Five ways to fix local comedy

In 2011, let’s resolve to tweak our local scene.

GIRLS GONE RILED Katie Rich and Kate Duffy of the Mary Kay Letourneau Players provoke as many laughs as their male counterparts.

My New Year’s resolution is to see more comedy—a lot more. But there are a few things about our local scene that I and the rest of Chicagoland could do without. Before we dive into another year of chuckles, I’d like to recommend a few minor tweaks:

Show up or ship out
One of the greatest pleasures in Chicago’s sketch and improv scene is geeking out on local favorites. Our own list of heroes is about as thick as an old Sears catalog. But how many times have we dragged our asses out on a bitter cold night to see a show that promises specific talent only to find that one (or all!) of the players are absent? We know shit happens that’s beyond control, but when performers are consistently missing, let’s scrap the show and offer something else.

Stop singling out the ladies
We hear it constantly. Every time a group of women are waiting in the wings to improvise, the person onstage invariably identifies them by gender. At best, the announcer is noting a rare find (women in comedy!), at worst it feels like they’re firing a warning shot (Caution! You may not laugh as hard). But in Chicago, women are neither uncommon nor unfunny. Female troupes like Boner Petite, Dominizuelan, Eleanor, Katydids, Maria, Mountain Dawn, Sirens, Virgin Daiquiri and Williams & Martinez abound. And guess what? Many of them are as brainy, brawny and bold as the boys.

Long form x3? No thanks.
Performed in the hands of pros like TJ & Dave, long-form improv can be spine-tingling, not to mention revelatory. But it requires patience and careful listening. Too often, three long-form troupes will be booked back-to-back-to-back and it’s just too much (especially if one or more groups has an off night). Instead, give us one or two groups and mix the rest of the night up with some stand-up or short form. On behalf of my friends who’ve sworn off improv, I’m begging you.

No more bad blackouts
I don’t envy sketch writers. Crafting the perfect scene that unfolds in just a few short minutes can’t be easy and I tip my hat to them daily. But I also squirm in my seat when a razor-sharp scene about race or politics ends on the cheapest laugh possible. I’m not pointing the finger only at newer troupes. Second City (and SNL for that matter) is just as guilty. Last weekend’s Sketchfest offerings were a reminder that a scene need not end on a laugh to be effective.

Minorities are real people
Newbie improvisers fall prey to this one a lot: They’ll be midscene when suddenly it’s revealed their character is black, of the opposite gender or gay. Suddenly, they’re swishing it up or talking jive. Egads! If your character is revealed to be lesbian, Latino or whatever, you don’t have to suddenly swing at a piñata to get the point across. It’s 2011 and your audience is more intelligent than that. We’re not saying you can’t indulge in stereotypes every now and then, but don’t ever break character to do it.

The show doesn’t have to go on…and on…and on
When a stand-up comic is killing, I could watch him or her forever. The trouble in Chicago is that often a night of stand-up includes anywhere from six to eight comics performing in shows that typically start late and may last for up to two hours. Enough already! The worst thing in comedy is to throw down big bucks on a headliner only to find yourself tired, grumpy and wasted by the time they reach the stage. I don’t care how many comics you want to put up there, keep the shows short and sweet.

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