The Annoyance Theatre’s Mick Napier nurses a juice drink while idly playing with a pack of cards in Lincoln Square’s Huettenbar (4721 N. Lincoln Ave.) on one of the final sunny days of the fall. He’s about to show me a trick.
He plants the four aces on top of the deck, with half the deck facing up and half the deck facing down. After a few shuffles and a quick sleight of hand, the aces are face up in the middle of the deck with all other cards face down. “Friend named Luis Carreon taught me that,” he says. “I like to f–k around with cards. I think they’re the same size as a pack of cigarettes.”
The cards are a new habit for Napier, a comedic fixture in the Windy City. A longtime smoker (he says it was up to five packs a day at its worst), Napier recently gave up smoking and drinking after a bad experience with a drug called Chantix, which has been known to sometimes cause serious mood changes. “It created suicidal ideation, olfactory hallucinations. It almost killed me,” he says. It also affected his drinking, so he laid off the booze for a while. He’s been sober—and cigarette-free—for more than a year, though if it has been worth it is questionable.
“There have been no tangible benefits to stopping drinking,” he says. “I do think clearer. I wake up earlier and I get a lot more done. And I don’t have a desire to have any of those things happen at all. I don’t want to get work done, I don’t want to think clearer, and I don’t really like getting up early.”
Napier’s been a force in the Chicago comedy scene for years. In 1987, he and some friends threw together a show based on slasher films, and the Annoyance Theatre was unofficially born (they officially rented a space and took up the name in 1989). Napier, who is bisexual, especially enjoys queer-centric shows, like the popular Steamwerks: The Musical.
Now he spends his time crafting shows for The Second City (he was the director behind Improv All-Stars) and the Annoyance—as well as acting in one close to his heart. “I do Skinprov on Saturday nights,” the 50-year-old says. “It’s fun as hell. The improv is rough and weird because you have no clothes on. But it’s fun. It’s the last thing I should be doing at my age but I enjoy doing it.”
He pretty much does what he wants in every aspect of his life. He’s ambling through writing his next book, and while on a trip to Puerto Rico last year, he spontaneously proposed to his girlfriend of 17 years. “I really didn’t think of getting married or anything, but it just overcame me, it was so beautiful. I very awkwardly asked her, and she didn’t believe me,” he says.
And even without drinks, he still enjoys going to bars, especially Huettenbar, the German tavern with a huge portrait window at the entrance. “It’s a bar that if you come here and don’t know anyone, if you sit by the window, you will be in a conversation for hours,” he says. “It’s a fun, lovely place. The bartenders are cool, and they have every good beer you can imagine.”
Photograph: Emmet Sullivan