Finding Paths to Comedy with Adam Lawson & Bill Bullock

Photo by  Julien   Carr

Photo by Julien Carr

An artist must possess fearlessness to showcase their work to an audience. The world of comedy is of no exception to this fact. Whether it’s through stand-up, acting, or writing, comedians are only as good as their material. Much like other creative scenes in the city, Chicago is bubbling with more unique voices in comedy than ever before. The underground players of comedy get little to no coverage without some semblance of a nationally recognized career. That lack of attention has done little to thwart the passionate up-and-comers inhabiting  Chicago’s comedic community. Speaking with two longtime members of Chicago’s DIY comedy scene, Adam Lawson and Bill Bullock, I got a taste of what it’s like braving the world of Chicago comedy.

All photos of Bill Bullock by Michael Salisbury

Like many performance art forms that require a stage, open mics are typically any aspiring artist’s foundation for building an audience. As Bill so eloquently informs me, “The technical term for open mics that we usually use is ‘Dog Shit’,” he laughs. “Often it’s a bunch of dudes in the audience—they’re all comics. They’re all looking at their notebook just waiting for their turn and if they are listening to what’s being said, their thinking about how they could have done it better,” and there's no higher praise for a joke than making a room full of anxious comics laugh. As Bill described, it wasn’t uncommon for him and a carpool of fellow comics to hit up to four open mic shows in any given night in the early stages of his career. With that being said, the community had a more vibrant “hangout culture” attached to the open mics in those days. When it comes to creating career opportunities, “hangout culture” is a budding comics best bet, as far as networking goes. Along with a handful of other comedians, Bill started throwing a live comedy show called Congrats On Your Success. It was in this transition from comic to fully-rounded comedian/producer that Bill made a name for himself.

What began as a show between friends and colleagues in 2012 became a consistently packed monthly event at Uncharted Books in Logan Square. Congrats On Your Success attracted a dedicated audience, including the creator of Chicago based TV series Easy, Joe Swanberg. Along with a speaking role for himself, Bill and his colleagues were featured in the third episode of Easy’s second season. It’s through similar live collaborations like Congrats that afforded Bill opportunities like the one with Easy. As those situations prospered, Bill learned how to be more than just a comedian. As a producer, and host to a number of shows at venues like Cole’s Bar, and Constellation, Bill added new skills to the trade. For Bill, becoming an event creator is just another aspect of his journey as a comedian. As for Adam, his road to comedy was a tad bit different than Bill’s.


"...They’re all looking at their notebook...and if they are listening to what’s being said, their thinking about how they could have done it better,"

— Bill Bullock


"I’d known I was funny, right? So the natural progression when you’re funny — if you’re funny — is to build up enough cajones to do stand-up." 

— Adam Lawson

Adam began pursuing comedy after some encouragement from a fellow student in his acting class at Columbia College. “I’d known I was funny, right? So the natural progression when you’re funny —if you’re funny— is to build up enough cajones to do stand-up.” For Adam, getting up on stage was a great source of “trepidation and fear”. Around that time Adam had been dating an aspiring stand-up comic during his sophomore year at Columbia. To her knowledge Adam had already been attempting stand-up for some time. Little did she, or Adam know that those falsehoods would soon come to light. “So one day she comes to me with this flyer for an open mic at an Epic Burger and she’s like, ‘It’s tonight, it’s five minutes away from your dorm, lets go tell some fuckin’ jokes,’ and I knew, there was no way I was bullshiting out of it.” Let’s just say, Adam’s first attempt at stand-up didn’t go so well but, he did find those balls he’d been searching for. A week later, “I wrote a bunch of shitty jokes and did way better at the next one, and that moment sort of launched me. I knew this was something I wanted to do.” Stand-up comedy for Adam is like Lil Wayne on a skateboard. Sure Lil Wayne can skate, but he is by no means a skater. Eventually Adam decided to pursue his true passion as a writer. Along with a newfound respect for comedy, Adam set out to change his career indefinitely.

All photos of Adam Lawson by Julien Carr

Adam’s transition into writing came very naturally. “I like making people feel things they don’t normally feel. Whether that’s laughing, sadness, or fear. Those, I think, are the most exciting things for me to elicit out of people.” Adam rings with that same enthusiasm especially so in his literary debut, Animals on Buses: An Almanac of Thought. As a candid and profound collection of short stories, Adam’s Animals on Buses secured Best Nonfiction Writer in Chicago Reader’s “Best of Chicago 2017”. Looking back on the amount of time he once invested in stand-up, Adam rests assured with where his strides have taken him. Like Bill, Adam seeks to use all of his experience pursuing his passion as a tool for the future.

As Bill and Adam look toward the next step in their careers, they also seek to prepare themselves artistically. Aside from being in talks for a live comedy podcast, Bill’s nearing the fourth month of hosting and producing his most recent show Get Off The Couch—a collaboration with Cards Against Humanity—and looking to take it to the next level. As for Adam, his performance on Chicago’s Chirp Radio should be hitting the streets some time soon. Along with plans of launching his own talk show in February, Adam’s next book, tentatively titled I Have a Difficult Time Having Fun is in the works as well. At this point Bill and Adam understand being adaptable to their environment as well as their craft has yielded the success they’ve seen so far. With a whole year of new plans and ideas to look forward to, Bill and Adam will continue to brave the world of comedy, one step at a time.