A room of one's own
A trio of female comics busts guts with a new night of hilarious stand-up.
If there’s one thing that stands out at an open-mike night (aside from a preponderance of mediocre material), it’s women. In a sea of dudes seeking their four minutes of fame, female comics stick out like Republicans at an Obama rally for health-care reform.
It isn’t so surprising, then, that stand-ups Renée Schultz, Liza Treyger and Lauren Vino bonded instantly at Schubas’s Your Sunday Best and other open-mike nights. “We’re such a minority that it’s just really nice to have girls to chat with,” Treyger says. “We became pretty close pretty fast.”
What is surprising is that shortly after meeting in March, the three launched a successful room at Chicago Joe’s, a bar and grill in North Center—and they did it almost overnight. On June 25, Riot Comedy, a weekly showcase, debuted to a packed house thanks in part to a dream-team lineup of local joke makers that included Adam Burke, Ken Barnard, Joe Fernandez, James Fritz, Joe Kilgallon, Beth Stelling, Junior Stopka and Prescott Tolk.
On our first visit in July, the joint was filled to its 50-person capacity, so we squeezed ourselves into the back row, ordered a four-buck burger and fries, and settled in for a rowdy night of stand-up featuring host Bob Palos and comics Jamie Campbell, Drew Michael, Andrew Smreker, Stopka and Schultz in her first full-length set. The women seemed as surprised by the show’s success as we were. “It was weird because we really hit the ground running,” Schultz says. “None of us were expecting it to happen.”
Earlier this summer, Treyger, 21, picked up a serving gig at Chicago Joe’s to make extra cash; she was instantly smitten with the space. “She proposed the idea,” Schultz says. “I think she’d been working there less than a month when she suggested it to her boss. We literally had two weeks to start it off.”
Freelance graphic designer Schultz, 31, crafted the logo and flyers while Vino, 23, entrenched in the comedy scene for the past four years, put out the call for talent. The trio relentlessly papered the city and its street fests with fliers. They also solicited advice from Danny Kallas, co-creator of the now-defunct Comedians You Should Know at Fizz Bar and Grill, who offered tips on booking talent, charging a cover and cheap drink specials. (At Riot, the cover is $8; PBR and Miller Lite go for just $2.)
One payoff to hawking your own show to the throngs at Ribfest is that you’re able to host and perform in it. Schultz, Treyger and Vino have used Riot Comedy to test out their own material; while Schultz made her showcase debut here, Treyger has twice hosted. “I was approached to do shows at other places,” Schultz says, “but having my own [room] made it feel like I could do my first show at home. This is an environment that we’re creating. I’m going to fill it up with all my friends and family, and we’re going to bring people in that are supportive.” Vino agrees but adds that Riot Comedy will never become a place for shameless self-promotion. “Yes, you get somewhere to perform,” she says, “but if the show exists just as a vehicle for you to do your stand-up, that doesn’t last because there’s conflicting self-interest.”
Instead, these women scour the city’s open-mike nights for new talent while also keeping an eye on local legends past and present. “Being a comic is very isolating. It just feels good to take care of comics,” Schultz says. “We can’t pay people, but they get free drinks and a meal. It’s a fun show to do.” It’s also a fun show to watch—even from the back row.
Joe Kilgallon and Carrie Callahan headline Riot Comedy Thursday 13.