlesque world. I had a friend here in Chicago, and she said after she did her first show on stage, she just broke into tears. Just going up on stage, it was really emotional.”
Griffo, a former Second City musical director and featured performer on Funny or Die and Buzzfeed, describes his past year’s tumultuous adaptions as "Pretty horrendous. So before I was performing, whether it was touring Europe or wherever, or performing around the U.S. or just in Chicago, I was previously performing 3 to 7 days a week. And then March 11 or 13, I can’t remember, of last year, that Chicago just shut down.
"I remember thinking, historically, I remember reading about the 1918 pandemic, and I remember reading that theaters shut down for two weeks. So they gave an estimate of a month, so I thought: fine, nothing to worry about. It’s been weird as a live performer, you know, not doing them. And not only that, but all the people I know in tech and the people who run the bars and the people who run the theaters. It affects so many in the live industry. It has been bonkers for everybody. I mean, I have a lot of friends who are professional musicians, who were doing great before – and I haven’t done this, but have been playing outdoors in Chicago. For me, I’m still able to do like Zoom events. People hire me for private Zoom shows. I have a studio too, so I’m recording musicians and mixing them. But it’s been crazy.”
While keeping busy creatively has meant different things in these times of a pandemic, the stand-up admits to shifting his expectations for returning to the stage after seeing the data. “At first, I was just waiting for things to open up again,” he says. “Then once I realized that it wasn’t, months in... Chicago and America generally weren’t opening up. I wasn’t writing, but I was releasing things that were already recorded. But before the pandemic, I was doing this podcast, an improvised podcast, where a person tells us a true story, well-known true story, and a band gets together to improvise songs to be interspersed between the story being told. It just wasn’t possible to do that the same way distanced. It would take too long, and the magic was in it being live. Some things were totally gone. Can’t make new ones, and the way to make new ones was so complicated – it made me just say screw it.”
Among many factors, the community that once so accessible through the Chicago improv scene changed overnight. “There is an element where you got to a show and you get that spark, where you’re inspired to go back and make this thing. For me, I have a Patreon page, and that has been very motivational to me. I still have all these fans that back me up, and outside of that, that want me to create this work. Also to see others, to see how to create, in this digital platform. Whether it’s Second City or other groups, but seeing how people persevere in improv, where they’re still saying ‘we’re gonna make stuff.' To see them persevering, I think has been really great. And helped me to go, we can still do this – it’s different – but we can still do this. But it certainly has been a push: nowhere near as simple as it was.”
In some ways, 2020 In My Rearview Mirror is going to be like Woodstock for those craving a live event. From 4 p.m. to 10:30 p.m., Studio Regina will be filling its spaces with every quadrant of the finer things: food and drink, visual art, full bands and comedy. Even at all-or-nothing price point, Griffo sees the upside of working in concert with so many varied disciplines of creative talent. “The person who is putting this together is named Donnie [Henry], and he has this venue Studio Regina, [which] is an art gallery. So what he’s doing is putting this together with events outside his gallery, and he’s making it a big longer show so that people can get together in a safer way outdoors. They can enjoy food, get drinks, and have music. And also see art. It’s a pretty cool event, I’m pretty excited about it. It’ll be an interesting first gig.”
Running through the tinerary, the comic who will also serve as emcee of the event, describes the diverse talent on display. “At 4 p.m. the doors open,” he says, “then at 5 p.m. there’s a singer-songwriter named Hatch Hilliard. At 6 p.m., I’m performing, doing a 30-minute set. Then there’s a local band called Remedy performing, then I’m doing another very short set at 7:45. Then at 8 p.m. is a group from Charleston called Susto. Then they essentially are doing two sets until the end.”
Additionally after signing up for the show, Griffo describes what for other comics may be a huge surprise. “When I said what’s the rating of the show, what can I do: dirty material, clean material? They said to make sure it’s clean, actually, there will be families there! A lot of times when I’m performing in Chicago, I’m performing in speakeasy venues and they want you to do songs like, I have a song called “Butt Stuff” or a song called “That’s the Way I Like It” – which is about different sexual ways someone could like to have sex. But I will definitely NOT being doing those songs. The alternative songs, which will still be comedic, but it’s good to know that it’s a family friendly event. It could be a comedian’s nightmare, but I’m very used to it.
Matt Griffo's performance is scheduled for 4 p.m. Saturday, April 10 at Studio Regina, 10222 Georgibelle. For information, call 832-993-1250 or visit donniehenryart.com $50-75.