If the names Brandi Denise and Kellye Howard sound familiar, it's because they're two of the hardest-working stand-ups in town, regularly featured in lineups around Chicago. But now the comics have paired up to show their fans more of their talents, and in the process introduce new audiences to local performers who don't often leave the north side.
The showcase 2 Queens 1 Mic at the Revival in Hyde Park features Denise and Howard hosting both as themselves and as other characters, performing sketches, songs, and improv sets. Each month revolves around a theme—the first show in January was "newness" and February's is "love"—with guests like Dwayne Perkins, Plus Pierre, and Kristen Toomey. Denise and Howard are both graduates of Second City, but haven't yet found an opportunity to step out of the stand-up bubble, so they created one for themselves.
"Female comics, we've got it hard anyway," Howard says. "When we try to go out and do something different, it's not the same as when a male comic goes out and tries to do something different. Sometimes you get onstage with all white males, we go do these shows, and we can't trust that where they're going is somewhere we want to go. [Denise] and I, we have that trust factor built with each other—we both understand that world that we're in."
Denise and Howard say it's important to introduce comics to new types of crowds—hence the south-side location—but 2 Queens 1 Mic should also offer visitors new styles of comedy. The neighborhood's only mainstay for years, the now defunct Jokes & Notes, focused exclusively on stand-up, so the Revival is expanding the range of what performers can do.
Because they run their own show Denise and Howard have the power to play whomever they want, regardless of gender or race. During January's performance, they were Nancy Grace and Melania Trump; this month, they'll be a pair of bros talking about sex and relationships—those aren't roles they'd have in many other instances, but they're ones they know they can perform. In fact, they say they're willing to take on anything.
"We're like, 'Do we need jugglers?'" Denise says. "No, we're jugglers! We'll juggle! I don't feel like there's any limitations on what we can do."