The gateway to comedy at Cole’s Bar is Foz the Hook, a rabble-rousing Logan Square band fronted by Bjorn Skaptason.
Skaptason, drinking Wit at the upstairs bar at Revolution, is local musician, historian and man-about-town—a decent, smart, kind fellow you’d be lucky to know.
He’s also Foz the Hook—Louche, drunkard and sad commentator on these, our vice-ridden times. Vice- and band-ridden times, it would seem, as Skaptason is a pretty trustworthy source about all things happening at the dive bar Cole’s (2338 N. Milwaukee Ave.) and bands.
As the charismatic front of an eponymous trio, he shouts bender-worthy lyrics backed by stone-cold notes with two of the musicians who make the rounds in these sinuously intertwining, downright promiscuous, workplace-based musical ventures.
But Foz the Hook is not just any man, or any band. It’s not even any Cole’s-centric band. Although drummer Patrick Stonehouse and bassist Larry Drennen are Cole’s mainstays, and each plays in roughly 127 other bands, just one musical-comedy power-trio is trusted to open for the no- longer-a-secret Best Comedy Open Mic in the Chicago held Wednesday nights. These brave souls have to tread in the perilous no man’s land between music and comedy—pioneers and sometimes reconnaissance in the dark room of nervous first-time comics and an audience that loves fresh meat.
“The band is the gateway to the comedy,” explains Skaptason. “You’re about to watch a whole night, but you’ve got to get the blood up first—with very funny, high energy music. The characters—and sometimes there are guest performers—it really raises the energy in the room. It’s valuable, because open mic could be the saddest and most depressing experience in performance art. It’s good to wind the audience up for new comics, with four minutes to fill, watching for a cell phone waving in the dark—a lot of them are new at it and terrified.”
They have a patron saint of sorts in an old campaigner like Foz. “I’ve done this character since I was 15. My first nom de plume, first stage name, as a spindly-legged, 135-pound, 6-foot 3-inch bad musician. And I’ve always kept it.”
Now more than able to get the crowd jumping to some raunchy piano, Foz sings songs about shame and disgrace—from his own experience as a debauched, eternal reprobate and from what he imagines about, oh, Drunk Astronauts, let’s say. (Drunk Astronauts being the crowd-pleasing, bring-down-the-house, bring-on-the-comics, set-closer—as well as a weekly singalong.)
At the end of the set on a recent January night, the audience seemed ready to commit crimes against decency, or even listen to stand-up. No neophyte joke-slinger need fear the silent rejection of a cold crowd.
They’d be hard-pressed to beat Foz at sheer variety. “We have lots of experience in our other lives,” Skaptason says, adding, “We’re a three-piece band with two Masters Degrees.”
By day a historian and online producer for the Abraham Lincoln Book Shop, Skaptason could easily write a routine (or a song) about La Vida Logan: He’s lived here since 2003.
“I moved here to live with a good friend. When the time came to get my own place, I stayed. It’s developed into a really great musical and artistic neighborhood.”
In addition to to real life responsibility and a steady gig as Chicago Comedy’s most trusted name in rabble-rousing, the trio of Foz the Hook made time to record an album: Gin Soaked Yankee and Other Disgraces. You can find it at http://fozthehook.bandcamp.com and get the professionals to warm up the home crowd. Or head to Cole’s every Wednesday by 8:30 pm.