Out Here: a comedian walks into an art fair

Editor’s note: Out Here is a new column for the Reader’s City Life section featuring a variety of local writers joining in on adventures with an interesting Chicagoan. This week art writer Leah Gallant tells us about her hangout with comedian Jayson Acevedo. 

On Saturday, April 9, at 1:09 PM, comedian Jayson Acevedo walked into EXPO Chicago. He was running behind schedule. The plan had been to arrive two hours earlier, in time to catch a panel on NFTs. But at 11 AM, the 28-year-old Acevedo was still sleeping off the previous night, which he had spent driving Lyft until dawn.

The ninth edition of the EXPO Chicago art fair (the first since the Glorious Beforetimes) had returned to its usual post at Navy Pier’s Festival Hall. More than 140 galleries from around the world descended on Chicago for the occasion. A keen observer of the week’s earlier EXPO-adjacent events might have noticed the sudden infusion of short men with slicked-back hair and British accents taking loud, seemingly important phone calls into otherwise modest hosting institutions across the city; meanwhile, Chicago artists who just a month prior could be found discussing the merits of recentering one’s life around pure experience were suddenly armed to the teeth with business cards and sound bites about their burgeoning careers.

When asked to describe his general appearance, Acevedo thought for a moment. “A homeless guy who just discovered money. Today,” he said. For EXPO, he wore his standard day-to-night attire—Acevedo works as an after-school teacher in an outer burb, and also performs regularly at the Laugh Factory, Zanies, and other venues—a pinkish hoodie, sweatpants cinched at the ankle, Nike runners, and dollar store sunglasses with a vaguely steampunk-meets-seventh-grade-class-clown look. 

He also sported a few key accessories: an old-timey tobacco pipe (empty), a prank horn (defunct), and a fanny pack whose sole contents were a pink bra (his mother’s). His plan was to adopt a persona for his interactions with the art world: the name would be Wilfredo Franco III, “an art collector who’s been kicked out of auctions because he’s buying too much,” or possibly “a guy who was once on the waitstaff,” or, alternatively, the classic art world archetype, “[a] pompous cunt.” As for his attitude going into the fair: “unapologetically silly and present,” but also “ready to fuck shit up.”  

A sticker reading “Life is Sweet” may or may not be art. Credit: Leah Gallant

To accompany a comedian throughout their day is to bear witness to the conversion of mundane interactions into a kind of nonstop social parkour. A lull at a traffic light becomes an occasion to wave and holler wildly at adjacent drivers. While driving for Lyft, Acevedo has been known to sing to his passengers, accommodating requests for Kanye and Childish Gambino. Once, over the phone, this writer overheard Acevedo strike up a conversation with a pizza delivery guy about the merits and upkeep of his unibrow.

At EXPO Chicago, the antics of “Wilfredo Franco III” did not disappoint. Working his way up the northern flank of the fair with the thoroughness of a door-to-door canvasser, the comedian approached gallerists with a similar set of questions. He would first ask if they had made the work behind them, then feign surprise at their disparaging no. Acevedo (as Franco) would then move on to asking how much the most expensive piece in the booth was going for, before exclaiming, “That’s it?” 

What followed next was typically a series of first date-like questions (“Is this your first time in Chicago?”) and a line of inquiry, this one gauche in its sincerity, about the meaning of the art itself. A collage of gallerists’ facial expressions would have registered polite disdain, restrained horror, and simple disinterest. 

The main joke didn’t have much of a punchline: did the art world want to engage with a comedian’s antics? No, it did not. The comedian passed by, bellowing in Spanish or making a series of staccato nasal yips; the art world stared slack-eyed into its MacBook.

“I am a vibe. I am a drug. I am art,” Acevedo noted.

“The comedian passed by, bellowing in Spanish or making a series of staccato nasal yips; the art world stared slack-eyed into its MacBook.” Credit: Austin Pollock

Acevedo paused for a breather at one of the champagne kiosks dotting the fair. He rocked back and forth on a high-end chair (the Rokkå, $2,900), legs akimbo, taking occasional pulls on his pipe and complimenting bemused passersby on shirts and hats. Turning to his right, Acevedo struck up conversation in Spanish with the champagne servers, dressed in austere long aprons, asking after their work with an easy familiarity. A couple floated by, pushing 80, in checkered fur coats and platform sneakers. Acevedo reached into a pocket and pulled out a wad of singles, which he placed in the previously scant tip jar. Then it was back to the races.

