Filmmaker Larry Ziegelman’s new webseries, Geek Lounge, dramatizes the interaction of six friends who hang out in a bar that caters to lifelong Trekkies, obsessive Harry Potter fans, meticulous comic book historians and everything else that belongs within the provenance of nerdism.
“I like to describe it as Cheers meets Silicon Valley,” explains Ziegelman, the writer and director who created seven of the ten episodes and worked with cast member Madelyn Murphy on the rest.
“There used to be a place in Wicker Park where people of all types who like geeky things would go and play and everybody was accepted. I was intrigued by the concept.”
With credits including Little Man of Steel, which examines the sex life of Superman and Lois Lane, and Boom Boom, which turns two aspiring suicide bombers into bickering egomaniacs, Ziegelman’s knack for writing and directing sitcoms speaks for itself.
But Geek Lounge’s ensemble cast represented new territory.
“I had some grand ideas when I originally started,” he admits. “But I didn’t know who the characters would be.”
Casting members of Chicago’s improv community helped him turn a collection of clever sketches into a bona fide, character driven show.
“I had a bunch of ideas for episodes, and I would say ‘here’s the beginning, here’s the middle, here’s the end,’ and then we would workshop it,” he explains. “I cast some of the best improv actors that Chicago has. We would just go crazy and play for half an hour. I would record the process and write down the best jokes for the script.”
The result is a collection of nerdier-than-average millennials who wear horn-rimmed glasses, speak in wizard-ese and inject raunchy sexual references into casual conversation. Most of the series was shot on location at Holiday Club in Lakeview.
In the first episode, action burns on the fuel of peer pressure when a handsome former high school quarterback accepts an invitation to join the group. His good looks and athletic poise make everyone suspicious that he is “not one of us.” So the geeks run him through a “gauntlet” of trivia questions that cover several categories — and orifices — of fantasy literature, sci-fi trivia and comic book lore.
It turns out that these marginalized brainiacs submit to an arbitrary status quo much like everybody else.
The detail and variety of questions are a testament to the cast’s group effort. Ziegelman is quick to credit the acting community — “there are so many talented improv actors in Chicago,” he says — and his own personal history for achieving the sketch’s hilarity.
“I spent all my money on comic books growing up,” he remembers.
“I would do a lot of drawings and my brother and I would create a lot of heroes and villains. Our bedroom door was the superhero The Phoenix. We took it off of our room and brought it to a comic book contest. We won some original artwork from Conan inked by Sal Buscema.”
Join Ziegelman and select cast / crew members for a Geek Lounge Sneak Peak Screening Party at Holiday Club (4000 N. Sheridan Rd.), April 19, 7-10 p.m.
Lee Russell — Jean Luc
Liam Gallogly — Josh
David Weiner — Hal
Conor Burke — John
Harry Bauer — Pee Shy Guy
Zoquera Milburn — Daisy
Erin Colleen Gordon — Abby
Madelyn Murphy — Jan
Danny Ennion — Leo
Kenneth Yoder — Kenneth
Will Green — Colin
Editors from Hootenanny: Graham Metzger, Sean Halvorsen
Parker Jarvie — Company 3
Mikey Pehanich — The Mill
Justin Mayer — Hoffman Sound
DP — Joe Fitzgerald (for the majority of the episodes)
Producers — Aaron Gang, Jane Morson
Hair and Makeup — Cindy Stutzel
Production Design — Diane Soubly