Put your hands together for funny women — more than 400 of them. This weekend was the 3rd annual Chicago Women's Funny Festival, an event that draws hundreds of comedy fans to Stage 773 in Lakeview to see estrogen-fueled stand-up, sketch and improv. For any men out there clinging to the preposterous idea that women aren't their equals in comedy, this festival officially bludgeons that notion to death.
The first comic I see at a Thursday showcase is Taylor Wolfe, a funny, potty-mouthed comedian who possesses a style and delivery that leans heavily on Amy Schumer, but is nevertheless enjoyable. Wolfe is recently back from Nebraska where she hit up a reunion at her middle school and at one point ended up in the gym locker room, where she had her first sexual encounter. "It was awkward because as I was walking out I ran into the P.E. teacher who did it to me," says Wolfe. "Apparently she still works at the school."
I have no idea what to make of comedian Kristen Lundberg, a goofy weirdo with nervous and awkward energy and an unusual point of view. "I've got a topical joke for you guys," she says. "That's a joke you rub on your skin." That's a good one.
The fantastic Beth Stelling has her own headlining hour all weekend. I see her Saturday night where she is joined by her "Entertaining Julia" cohorts the Puterbaugh Sisters. Stelling co-produced that show with the Puterbaughs before relocating to Los Angeles a couple years ago where she's since appeared on "Conan" and "Chelsea Lately." Not that fame has gone to hear head. "The star's mic is not on," she says as she works out a few technical difficulties. Once that's done, the trio bursts into a vocal harmony to the chorus of "Seasons of Love" from Rent, their tongues planted firmly in cheeks. It's so fun to see these women together again.
"It's so great to be here instead of getting married and having kids," says Stelling who drops every punchline with a delivery that is both wry and deadpan. "I'm in a long-distance relationship," she says. "I'm in Los Angeles, California and he's in Ohio. We did have a scare recently, I thought he was going to move to L.A." A whole 10 minutes of her set are devoted to her mother and I swear I could forever listen to these carefully-crafted comic yarns about pranking her mom or helping her navigate her cell phone usage. Stelling hops merrily from anecdote to anecdote and strings each together with lines like, "My mother is uncomfortable with anything sexual, I think it's because she's a virgin."
I see one more show Saturday night and it includes another batch of great women. "Are any of my family members here?" asks comedian Sommer Austin. "Good, let's talk about them."
Austin was raised by a father whose nickname is Party. "My mother is sweet," she says. "She dealt with an alcoholic and a difficult child and both are my father." She also says this funny one liner which all of us should steal from her. "I do love my parents," she says, "but I'm not sure how much of that is true love and how much of that is Stockholm Syndrome."
"How do you tell a good joke from one with no payoff?" asks Canadian comic Sandi Rankaduwa. "So anyway, a little more about me …" That's a good one. "I was born in Sri Lanka but grew up in Prince Edward Island Canada which is known for Anne of Green Gables and having red soil," she says. "The dirt wasn't even brown, so naturally I stood out."
Our headliner is the tremendous Shannon DeVido, a comedian who I've seen perform with Philly-based improv troupe King Friday. "I want to give you my friendship," says DeVido who comes out onstage in her wheelchair. "That way whenever I make a joke about disability, you can feel free to laugh because it's OK, you have a disabled friend."
But a great weekend comes to a devastating halt at the Sunday announcement that we've lost a true original. The inimitable Dan Ronan, a local stand-up who moved to Los Angeles briefly last year, but returned to Chicago six months later, died on Friday. He was 24. Dan was a Lincoln Lodge cast member and writer for the "Late Live Show." He was bright, warm and funny. When I last saw him perform a few months ago, he spoke openly about his demons; it was a brave and fearless set.
"For my entire tenure as a comedian in Chicago I had the fortune of always having Dan Ronan with me, as a collaborator, colleague, and confidant," says friend and "Late Live Show" colleague Joe Kwaczala. "Sitting around at open mics would have been pretty unbearable if I didn't have Dan. His delightfully weird brain meshed with his innate charm and likability to make a powerhouse comic unlike anyone else. I love him and I will think of him every day."
In a "Standup Scene" column in March, I wrote about how skillfully Dan turned his personal sadness into comedy. If you're sad right now, dig up some of his old clips on YouTube. Trust me, they will cheer you up. Thanks for the laughs, Dan, we miss you already.