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Theodore Bogosian's film Live at Mister Kelly's is a throwback to a long-gone era at the iconic Chicago nightclub.Virgil Films

  • Live at Mister Kelly’s
  • Directed by Theodore Bogosian
  • Starring Ramsey Lewis, Bob Newhart, Lily Tomlin, Bill Kurtis
  • Classification PG; 83 minutes
  • Available on-demand starting Oct. 12

Critic’s Pick


Sarah Vaughan, Woody Allen, Ella Fitzgerald, Flip Wilson, Muddy Waters, Freddie Prinze, Cass Elliot, Mort Sahl, the Smothers Brothers and other notable performers all recorded albums at the Chicago nightclub Mister Kelly’s. You don’t need to know much about much to know that something was happening there. Exactly what is the subject of a spiffy time capsule directed by Theodore Bogosian.

Live at Mister Kelly’s is narrated by octogenarian newsman Bill Kurtis, whose smooth baritone and unapologetically old-school style is a throwback to a long-gone era. Same goes for the landmark supper club owned and operated by brothers Oscar and George Marienthal, who in the 1950s, ‘60′s and early ‘70s launched an edgy brand of stand-up comedy, broke colour barriers for audience members, introduced a 20-year-old Barbra Streisand, showcased female comics such as a young Joan Rivers, promoted diversity, and hosted the hip and the great, from Oscar Peterson to Richard Pryor.

Barbara Streisand performs at Mister Kelly's, which launched the careers of stars like Streisand, Richard Pryor, Bob Newhart, Bette Midler and Steve Martin.Virgil Films

Lily Tomlin talks about a protest at the club against a policy in Chicago that forbid “unescorted” women from sitting at the bar. This happened in 1973 – can you believe that, 1973? The point of the film is not nostalgia, but that things weren’t always as they are now. Though subversive social commentary is routine shtick for late-night talk show hosts today, it wasn’t until taste-making clubs such as Mister Kelly’s that Henny Youngman comic clichés were overthrown by the Lenny Bruces of the world.

“It’s tough to remember monuments like that,” says the late comedic actor Fred Willard. “They tend to be forgotten.” With his film, Bogosian remembers a springboard venue in the evolution of the uniquely American artforms of jazz and comedy.

In the interest of consistency across all critics’ reviews, The Globe has eliminated its star-rating system in film and theatre to align with coverage of music, books, visual arts and dance. Instead, works of excellence will be noted with a Critic’s Pick designation across all coverage.

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