Just for Laughs mascot Victor appears to have a cocaine problem

Boy, I’ve really gotten to know the Chicago Theatre this week. I saw a taping of Conan’s show there Monday, then came back Thursday evening to see film director Kevin Smith and Friday evening for comedian Aziz Ansari’s. It’s a lovely place, as I’m sure you know, and was only slightly sullied by the fest’s addition of two huge screens suspended on either side of the stage. Besides during Conan’s tapings, they were for these obnoxious preshow commercials that, inasmuch as anyone paid attention, drew a few jeers.

I think the time to argue whether corporate sponsorship ruins festivals is long-since past—like it or not, we’re in the Overfriendly Logos Tacked on Neo-Classical Design stage of capitalism—so what was interesting to me about the Chicago Theatre wasn’t what brands were on display on State Street (TBS, Allstate, and KFC, if you must know), but the brands the acts were bringing to the the stage. Besides being pretty funny, Smith and Ansari used their acts to build their personal reputations around interacting with the audience, and not just the I-talk-you-laugh kind, but”You’ve seen the YouTube videos, now have at the real thing.”

In fact, that’s what Smith’s all about these days. The director of indie classics Clerks and Mall Rats before such duds as Jersey Girl and Cop Out, Smith says he’s quitting directing after one more movie. Podcasting is his new love, and by the looks of his website he’s smitten. He pays the bills—and mind you this is all explained a couple of times to the maybe half-capacity crowd of Kevin Smith devotees that knows this already—by touring the country and answering questions for his biggest fans.

Smith walks out, tells a little story about being in Chicago, then opens the floor to questions, taking a hell of a long time to answer as he follows his train of thought down side tracks to…not uninteresting places. It didn’t do much for the uninitiated (me), but many who came were really touched that this big-shot director was talking (and occasionally hugging) the people, looking as captivated as the senior citizens who turn up for a campaigning politician’s stump speech. TRANSITION TK.