Loyola University Chicago

Department of History

History Alumnus Featured in Mister Kelly's Documentary

History Alumnus Featured in Mister Kelly

In its heyday, Mister Kelly’s nightclub was a staple in the Chicago comedy scene, featuring performances by greats such as Lily Tomlin, Bette Midler, and Steve Martin. Adam Carston, a graduate of the History M.A. program, first encountered the Mister Kelly’s archives through a project in one of his classes at Loyola. Now he is working with the collection at the Newberry Library and was featured in the new documentary, Live at Mister Kelly’s. We asked him a few questions about his work in the archive.

How did your time at Loyola prepare you for your work today?

Being in the history department at Loyola helped me sharpen my research skills. Though I never continued my graduate research, which involved masculinity and identity within professional wrestling, having the opportunity to explore various research techniques and become acquainted with in-depth archival research was still invaluable for future projects. It was a great dry run for a real job. 

Why is telling the story of Mister Kelly’s important?

Mister Kelly's is an important story because public spaces can be crucial but sometimes forgotten chapters within our own history. A place like Mister Kelly's played a major role in the cultural landscape of Chicago and the nation. But its legacy dimmed over the decades because it was not documented in any concentrated way. So it was important we talk to as many people and collect as much information as possible before it all disappears. 

Do you have a favorite part of the collection?

We found some amazing, perhaps one-of-a-kind posters from the clubs in the basement of a former employee. These were the promo posters that actually hung in the clubs and they may be the only ones known to still exist. The posters featured some huge stars: Bette Midler, Steve Martin, Ramsey Lewis, and many more. It was a huge find and it's great to see they'll be preserved. 

Is there a performance at Mister Kelly’s that you wish you could’ve seen live?


I'm a huge George Carlin fan, so I have to go with him. We have a great tape of him doing two sets at Mister Kelly's in 1969 when he was transforming into the more socially aware comic he would become. How cool would it be to see the development of a genius before your eyes?



Live at Mister Kelly’s is available to stream on Amazon and AppleTV.


27 October 2021