Love women? Love comedy? Then what better place to see both than at the first annual Chicago Women’s Funny Festival, which took place from June 6-10, 2012 at Stage 773 in Chicago, IL.
The female version of the long-running Chicago Sketch Comedy Festival, CWFF was started by Jill Valentine, Stacey Smith and an awesome crew of mostly other females. Broadened to encompass a wide range of comedy styles, including sketch comedy, stand-up, musicals, one-woman shows and improv, the festival packed in 400 female performers from all over the U.S. for 6 days of solid, bitch-talking, knee slapping, crazy female hilarity at its best.
The following account is my own experience as an out-of-town solo female performer, for which I performed as my alter-ego old man character Buoj iz Jeb, who has a knack for taking his clothes off in: Buoj iz Jeb Summer Swimsuit Edition 2012. Ahem, more about that in a bit.
I arrive at the theater after a walk from the red line Belmont stop on a sizzling hot Chicago Saturday morning with a suitcase full of bathing suit props and a homemade man-suit.
Stage 773 is an impressive local theater joint, just down the street from the center of Belmont with its hip vintage clothing stores, funky bagel shops and fancy supplement joints.
Stage 773 breathes the sketch comedy scene that Chicago is famous for. Upon entering the theater, the first thing you come upon is a bar: something that all theaters should strive for if they haven’t already.
Audience + Alcohol = good, fun theater.
Brimming with three unique performance spaces, Stage 773 seems to have it all.
I leave my suitcase and man-suit in the green room of the Cabaret space, an intimate, small-stage performance space with glossy red theater couches and chairs at mini-tables. I am in love. What better place to peel off one swimsuit after another than for a beer-and-cocktail toting audience, to the beat of woozy Hawaiian music and sexy techno? Chicago, I have arrived. Or, better yet, Buoj iz Jeb has arrived.
Pre-audience. The place was packed later in the day!!
Panel: “Being Funny is Serious Business: A 360* Perspective of Women Doing It”
Sitting out in the lobby waiting for the Saturday, 2pm panel to start, I observe the crowd. A small group of mostly beautiful women, I’m impressed by the laid-back, friendly vibe. Jill Valentine greets me like an old friend: I admire her adorable bleach-blonde hair and pink-and-black striped tights. The ladies filter in wearing summer dresses and their free performer passes, along with a few men in jeans and t-shirts. The theater is a cool, welcoming environment off the sweltering Chicago concrete street.
The general style/air of most of the women present is creative, expressive and confident. One group of four practices a cheesy Chicago song while taking candid shots of themselves, while others participate in animated conversations. This much is clear: To be a funny woman requires confidence. And the willingness to fail.
In the Cabaret space the panel discussion begins. A group of successful and inspiring women sit at a table on the stage. They include (from left to right): Panel host Brian Posen (Executive Producer – The Chicago Sketch Comedy Festival), Susan Messing (co-founder of Annoyance Theater and Improv Master), Ana Belaval (WGN News), Beth Kligerman (Director of Talent - The Second City), Marisa Paonessa (President/Agent), and Charna Halpern (co-founder of iO) . The panel discussion put the entire CWFF into context, and offered a unique perspective Chicago comedy scene.
Here are some of my favorite quotes from the panel:
Question: What is comedy?
Answers: “Everything you relate to that makes you laugh.”
“You know it when you see it.
“It doesn’t have to be cruel, but risk-taking.”
“Throw it in the middle of a room and paint it red. If you fail, you fail.”
“Dealing with pain: humor & sarcasm (i.e., it’s personal).”
Question: Why now an emphasis on whether or not women are funny?
Answers: “It fluctuates.”
“We here in Chicago don’t talk about it that much.”
“People are funny.”
“People just need something to fucking focus on again.”
“There are women in comedy, stop saying there aren’t.”
“They want funny women, Chicago’s where it’s at.”
“Women are dominating now (i.e. women are smarter).”
“In general, there is a bigger variety of people/colors onstage. Which is good.”
“We can play just as dirty as they can.”
Question: Is there a different between women & men funny?
“Men laugh at men things (i.e. peeing in the bathroom).
Question: How do you judge funny?
Answers: “It’s instinct, taking risks. You just know. Some are just natural.”
“A good team player, a wild one.
“Is it good writing, is it timely..”
“There’s so much talent.”
“How are they improvising, writing, acting, are you funny? (i.e. was there laughter in the room?)”
Question: How do you stay successful?
Answers: “What is success?”
“Go with the flow. Embrace different opportunities and enjoy it.”
“We get to make up shit. That’s successful.”
“There’s never a 3-year plan, just keep loving what you’re doing.”
“It keeps feeding itself.”
“In Chicago, it’s one big community.”
Question: Words of the wise?
Answers: “It’s Chicago, they don’t come here for stick-figure models.”
“They want you to succeed (i.e. are desperate for someone to go onstage and have a good time).”
“Try it all, go with your gut.”
“Put it out there in any shape or form (youtube, etc.- not tv or stage only).
“The more you relax yourself in the moment (as opposed to tensed up and ‘ready’), the better.”
“Failure: something better could happen (one door closes, something else opens).”
“Don’t look to your right or left (i.e. put your blinders on); don’t compare yourself to others.”
I got so wrapped up in my own performance after that, that I didn’t write anything about it, and in fact would prefer instead just to show you the pictures and video clip below and let you judge for yourselves. The performance took place at 6pm in the Cabaret Space on Sunday, June 10. There was an audience of approximately 20 people, and the bill was shared with Chicago performance artist, Becky Poole. My performance lasted approximately 28 minutes. I will say that it was a LOT of fun:
Buoj iz Jeb Summer Swimsuit Edition 2012:
Video Excerpt (5 minutes of a 28-minute performance):
A Few Final Thoughts:
I’m so glad I participated in this event. It was fun, laid-back, and full of great women and amazing performers. Furthermore, in addition to performing and watching other performances, I also had a great time people-watching at the Chicago beach