Kansas City-born comedian Nick Griffin is pumped about going onstage at Hilarities this week. But there's a downside to his profession: He doesn't get to spend a lot of time with other people. "If you're a comic who travels 40 weeks a year, you find yourself in the middle of nowhere by yourself," says Griffin. "Spending 90 percent of my adult life by myself has probably not done great things for my mental stability." To maintain his sanity, Griffin writes horror screenplays in his spare time. But once he steps in front of a mic, his gag bag of jokes leaves him in "a state of arrested development." "I could blame stand-up, but I think it's really just my tiny brain," he says. "I could be a teacher, but I don't think I'd be any more mature. My focus is mildly mature, but the rest of my mind is about 19 years old."
Still, he's managed to move from hometown open-mic nights to prime spots on David Letterman's and Craig Ferguson's late-night shows. "Theoretically, I suppose I deserve it and that I earned it," says Griffin. "But there are a lot of great comics that don't meet the right person or get the tough breaks. It's like Thunderdome. As long as you stay alive, something good will happen." Showtimes are at 8 p.m. tonight and tomorrow, 7:30 and 10:15 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 7:30 p.m. Sunday at Hilarities (2035 E. Fourth St.). Tickets: $15-$20. Call 216.241.7425 or visit pickwickandfrolic.com. - P.F. Wilson
The Closing Room changed hands last year. But the West Side watering hole hasn't ditched its annual Chili Cook-Off, which takes place today. Inaugurated in the winter of 2002 by former owner Scott Anderson, the 8th annual competition will pit more than a dozen armchair chefs against each other. A five-judge panel will rate each crock pot of chili and then hand out a $150 first-place prize plus the coveted Golden Ladle award. Patrons cast ballots for the $100 "popular vote" prize.
In 2007, Pat Roundtree of Cleveland dazzled the judges' taste buds with his 10-pound combo of smoked steak, bacon, sausage and pork. He tenderized the meat with a can of beer. "I like to eat," said Roundtree after his name was announced. "And I entered because I'm a fat fuck." Dig in at 3 p.m. at the Closing Room (13813 Lorain Ave.). Admission: free. Call 216.688.1670 or visit myspace.com/theclosingroom. - Cris Glaser
Take an imaginary sail from Cleveland to Summit County while historical interpreters talk about the "Food, Songs and Stories of the Old Ohio & Erie Canal." Hank Mallery of the Cleveland Metroparks and Ed Shuman of the Canal Fulton Heritage Society have plenty of doozies from the past to share. Like the canal-boat workers who shot at frogs while they waited their turn to pass through the canal's 22 locks, which connected Lake Erie to the Ohio River.
The waterway became a magnet for so many saloons that women would beg tavern owners to stop selling booze to an already-plastered crew of canal laborers. You'll also hear the oft-told story of President James Garfield's canal-boat trip from Cleveland to Chillicothe. According to lore, the ride was so slow and bumpy that he bemoaned it as a "quite disagreeable experience." Step back in time at 1 p.m. at the Western Reserve Historical Society (10825 East Blvd.). Admission: $8.50 ($5 for kids). Call 216.721.5722 or visit wrhs.org. - Glaser
Each of the 50 contestants at Cleveland's Best Gospel Singer Competition will get only a minute of stage time to sway a panel of judges. And they'll have to do it a cappella. Up for grabs: an opening spot at Cleveland Play House's upcoming production Mahalia: A Gospel Musical. "We were thinking along the lines of American Idol, because there's so much gospel talent in this town," says Suzy Peters, the promotions director of WNWV-FM 107.3, which is sponsoring the contest.
As the audience chows down on an optional Southwestern-style brunch from Brothers Lounge, singers will take turns channeling gospel great Mahalia Jackson in front of judges like Play House marketing director Darcy Ballew and longtime radio jock Sally Spitz. The winner will also score a backstage invite to a Mahalia cast party and dinner for two at Brothers. "I expect this is going to be an exciting competition, especially since we've never done this before," says Peters. "It's really amazing how many people are incredible church-going singers in Cleveland." Judging is between 12 and 3 p.m. at Brothers Lounge (11609 Detroit Ave.). Admission: free ($10 for brunch). Call 216.226.2767 or visit brotherslounge.com. - Glaser Tuesday 1.13
R&B singer Toni Braxton, Olympic sprinter Maurice Greene and ex-pop tart Lance Bass all paso doble into Cleveland tonight for Dancing With the Stars: The Tour.
Just like on the hit TV show, the celebs will waltz and salsa with pros like Maksim Chmerkovskiy, Lacey Schwimmer and Edyta Sliwinska to the accompaniment of a 10-piece band. Between numbers, the audience can check out a couple of ginormous hi-def TVs that will screen never-seen-before footage of pre-telecast rehearsals and behind-the-scenes outtakes from the show.
But don't look for Mark Ballas in the cast. The professional half of Season 6 winner Kristi Yamaguchi was sidelined after he pulled his groin muscle a couple weeks ago at the tour's L.A. stop. But Ballas assures fans that he'll rejoin his dancemates sometime next month and be ready to compete at the start of the show's 8th season on March 9. The rumbas start at 7:30 p.m. at the Wolstein Center at Cleveland State University (2000 Prospect Ave.). Tickets: $51.50-$127. Call 216.687.9292 or visit csuohio.edu/wolsteincenter. - Glaser
Cleveland's version of CSI plays out today when a pair of pathologists hosts "An Inside Look at the Cuyahoga County Coroner's Office." Blythe Pavone and Noreen Kyle will set up a slide show that illustrates the scientific techniques they use to nail down causes of death in the cases they cover. Learn all about the agency's trace evidence department, which examines blood stains, clothing and weapons that link murderers to a crime victims; the pathology department, where forensic doctors perform autopsies and examine tissue slides to pinpoint how someone was killed; and the toxicology department, which analyzes body fluids and tissue for police and probation departments looking for drugs and alcohol in OD cases. Get your CSI on at 7 p.m. at Lakewood Public Library (15425 Detroit Ave. in Lakewood). Admission: free. Call 216.226.8275 or visit lkwdpl.org. - Glaser Wednesday 1.14
In her memoir A Journal for Jordan, former Plain Dealer reporter Dana Canedy uses diary entries her fiancé wrote to their newborn son before the Cleveland-born soldier was killed in Iraq. Canedy, now a New York Times editor, reads some of Army Sergeant Charles King's passages at Joseph-Beth tonight. "He wrote with clarity and depth and a real voice," Canedy reported to Times readers last year. "I also noticed themes emerged in the journal, such as his profound respect for women, his deep faith in God and his utter dedication to military service."
The entries start in late 2005, when Canedy gave King a blank journal to take to Army bases in Texas, Kuwait and Iraq. He'd then write about his daily duties to their son, Jordan, who was born in New York City three months later. Days afterward, King led 105 men in his Charlie Company to the "Triangle of Death" south of Baghdad. That's where an explosive device detonated and killed him along a roadside.
After King's death, his journal inspired Canedy to weave his handwritten thoughts into her memories of their relationship, son and time apart. Some readers questioned Canedy's choice to publicly air her loss.
"I am a grieving partner and mother first, but I'm also a journalist," wrote Canedy. "That is the other reason I am able to tell our story. So many people think of American military men and women in the collective, but I wanted to put a face and a life to the story of at least one brave soldier serving in Iraq. If I had to expose a bit of myself to do that, so be it." Meet Canedy at 7 p.m. at Joseph-Beth Booksellers (24519 Cedar Rd. in Lyndhurst). Admission: free. Call 216.691.7000 or visit josephbeth.com. - Glaser