On Stage: women who pack a punch line | Calendar | Chicago Reader

On Stage: women who pack a punch line 

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Notwithstanding the success of Brett Butler and Roseanne, stand-up comedy is dominated by men. Until recently I'd never reflected on this, maybe because I'd always sought comic relief from other males. I remember several class clowns in elementary and high school, but none of them were girls; in fact, I was the class clown in seventh grade until my father found out. Back then Richard Pryor's combination of male aggression and male bonding appealed to a black kid just learning the ropes.

It still does. Over the past three months I've watched male comics at All Jokes Aside, Philosofur's, and Zanies on Wells, and I've enjoyed their takes on topics like love relationships and Latrell Sprewell's iron grip. At Zanies, Shay Shay earned some laughs at President Clinton's expense. "I got my finger on the bomb and I can't get any pussy? That's bullshit." Observing limits getting tested is part of the fun of watching stand-up. What about the women in the audience? I figured they knew what to expect when they bought their tickets.

Of course, bigger numbers don't prove men are better at stand-up. But they are different. Men tend to be blunter--especially with put-downs--and make more use of sexual humor. Women are more likely to use self-disparagement and personal anecdote. They also make their points with subtler language and less profanity. In short, female comics are usually more resourceful, making people laugh with different approaches.

Funny Chix, a group of about a dozen women comics, do stand-up every Sunday at Cafe Ashie in Andersonville. On a recent outing, Chris Covell performed like a knuckleballer instead of a power pitcher. Pulling out a harmonica, she said, "This is a train coming," and played a tune at a moderate tempo. She then said, "This is a train coming faster," and picked up the pace of her playing. When she stopped blowing, she said, "This is a train coming to an el stop," and then silently scanned the horizon with a worried look on her face. That brought down the house. She also satirized The Bionic Woman, pretending to run in slow motion and imitating the main sound effect from the show. "I could never figure out why I was late for school." She also scored points with: "Small means you don't have to wear a bra. I want to. Small means you can have a conversation with a man. He makes eye contact."

On its surface, Susanna Lee's aggressive style closely resembled that of her male counterparts. She made fun of the Spice Girls. "'If you want to be my lover, you've got to be my friend.' Bullshit. If you want to be my lover, buy me a drink." But she also made fun of herself, joking about sexual harassment: "It hurt because I was self-employed." And like Covell, she also poked fun at the guys. "He said the words I wanted to hear. 'Oh shit! The condom broke!'" Two months earlier, she got more laughs with a different punch line: "'Oh shit! You gotta go. My mother's gonna be home soon.'"

Tracey Rose is the master of ceremonies. A lesbian, she talked about her outfit--a white cap, blue jeans, white sweatshirt, and gray T-shirt. "I came out in 1986, and this is the outfit they gave me. We lesbians are all about fashion." She discussed her childhood crush on Jan Brady. Picking on her guitar, she warbled, "Oh Jan, do you think you can?"

Unlike Rose, Jessica Halem told gay jokes that tended to be insiderish (hummus is the main appetizer at lesbian events). She made her strongest point while talking about growing up Jewish in a small, conservative town. Halem complained that her neighbors were so stupid one of her schoolmates scrawled "kite" on her locker door.

I suspect women enjoy this show for the same reasons I liked Richard Pryor years ago. Funny Chix provide an irreverent spin on women's issues and an escape from all the male-dominated stand-up shows. As for the guys watching? Well, they knew what to expect when they bought their tickets.

Funny Chix perform at 8:30 Sundays at Cafe Ashie, 5419 N. Clark. Admission is free, but there's a two-drink minimum. For more information, call 773-561-7363.

--Michael Marsh

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Beth Robertson, Susanna Lee, Jessica Halem, Chris Covell, Tracey Rose photo by Jim Alexander Newberry.

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