The A Very Funny Festival: Just for Laughs stand-up showcase is well under way. Kanye West was a surprise musical guest at Ellen DeGeneres’s Bigger Longer and Wider Show on Wednesday. (If you missed it, the revue was taped, and will air on TBS Saturday, 6/27, 10 PM.) Robert Smigel and Dino Stamatopoulos performed Wednesday and Thursday, screening their unaired TV Funhouse parody of Bozo’s Circus and letting loose Triumph the Comic Insult Dog. (Who’s meaner–Triumph or Lisa Lampanelli, who plays Saturday?)

Last night at the Vic I caught Let Freedom Hum: An Evening of Comedy Hosted by Martin Short, which was very funny indeed. The show was taped, too, and can be seen on TBS Friday 6/26, 10 PM. Rogers Park native and frequent Zanies performer John Roy opened with a solid set, riffing on the brutal Chicago weather (It’s hard to be an environmentalist, he said, in a place where “Mother Nature is trying to destroy you”) and being broke (“Let’s see what the Iron Chefs can do with two Kraft singles, a can of Bud Lite, and a pickle.”)

Roy was followed by a quick video segment of Martin Short, in character as Ed Grimley, interrupted in the middle of a sketch to change and run over to the Vic. He then entered the theater from the lobby and pranced to the stage–in the flesh–singing “All I Ask Is You Love Me,” a number that could’ve come straight out of his hilarious celebration of celebrity narcissism Fame Becomes Me.

Short played to the Chicago crowd, joking that he’d just met Mayor Daley, who looked “so damn boyish I thought he was K.D. Lang.” He mentioned he met his wife in Chicago–“that’s true”–then launched into another musical number with the refrain, “Chicago makes me want to cheat on my wife.” Before introducing the next comic, Short acknowledged writer-director-performer and Chicago native Harold Ramis in the crowd. Ramis was given a lifetime achievement award last Tuesday, at the first official event of the fest: a screening of Year One, which he directed.

Tom Papa, who’s been opening for Seinfeld, was charismatic and one of the funniest performers of the night. (On suicides by people who’ve recently lost their fortunes: “They’d rather die than live like us.”) Kathleen Madigan was the low point, going on and on about dealing with her aging parents.

I can’t get enough of Jeremy Hotz‘s schtick. He apologized for looking the way he does–bald and big-nosed–and compared himself to Gonzo from the Muppets. Human males are so much uglier and hairier than human females, he said, why do they get together? “Men, if you’re standing next to a naked woman and she looks like you, you’ve made a horrendous mistake.” On a woman dealing with a man’s body: “You could never handle testicles–it’d be like carrying a purse that didn’t match the outfit.”

Before introducing Hotz, Short and an unnamed guy had come out in kilts. The other guy lifted Short and “played” him as Short made bagpipe sounds to the tune of “Amazing Grace.” Short then joked about Iran: “They have fraudulent voting and a fixed election–thank god that could never happen in Chicago.

Greg Giraldo‘s rambling, frequently misfiring delivery contrasted with Hotz’s tight, efficient set. I was sitting next to Todd Jackson of, and he told me Giraldo had done completely different material at a fest show the night before. Perhaps Giraldo was working on new stuff this time around. He did have a funny bit on buying feminine products that began, “My ex-wife doesn’t like me to tell stories about her onstage, so let me just say this: I had a yeast infection.” 

John Pinette was a great closing act. Like Hotz, he has a shtick–very animated, angrily loud at times–that gets laughs beyond the jokes. The rotund comic isn’t afraid to talk about being bad at sports and loving to eat. On the outdoors: “Hiking is a walk that sucks. . . . When something goes wrong, it usually starts with, ‘Well, we were hiking.'” On healthy foods: “Have you tried gluten-free bread? It needs gluten. I don’t know what gluten is, but apparently it’s delicious.”

Short ended the night with a hasty goodbye, saying, “I think you’ve learned a lesson tonight–that it’s better to have loved a Short than never to have loved at all.” I still can’t figure out why the show was called Let America Hum. Short and Hotz are Canadian, there were no patriotic themes in the routines, no American imagery onstage, and no musical numbers besides Short’s. Any ideas?

Tonight at the fest: David Alan Grier, Jim Breuer, George Lopez, Russell Peters, Bob Odenkirk, and many others. Local stars include Patti Vasquez in the Very Funny Show, 2008 Best Of Chicago winner Michael Palascak in Chicago Stand-Up Run-Down, and T.J. Miller doing improv with Chuckle Sandwich in After Hours Reunion.

Sidenote: When I was leaving the Let Freedom Hum show, a guy at the door handed me a flyer for Robin Williams‘s Weapons of Mass Destruction tour, which stops at the Rosemont Theatre Fri-Sat, 10/2-10/3. Tickets for Williams’s canceled March 27 show will be honored.

See the Reader sidebar for recommendations.