Illini Showcase offers mix of comedy, music and news
Editor's note: Esteban Gast's Illini Showcase is on hiatus but he hopes to be back on the set soon.
All budding talk-show host Esteban Gast needs is a desk and a mug of ... whatever it is TV talk-show hosts drink.
He's got the chair, a couch for guests, his own house band and a nice performance space in the Illini Union Courtyard Cafe for his new Illini Showcase, whick follows the late-night format, with opening monologue and an ending performance by a musical guest.
And the University of Illinois graduate student in political science has the wit and conversational ease to make it fun and interesting.
Gast hosted his first Illini Showcase on Jan. 31 to a full house that included Trisha Gibbons, a graduate student in nutritional science from Reno, Nev.
She praised Gast's comedic delivery, his opening monologue and his skills at improvising. She also said Illini Showcase gives viewers more insight to what's happening at the university.
"I didn't know we had these incredibly talented people on campus. For me it was interesting to hear. It was all new to me," she said.
David Schwartz, a senior psychology major from Lincolnwood, also gave Gast's debut show high marks.
"I thought it was great, very entertaining, funny and fast. He did a great job going with the flow."
For his first show, Gast welcomed as guests UI alum and Champaign Mayor Don Gerard — they first met at a comedy event, and Gerard displayed some comic chops of his own — and UI students John William Gomez, Saagar Gupta and Scott Rusch.
A doctoral of musical arts candidate, Gomez is a tenor and artistic director of La Casa Lirica Opera Venezuela. He's already sung professionally.
"He's had a review in The New York Times and sang in Carnegie Hall," Gast said while introducing him.
Gomez went to center stage and sang an aria from the new opera "Bolero."
"That was sad. I feel I should give you a hug," Gast said afterward.
"I also thought opera wasn't cool, but you've got a cool vibe," Gast continued. "Do the girls think it's cool? I always pictured opera as Pavarotti, Domingo, Chef Boyardee. But you're a cool dude."
Gast and Gomez went on to discuss opera today, with Gomez saying artistic directors are taking the art form to the people and even putting microphones on singers.
Gomez also mentioned the "Three Tenors" concert in Italy that was telecast to 10 million people.
"'American Idol' is a consequence of that concert in 1990 ... so, yes, we're cool," he said.
Up next was Gupta, a junior accounting and computer-science major and creator of the unofficial UI Facebook memes page.
Gast projected some of the memes: "Please don't put me in PAR," a reference to the Pennsylvania Avenue Residence halls on the south side of campus. Another: "You're from Chicago. False. You're from the suburbs."
On a more serious note, Gupta talked about how he saw after coming to the UI a separation of students into their own ethnic groups. One of his goals is to bring people together.
He's organized a massive snowball fight on the Quad and is helping to put on a music festival in early March.
Rusch is a UI senior from Woodstock, director of the Xtension Chords a cappella group and a singer-songwriter whose "Hey Girl" YouTube video has received nearly 40,000 hits. (Gast joked that cat videos receive 40 million.)
Rusch, who has an agent, said he wrote "Hey Girl" about a specific girl he once saw. He approached her, and the two became friends.
"That's more adorable than I thought it would be," Gast cracked.
Accompanying himself on guitar, Rusch then performed "Fade Away," a song he'd just written. Gast called the performance the world premiere.
As the hourlong show ended, the handsome Gast, who has a wide grin, thanked everyone for coming.
"We are here every Friday at 5 p.m. It's always free. It'll be fun. Thank you for being part of the experience. At the end of the day, it's all about being Illini."
Later, Gast told The News-Gazette he has to work out some kinks, particularly with the four-piece house band of grad students in jazz performance — they frequently failed to play music to cover breaks in the action. But Gast deemed his first show "so much fun."
He also promised diverse lineups of guests including females — he scheduled two women, one a comedienne, for the Feb. 7 show.
And Gast said each show will end with a musical performance by a guest.
"The performances will strictly be by students because they don't have that many places to perform," he said.
Gast, who graduates in May, said if he stays in C-U he would continue hosting Illini Showcase. He wouldn't mind having a professional career as a talk-show host one day.
"If I could get paid to be silly, that would be the most ridiculous thing," he said.
If you go
What: Illini Showcase, a live talk show hosted by Esteban Gast, a University of Illinois graduate student and stand-up comedian, featuring community and university guests and a house band
When: 5 p.m. Fridays
Where: Courtyard Cafe, Illini Union, 1401 W. Green St., U
Of note: UI-7, the cable TV service of the College of Media, is taping each Illini Showcase to broadcast later; for the schedule, go to media.illinois.edu/service/ui7