At least for the moment, it appears the Jerry Lewises of the world have tired of attempting to argue that women aren't funny. But local comedian Kelsie Huff says it can still be a challenge for women to break into the stand-up realm. "Women feel like they have to be perfect," she says—and in stand-up, you're going to blow it once in a while.
Getting members of the fairer sex past their fear of failure is among the goals of Feminine Comique, a five-week comedy course specifically for women. The two-hour-long classes are held at a facility in Lakeview's Sheil Park, and registration is about $190. Founded five years ago by side-mullet success story Cameron Esposito, Fem Com was taken over by Huff when Esposito moved on to greener stand-up pastures (well, greener everything) in Los Angeles a couple of years ago. "She didn't want it to end, and I agreed," Huff says. Now more than 300 women have been through the course.
Huff was a student during the class's inaugural year; she was attempting to transition from live lit and storytelling to stand-up, and quickly discovered the mediums are incredibly different: "It didn't go well . . . the death of stand-up is when you start monologuing."
All sorts of women take the class, for all sorts of reasons: sketch performers looking to branch out, corporate types trying to be more assertive in the workplace, moms who want to get away from their kids for a couple of hours. "Some women get addicted. We've created some junkies," Huff says. The class begins with the usual AA-style introductions and moves on to writing exercises and lessons in joke structure. The class's biggest challenge is performing in front of an audience; it's a first for many of the women. Once the initial nerves have been addressed, Huff says, the students can start to find their voice, an onstage persona—their "thing." The class culminates in a graduation show during which everyone performs. "It's pretty rad," Huff says. "Everyone is scared shitless, but I've never seen anyone have a bad set."
The class is open only to people who identify as women, but Huff says the stipulation isn't "antimale." Rather, it's about increasing the number of women in the traditionally patriarchal Chicago stand-up scene. "There's a horde of women who come to these open mikes," she says, so even if a woman is solo on stage, there's a "force" there for support. Eventually, women could rule the stand-up scene, Huff says. "Hopefully we'll take over math and science next."
Fem Com's level-one class beginning on March 3 is sold out, but registration is open for the session that begins April 21.