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Stand-up guy: Comedian brings blend of humor, music to YES

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Tony Bennett once sang that life is a song. And for comedic musician Tim Cavanagh, who parodies life through his music, there never have been truer words sung.

Local residents can sing along with Cavanagh at 8 p.m. Friday when he performs at YES Cinema as part of the theater’s comedy showcase series. All proceeds from the show benefit programing provided through the Lincoln-Central Neighborhood Family Center.

Raised in an Irish-Catholic family on the south side of Chicago, Cavanagh was greatly influenced by his childhood. He said his oldest brother inadvertently helped establish the foundation for his future career.

“He had comedy albums that I listened to as a kid, not knowing it was fertile ground for me,” Cavanagh said in a phone interview from his Chicago home. “As I listened to them, I was learning about comedy, timing and getting laughs.”

YES Comedy Showcase presents Tim Cavanagh


8 p.m. Friday


YES Cinema, 328 Jackson St.


$20 in advance; $25 at the door. Tickets may be purchased at YES Cinema, the Cinema Cafe, or Lincoln-Central Neighborhood Family Center, 1039 Sycamore St.


379-1630 or

Growing up during the advent of the singer/songwriter, Cavanagh was influenced by artists such as Carole King, Jackson Browne and James Taylor. He began writing songs in high school, but admits he was pathetic at writing love songs.

“It turned out the funny songs were better than the serious ones,” Cavanagh said.

And then he found Steve Martin, who stood out from the traditional comedians Cavanagh was used to, such as the Smothers Brothers.

“He was really inventive and a clever stand-up comedian,” Cavanagh said. “I thought, ‘Oh, this is different. These are jokes about reality.’ That was when I was really breaking into comedy.”

Cavanagh graduated with a degree in philosophy from Loyola University-Chicago in May 1975. He said a lack of foresight about the practicality of his major made the post-graduation job hunt difficult, but his background in Catholicism helped land him a job teaching courses about the Old Testament and Sacrament at the Catholic-based Maria High School in Chicago.

Two years into his teaching gig, Cavanagh walked into Zanies Comedy Club one evening and walked out a paid comic.

“The kids didn’t know about my night job,” Cavanagh said. “Nor did the nuns who hired me.”

For a full year, Cavanagh moonlighted as a comic before, much to the dismay of the nuns, he permanently laid down his gradebook for a guitar in 1980.

Plucking material straight from the headlines and real-life experiences, Cavanagh, the founder of Hits and Giggles Records, considers writing the biggest challenge.

“It’s a never-ending job,” Cavanagh said. “Fortunately, there’s always inspiration out there. There’s some crazy things going on.”

If you’re not familiar with Cavanagh’s songs, such as “I Want to Kiss Her (But She Won’t Let Me),” “99 Dead Baboons” and “Cheney’s Got a Gun,” you might consider his work a bit absurd. And the satirical, regular guest on the Bob & Tom radio show would readily agree.

“It’s a lot of wordplay,” Cavanagh said. “A lot of my stuff is twists on phrases, and plays on words.”

Audience members can expect songs, jokes, and some fun audience interaction, Cavanagh said. At each show, he awards at least $7 in prizes, ranging from Spam to handcuffs.

A little perkier than most are accustomed to, the on-stage Cavanagh really is a good guy under all the hyperactivity, he said. The character is simply an exaggeration.

“If I was my onstage persona all the time, I wouldn’t have a wife and I would have very few friends,” Cavanagh said.

Randy Allman, executive director of the Lincoln-Central Neighborhood Family Center, said each of the comedians featured in the showcase series bring something different to the table and, tomorrow night, Cavanagh will bring the music.

“Cavanagh gives the showcase a different dimension,” Allman said. “He is a very accomplished musician who can sing about anything.”

The Cavanagh show is rated PG-13, so audience members can expect some mild innuendo and/or language.

“This is my third time at YES,” Cavanagh said. “I’m looking forward to coming back. It’s a really intimate theater and a great place to perform stand-up comedy.”

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