chili challis – BAM!

I was heartsick to hear of the passing of comedian Chili Challis last night. Chili was both a friend and hugely inspirational to me. When I was a teenager in Cincinnati in the late 70’s getting my comedy start at d.w. eye, Chili came in (along with John Riggi and Will Durst) with his extremely solid act, raising the bar for every comic that followed.  I was in awe of Chili (he was Bert Challis back then).  Sometimes he was so good I just got angry and jealous – but in retrospect, I realized that it was because of him, Riggi, and Durst that the eye got put on the map in the first place.  While the rest of us were figuring the game out, and wearing training pants, Challis was giving real legitimacy to the club.

So, then about 10 years ago, when I started writing Plrknib – my book about d.w. eye – I found myself back in touch with Chili. He was hugely supportive of the book, and I discovered how much we had in common: we both loved comedy, comedy writing, nurturing and supporting new comics and talent.  (He spent a tremendous amount of time running well-respected comedy Dojos for stand-up newbies across the country.)  And a few years ago, he introduced me to ComedyWire – one of the nation’s fastest growing comedy writing hubs.

We also both had deep root feelings for Cincinnati and getting our comedy starts at d.w. eye.  And of course friends and family were important to both of us.

So, I was thrilled last year, when Chili didn’t just agree to join me, Michael Flannery, and the other comics for the d.w. eye reunion – but also to bring along his brilliant son and comic, Thaddeus Challis, to join us and carry on the tradition. That’s what Chili was about.

So, I won’t say RIP Chili Challis – I’ll say what he said, everytime he ended one of his GREAT bits: Chili Challis – BAM!

Unfortunately, we didn’t get a lot of pics at the reunion show, but here’s a phenomenal selfie Chili took of himself, Drew, and Marty Polio (who joined us at the last minute) back stage.  3 d.w. eye Legends.

And check out the video above for his performance last year at the eye reunion.

jim gilliece

Jim Gilliece was a d.w. eye favorite that I did not know during my tour of duty at the club back in the late 70’s/early 80’s.  I knew Jim had been a part of Chip Chinery’s Comic Relief show in 1991, but I never met him until last summer’s Reunion show.  One of the great things about the reunion was that so many people – performers and fans – came out of the woodwork to celebrate the legacy of d.w. eye.  It’s been more than a year now, and I can still barely describe what an extraordinary, funny, emotional evening that was.

One of the highlights was getting to meet Jim for the first time.  As you can see in the video, he was warmly called to the stage by an audience that knew and loved him.  And not just from his stand-up, but from his years of running Chez Nora in Covington, KY.  Jim, I learned later, came out of stand-up retirement to do that eye reunion show – and as you can see – when he performs he is totally in control of what he’s doing onstage.  I vividly remember watching his act and being deeply impressed.  I got to spend some time with him after the show, and he wasn’t just funny, but tremendously sweet and generous to boot.

Jim passed away this past Saturday from lung cancer.  I feel honored that I got to share an evening with him.  You can read more about him here.

And, from Chip Chinery, here’s Jim’s performance at the 1991 Comic Relief Show.

The d.w. eye Reunion Show – Videos

And now…videos of (almost) the entire show!

Part 1 – featuring:  Cap & Johnny, Alex Bernstein, Marty Pollio, Bob Batch, Steve Caminiti, and Chili Challis


Part 2 – featuring:  Thaddeus Nathaniel Challis, Jim Gilliece, and Rico Bruce Wade


Part 3 – featuring:  Rico and Steve, Mark Klein, and Drew Hastings

Drew Hastings

More background on performers at the d.w. eye Reunion Show!
What don’t you already know about Drew Hastings?!  You know he’s a hugely popular comedian, storyteller, Mayor, and farmer – they love him at agricultural events – he can do comedy and drive a  tractor!

But did you know he got his start in comedy way back in 1980 at the eye?

From Plrknib:

Drew was far and away the tallest, best dressed, best coiffed comic at the eye. (Likely, he was the best dressed, best coiffed anyone at the eye.)  With wavy, blown-back 70’s hair, a full mustache – styled, not barbered – and well-tailored, faux-Armani suits, Drew had the elegance of a man fresh off the dance floor without ever having broken a sweat.

Drew will be appearing in the d.w. eye Reunion Show Friday June 23 at the 20th Century Theater in Cincinnati.


Steve Caminiti – Local Hero

More background on performers at the d.w. eye Reunion Show!

The hardest working comic in Cincinnati?  Probably.

Steve Caminiti came onstage at the tail end of d.w. eye’s brief lifespan but that didn’t stop him from becoming a major force in comedy.  Hugely popular in Cincinnati, Steve was recently named Top Comedian by Cincinnati CityBeat Magazine.  Steve hosted FOX Sports Ohio’s Beer Money and he continues to tour nationally. Constantly.  Like – all the time.

Of all the eye comics, none may be more “of Cincinnati” than Steve.  While most of the eye comics moved on to different states and/or commercial endeavors, Steve kept pounding it out – night after night – right here in the Queen City.

Steve will be appearing in the d.w. eye Reunion Show Friday June 23 at the 20th Century Theater in Cincinnati.


Chili and Thaddeus Nathaniel Challis

More background on performers at the d.w. eye Reunion Show!

Way back in 1980, Chili Challis came on the scene at d.w. eye and raised the stakes for every comic in the building.  There was no more skating by if you were a local seat-of-your-pants, up-and-comer (like I was).  Chili – along with John Riggi, Will Durst, and others – were highly talented guys that had solid acts – and their presence gave the eye a legitimacy it didn’t quite have for the first few months.  After they arrived, the eye was a club to be reckoned with. And the rest of us had better pay attention, if we wanted to keep up.

Chili went on to write for the Tonight Show, and start his own Comedy Dojo that now  trains young comics across the country.

His son, Thaddeus Nathaniel Challis, carries on his dad’s legacy performing constantly across the country.  (And frequently opening for his father.) And Thaddeus did, in fact, make an appearance on the d.w. eye stage – back when he was six years old – making him, likely, the youngest eye alumnus!

Both Chili and Thaddeus will be appearing in the d.w. eye Reunion Show Friday June 23 at the 20th Century Theater in Cincinnati.


Rico Bruce Wade

When I was 16 and performing at d.w. eye, I wanted to be Rico Bruce Wade.  (Of course he wasn’t Rico Bruce Wade back then – he was Rico Rico Rico Diaz.)  Rico was our improvisational genius – he was one of the founding members of Cincinnati’s Fairview Impromptu Band – and then later went on to Second City to act and direct.  But in 1981, he would climb the stage at the eye – and you never knew what was going to happen.  Rico and his group were doing improv in Cincinnati before people knew what improv was.  It was exciting, breathtaking.  And live on the spot.

And it didn’t hurt that Rico was also the sunniest, nicest guy around.

Rico continues to act, and perform stand-up and improv to this day – and will be onstage in Cincinnati performing again at the d.w. eye Reunion June 23rd at the 20th Century Theater.  You don’t want to miss it.