John McGivern: Milwaukee's nicest and naughtiest teller of holiday tales
December is definitely the most John McGivern-ful time of the year. The actor, writer, storyteller and host of the Emmy-winning PBS show, "Around the Corner With John McGivern," is hilarious, insightful and heartfelt in all of his projects, but when combined with the most genuine and joyful time of year, he's at his very best.
"More Holiday Tales with John McGivern" is a 90-minute, one-man performance, that wraps up a limited seven-show run at Northern Lights Theater this weekend, features McGivern telling new stories from his life, from his childhood to the present. As a lifelong resident of Milwaukee's East Side and Lower East Side neighborhoods, his stories are particularly familiar and meaningful to those of us also born and bred in Brew City.
The animated and energetic McGivern has an impeccable sense of comedic timing and builds a story with the same craftsmanship his union-card-holding, mason father used to build a rec room basement in their Bartlett Avenue home made almost entirely out of bricks. This story, which McGivern shares during the program, is – like all of his yarns – rich with texture and detail.
When his parents have a New Year's Eve / birthday party (his mother's birthday is Dec. 31) to show off the new basement complete with a bar, tables, benches made from brick, McGivern describes the guests' scratches on their skin, welts on their foreheads and women's nylons riddled with runs. Turns out, having a basement bar made of bricks is a dangerous endeavor.
The warmth and absurdity of life in an Irish Catholic family during the 1960s continues throughout the set. McGivern's sweet-and-sassy stories include one about farting so loudly in church that his hearing impaired priest hears it and another about seeing his grandma rip off her "duster" (housecoat) down to her naked flesh after being stung by two bees while the family was vacationing in a "shitty cabin" near Waupaca.
McGivern's anecdotes are, at times, incredibly moving. He finishes a hilarious story about his mother donated crappy cookies to his school's "cake walk" with an orphan child who appreciates the cookies because, unlike a whole cake, she's able to easily share them with her friends who are also orphans.
For anyone, McGivern's new show is funny and relatable, but to longtime Milwaukeeans, it's also a trip down Memory Lane – and literally a trip down Oakland and Bradford Avenues during a time gone but not forgotten by many.
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