At the Genesis Center in Gary, Indiana, something special happened on Saturday night. There was a stage complete with sound and lighting, various cameras and recording equipment set in strategic places, and a 10-foot-tall, animatronic ...rooster?
If you haven’t guessed already, this my friends, was the opening show for Seven on Ridge. Seven on Ridge is the first late night talk show in Chicago. The show is hosted by Michael Essany, a gem of a man. Let me give you some background information on him. He started a local public access talk show when he was twelve, which was picked up by E! Entertainment Television.
He attended Valparaiso University and graduated Magna cum Laude with a BA in Political Science in 2005, and in 2008 Essany became the Vice President of the Indiana Grain Company. He is a columnist, a bestselling author, and a blogger and his work has been featured in many major publications. Essany and his wife Christa live just outside of Chicago with their daughter, Gianna. Here’s a few notable tidbits: A&E Biography added Essany to their list of “America’s Most Remarkable People” because of all the work he has done, and he during Valparaiso University’s 150th Anniversary celebration he was chosen to be one of "The 150 Most Influential Graduates in Valparaiso University History". Pretty sweet, huh?
I was able to speak with him and head writer/co-executive producer Ian Ross Hughes before the show started.
“This is our opening show. This is sort of our introduction to Chicago viewers. We’re on WJYS so we’ll reach about three million homes in Chicago, through Wisconsin, Michigan, and Northwest Indiana. We do comedy monologues, sketches, and we have guests come out,” Essany said. “Ultimately, I’d love to take this nationally. I would love for this to end up on a big platform where we can highlight Chicago and the region to the whole country."
The guests for that night’s show were Tom Skilling of WGN, comedians Lucky Luciano and Vince Acevedo, celebrity psychic mentalist Sidney Friedman, and blues legend Lonnie Givens. There was also a special video package that was shown of Seven on Ridge covering Comic Con.
What sort of guests are going to be on the show?
“We’ll have people from all over the country. We’ll have national celebrities -William Shatner is coming up on our show, Jay Pharoah from Saturday Night Live,” Essany said. “But what I always loved about late night when I was a kid growing up watching it was they’d introduce new talent. People you hadn’t seen before. We’ll have lots of national celebrities, but we’re also going to introduce new singers, new comedians, new novelty acts to really make this live up to the “variety act” type of show that a late night show, in my opinion, should be.”
I then turned to Hughes and asked him what his role is for Seven on Ridge.
“I help Michael coordinate celebrities and the entertainment side of it, and on the writing side I’m just trying to make him funny,” Hughes laughed.
He’s not funny on his own?
“He’s a little bit, but everyone could use a little bit of polish. Not everyone’s Craig Ferguson,” Hughes said, tongue-in-cheek.
What’s the best part of this whole experience?
“You know, it’s meeting people,” Hughes affirmed as he showed me a picture of him and William Shatner. “I went through the writing program at Second City, and so I’ve been doing a lot of things like that. So it’s exciting a) meeting people and b) getting to write humor and comedy and see Mike get out and do it. I love seeing people laugh and I love making people laugh.”
To make Seven on Ridge a reality took about 50 staff members. The Seven on Ridge Orchestra, led by Terry “Sonny Lee” Tritt, is alone 23 members strong. This is important because music is something that Chicago is known for, and as a representative for this city, Seven on Ridge means to highlight Chicago and the surrounding areas that are often overlooked.
Any advice for someone looking to do what you do?
“Get help! Get some mental health care!” Essany said with a laugh. “Seriously, though, I think it’s always important to separate yourself from the crowd and do something a little different. It’s what I did on my old show, it’s what we’re doing here. Eventually, if you stick with something long enough and it’s your passion, things like this can happen. So keep it fresh. Keep it different. And do it if you love it.”
The show was great! Very funny and entertaining, as I knew it would be. Want to know more? Visit the show’s website! Or check out the Seven on Ridge Facebook page or follow it on Twitter! Be sure to tune in Monday Sept. 17 to WJYS at 10:30 pm to see the show!