Mulberry native Charles Belt hosts the Silly Goose Showcase and Open Mic night at the Goose Island Brewpub in Wrigleyville, a neighborhood of Chicago.
It is that old story about a small-town man looking for success in the big city.
And Mulberry native Charles Belt may have found it. If he has not made it “big” yet, he is on his way.
Belt moved to Chicago March 1, 2013, to pursue a career in the entertainment industry, taking with him only his few possessions, he said.
He had no job, no home, and not even one friend who could give him a place to stay waiting for his arrival.
“I understand that can be a scary thing, but to me the scary thing would be to not do it, to want to move to Chicago and not do it and regret it,” Belt said.
With emotional support from his mother and local friends, Belt took the risk and followed his dream.
Belt knew about a year and a half before leaving that he wanted to go to Chicago - it was the right size and more affordable than New York, he said.
“I wanted to live in a proper city,” Belt said.
Chicago also has The Second City Training Center, the largest school of improvisation and sketch comedy in the world, according to the company’s website.
Included in the extensive list of alumni from The Second City, which opened in 1959, are Alan Arkin, John Belushi, Gilda Radner, Mike Myers, Stephen Colbert and Tina Fey.
Belt hopes to break into the entertainment industry, and attending the training center seemed a great way to start.
A part as the Scarecrow in the Mulberry Community Theater’s production of “The Wizard of Oz” as a sophomore in high school is what got Belt interested in entertainment, he said.
“That really hooked me,” Belt said. “I was in community theater pretty much every year until I moved to Chicago.”
Right before graduating high school, Belt opened a pool hall - The Gut, his mother said it was called - that lasted about six months. He later worked at a chicken plant.
Belt eventually moved to Fayetteville, where he said he “floated around” and struggled with alcohol abuse.
“I became an alcoholic and I kept trying to quit, but I couldn’t do it in Fayetteville, so that’s when I moved back to Mulberry,” Belt said.
Finally able to overcome his addiction, Belt ran for city council and was elected to two terms. Politics was the course he expected his life to take, he said.
While Belt felt he was effective as a councilman, he also found the position to be restrictive.
“You’re either going to be ineffective or polarizing,” Belt said. “I just didn’t want to spend the rest of my life like that.”
By his second term, Belt realized that he gleaned more satisfaction from community theater than politics, he said. He finished out the term, gathered his possessions and left, he said.
On his own in Chicago, Belt stayed in a hostel for his first month in the city until he was able to find a roommate with an apartment and a job as a dog walker, he said.
Belt admits the first month was tough, and he was plagued with doubt about his choice. Then things began to happen faster than he expected.
In 2013, while attending the eight-week course at The Second City, Belt nabbed parts as an extra in both “Chicago Fire” and “Chicago P.D.”
At the school, Belt met people who he calls “some of my closest friends now,” and they came together to collaborate on various projects.
“I’m pretty lucky that I’m getting to work with people that I picked, that I think are the most talented and that they’re willing to work with me,” Belt said. “Most of the people in my life now are goal-oriented; we hold each other accountable.”
Then, on one of his dog-walking stints, Belt was hired to work for Goose Island Brewpub in Wrigleyville.
Belt now co-hosts the Silly Goose open mic night at the brewpub, which he said is an “important part of controlling your own career in stand up,” and has opened the door to “good things.”
One of those good things is a variety show he will be hosting at Goose Island, something he did not expect to happen for another year. The first three shows are set for this summer - the first is May 14 - with six more to follow next summer.
Belt also records the Third Rail Podcast with some of his friends, which he said is a great experience.
“It’s teaching us to have an idea and seeing it all the way to the end, how to work with each other, and we’re getting better at each episode,” Belt said.