Not long ago, Caitlin Bergh was a self-described "repressed Catholic virgin." But since diving into the local comedy scene in early 2011, she's emerged as one of the rawest, raunchiest stand-ups in the city—which, given that "working blue" is a foregone conclusion for many comics, is saying a lot. She also happens to be one of the funniest. This month Bergh presents her one-woman show Chunks, and if you suspect the name implies a sexual awakening miles beyond what Anais Nin scribbled in her diaries, you're right.
How is Chunks an embodiment of the material you've been performing at comedy clubs, bars, and open mikes?
I've been telling most of the stories from Chunks elsewhere in the city, but these are not stories you could tell at a club that prefers one-liners, or a club that prefers clean material. In general, I have performed all of the stories in Chunks in different settings, with different time limits, and with different "frames."
How is this a divergence from the material you perform elsewhere?
My show runs about 60 minutes, [so] I get to put multiple stories together. This gives me a chance to develop themes across the stories. It also gives me a chance to provide a more thorough context. It's not that I got an STI from a cat. It's that I was desperately in love with a quasi-homeless woman who had a dirty cat that she put in her bathtub, where she liked to have sex. Why did I love her? There's a good eight minutes on that.
How long did it take you to work up the confidence and fearlessness to use your coming-out experiences as subject matter for your routines?
I was a really shy and depressed person for most of my life, so I guess you could say a long time. When I met a Chicago comic two years ago and saw her perform, it occurred to me that I could master my past horrors by making them funny onstage. I was also filled with the exciting idea that maybe I could help shy, depressed people by showing them that the most difficult experiences in life can be easier if we talk about them.
In a short amount of time, you've gone from being a self-described "repressed Catholic" to someone who goes onstage and openly discusses, in graphic detail, your sexual experiences. What are your thoughts on this 180-degree transformation?
This transformation probably looks to an outsider like some sort of fun carnival ride. In reality, going from "repressed Catholic" to "fearless stand-up comic" is superhard. It is never easy to go against the values that you are raised with, even if you have known your whole life that those values don't suit you. People have to make these kinds of transformations all the time in order to find happiness, and I think we should celebrate and support them for it.
In what ways has Chicago's burgeoning stand-up scene inspired and influenced your material and your performances?
I think the fact that we have burgeoning stand-up and storytelling scenes has helped me a lot, since I tend to walk somewhere in between them. I am also continually shocked by how fucking nice everyone is. I get giddy sometimes about the friendship and kindness I have experienced, especially in the comedy and storytelling scenes. Then someone cuts me off when I'm getting on the Clark bus and I come back down to earth.
Who are some of your favorite local comics, and why?
I love Cameron Esposito and Beth Stelling, who both moved to LA recently. They had a really big impact on me as a tiny, baby comic. They made me think that this was really a possibility, and that I wasn't insane to be pursuing it (even if I was). I'm also very inspired by people who haven't left yet, mainly Adam Burke, Ever Mainard, Candy Lawrence, and Lisa Laureta.
Besides entertainment, what do you hope audiences who see Chunks take from the experience?
One thing I'm trying to do with the show is to make people question their stereotypes and assumptions. At one point, I assume a girl is gay because she has a Mohawk. Why do I do that? In another story, I feel like I can't come out because I've always "known" that lesbians are ugly. The show points to some scary ideas we have of each other and the world that are more ingrained in us than we may realize. It also tries to prove that we are all disgusting and weird, and that that is really, truly OK. The goal is to get people to hug it out. And to stop cutting each other off when you're getting on the Clark bus.