We’re off to the library tonight.
Not looking for books. Not checking out DVDs. Not planning to Google stuff on the computer. Not seeking to check out another installment of “Captain Underpants” for the kid or a Margaret Atwood title for us parents or a copy of a Bon Appetit magazine from last March with that one special recipe.
No, we’re going to the downtown library for a … talk show. On a new third-floor stage overlooking the river and city lights. With a comedian host and sidekick. Guests on the couch. Music and comedy.
“Lilac City Live!”
“It’s crazy,” said host Ryan Dean Tucker, describing the show’s vibe. “You feel like you’re at a real late-night talk show. It’s a huge space. It’s such a cool concept to do it at the library. It’s hilarious that people are drinking there. So many elements make it so incredible.”
Tonight is the second show, and guests include comedian Casey Strain, artist Shelby Anne Allison, and the band Newman. (I’m also a guest, but I bet it’s going to be great anyway.) The first show in December drew a crowd to see comedian Ryan McComb, author Sharma Shields and singer-songwriter Marshall McLean. For an event that might have sounded like a tough sell – It’s a what? At the where? – it was a ripping success, drawing more than 250 people.
“Which, for a library event, is kind of unfathomable,” said Jason Johnson, the community engagement manager for the downtown library. “I’ve had nothing but positive feedback, both from the guests and the audience.”
Johnson cooked up the idea of having a show in the library’s new Community Lens stage space on the third floor. He approached Tucker, a local actor/comedian/musician/artist who has staged re-enactments of “Die Hard” and “Seinfeld,” among other projects. It turned out Tucker was already hosting a similar talk show called “Beat City USA” at the Big Dipper.
Tucker saw that project, and “Lilac City Live!,” as a way of cross-pollinating different strains of creativity in Spokane – bringing artistic, interesting and unusual people to the attention of others who might not know about them.
“He has that record of bringing positive people together,” said McComb, the comedian who performed at the first “Lilac City Live!” “He can fill a room with people who are willing to sit back and listen to all sorts of points of view, all sorts of artists.”
And if you think a library talk show is weird, McComb said, “He’s pulled off a lot weirder things than a writer, an artist, a comedian and a musician putting on a show.”
Johnson’s mission is to help expand the identity of the downtown library into a cultural destination and arts center. Some people may think libraries begin and end with borrowing books and other materials. While that’s still central to the mission, libraries have been doing much more than that for many years – whether that means adapting to e-books or offering workshops or hosting performances – and Johnson is pushing the boundaries ever further.
The Community Lens stage on the third floor opened in October. (The library moved books but didn’t lose a single title in the change, Johnson emphasized.) That space has hosted the World Poetry Slam, the mayor’s budget presentation, virtual reality demonstrations, band performances and more.
“It’s been really exciting to see all these different things come together on that stage,” Johnson said.
“Lilac City Live!” operates in the tradition of the late-night talk show. It has a monologue from Tucker, comedy bits, video shorts, interviews with guests, a band and a comedian. Tucker is an aficionado of the form, from Ed Sullivan to Mike Douglas to Johnny Carson, and says his approach so far has not leaned too hard on emulating any one style.
“It’s a little from Column A, and a little from Column B,” he said. “It’s pretty slapstick. That’s our angle.”
Tucker said he and co-host Sean Glasow make a point of working library-related material into their comedy bits. At tonight’s show, for example, they have made a black-and-white video short lampooning a 1940s educational film about getting your library card, he said.
“We always try to throw a little library stuff in there,” he said, “because it’s really funny that this is at the library.”