In a nondescript building in an industrial park that sits next to a residential area in the Avondale neighborhood, two men sit at a round table in front of microphones. A third man bounces back and forth between two cameras. As the bright lights beam overhead, the man to the right wipes the sweat from his brow.
“They call me Sweetness, and I like to dance; runnin’ the ball is like makin’ romance,” Ronnie belted as he sang the words from the “Super Bowl Shuffle.” “Walter Payton had bars, man.”
This was featured on the show Growing Up Chiwith comedians Ronnie Ray and Khristian Leslie, and Lawrence Moore as the videographer.
The show, which is about all things Chicago, launched in April this year and has grown to 1,000 followers and has 250 new followers each episode.
Leslie and Ray met doing improv in 1998.
“We did improv all over the country. We even taught a class at Stanford,” Leslie said.
One fateful night, there was a special guest in the audience at one of their improv shows; it was the late comedian Robin Williams.
“It was great; he did the improv set with us,” Ray said. “We thought we were going to be large.”
Growing Up Chi was supposed to be a way for them to get back to doing improv together.
“Ron called me and said, ‘Hey, do you want to do a show?’ And I was like, ‘Sure,’” Leslie said.
So, Leslie and Ray met up at a Giordano’s Pizzeria to hash out their idea.
“We yelled at the screen and ate pizza,” Leslie said.
Ray said they came up with the idea to make the show about all things Chicago — from food to politics.
“We just started going off stuff that’s going on in the city,” Ray said.
It started off with just audio, then Moore was brought in to do video recording. Each show is 30 minutes long, and in one setting, Ray and Leslie do four shows. The 1985 Chicago Bears, the “Super Shuffle” and Super Bowl XX are the topics of an upcoming show.
“There are simple things you wouldn’t think you could make a show out of,” Leslie said. “This city is so diverse, there’s always something going on.”
Moore said the great thing about the show is that it’s a way for people who didn’t grow up in Chicago to learn more about the city from the lens of people who were born and raised here.
“All of their topics…they’re just passionate about. Khristian is very in tune to current events. Ron is all about entertainment — he’s a die-hard Bears and Bulls fan. That show would’ve gone on for two hours,” Moore said. “They take a lot of pride in what they do.”
Leslie said the goal is to do the show every day and having a sponsor would help them achieve this goal.
“Things just happen in the city all the time, I’ll be surprised if we ever run out of ideas,” he said. “What other city has so much going on? Our weather is one example of the constant flux this city is in.”
“We miss you Walter Payton,” Leslie said at the end of the show.
Both signed off with the tagline: “If you weren’t born in Chicago, you didn’t grow up Chi.”
For more information about Growing Up Chi, visit www.youtube.com/watch?v=BOCbc64NkOA.