Jayson Acevedo’s upcoming appearances:
Performing as part of The Whose Line Show (improv), Sat 5/21, 8 PM, Comedy Shrine, 2228 Fox Valley Center, Aurora, 630-585-0300, $20-$40, all-ages

Performing as part of The Naughty Show (improv), Sat 5/21, 10 PM, Comedy Shrine, 2228 Fox Valley Center, Aurora, 630-585-0300, $20-$40, 18+

The North American premiere of the mockumentary Jambon et Fromage, featuring a cast made up of stand-up comedians (including Acevedo), Sun 5/29, 7 PM, Music Box Theatre, 3733 N. Southport, 773-871-6604, $12, all-ages

Performing stand-up as part of Latin XL, a comedy showcase, Sun 5/29, 8 PM, Laugh Factory Chicago, 3175 N. Broadway, 773-327-3175, $20 and two beverage minimum, 18+

Halfway up the northern flank, the comedian spotted an old flame (the flicker had been brief), and became, for once, somewhat cowed. She was browsing the wares at the booth for Printed Matter, the New York-based space for artists’ books, accompanied by a person who appeared to be a special friend; the comic geared himself for an interaction, for the sake of Art, but after some deliberation, when the companion’s hand was spotted trailing down her back, decided against it. 

Soon the VIP Collectors Lounge beckoned, then just as quickly underwhelmed. Not only was there no free food to be had, the bar didn’t even carry Sprite. Acevedo dug into the collective snack haul, smuggled in via backpack and pocket: a protein bar liberated from an untended box, two samosas from an Uptown market, a strangely delicious orangeish Target brand majority-sodium snack mix. He then proceeded to horse around. The bra emerged from the fanny pack, and was draped across the comedian’s chest. Also two nipple stickers were procured (free for the taking as part of an artwork earlier in the week), which Acevedo affixed to his coat as cufflinks. 

A Very Important Person seated nearby asked what on earth was going on. After that, finally attention, but an earnest, open kind, in the form of a gracefully middle-aged couple, recently remarried, and such good sports that they proved wholly untrollable. He did something as the operating officer of a real estate firm that managed student housing, if memory serves, and she did something whose only word that registered was “portfolio.” Art, they said, was their life. In the span of about three minutes, the conversation turned to matters of the heart. “She’s my heaven and she’s my hell,” Acevedo noted, then held forth on “the love of [his] life,” who lived in LA, before opening the floor to relationship advice.

The author and Acevedo standing on Navy Pier. Credit: Austin Pollock

But the day was wearing on, and the comedian had places to be: picking up a date at 6:40 PM in Wheaton—not the love of his life, but a total catch nonetheless. (“I asked her if she wanted to go to a fancy restaurant and pretend to get a divorce.”) This was to be followed by his show at the Laugh Factory, at 7:45 PM, and then a planned brief reappearance at EXPO’s warehouse after party.

The comedian headed towards the exit, stopping to pose with a monumental brick artwork (“I told you they’d build a wall around me”) and then at a Colombian gallery’s booth. Acevedo chatted with the gallerists (his family is Colombian) before his attention wandered to a young lady milling nearby. After confirming she was not in their party, he approached, in one fell swoop complimenting her shirt and asking for her Instagram.

Later, at the party in a warehouse in an industrial strip somewhere near Pilsen, “the whole Chicago art world,” as an acquaintance had characterized it, milled around and tactfully avoided each other. The stock of alcohol expended, a lone person in a latex catsuit held down the front of the quickly depleting dance floor, where DJ Ariel Zetina was spinning on what appeared to be a train cart perched in the middle of the tracks. 

In their wanderings, Acevedo and his date Dana Norris, also a comedian, had figured out a route up to the roof. If one was prepared to ignore a cryptic diagram tacked to the wall, which outlined which areas had dangerous levels of radio wave exposure if stood in for more than six minutes, the view was very nice. The tractors of trucks passed in and out of an enormous, strobe-lit lot, and occasional freight trains trundled by below. Back on the ground floor, someone had opened up an enormous shipping crate, and a quad of art-world youths had clambered inside it, bathing up to their necks in packing peanuts. Miami may do Basel with glitz, but Chicago’s superspreaders have more of a rust belt chic. 

Speaking of regionalism, at a postshow interview, Acevedo, a born and raised Chicagoan, offered some concluding thoughts. “New York was full of shit,” he noted. As for LA: “Those galleries used to be homeless shelters.” 

Acevedo reminisced about some of the finer moments of the fair. “Remember that girl who followed me on Instagram? She blocked me ten minutes later.”

He did, however, have one regret. “Not pulling out my mother’s bra enough in public.” The comedian paused and thought for a moment. “Did I need to know she was a B cup? No. I did not. But now I know.”

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