Food may be the passage to the heart, but it is comedy and laughter that somehow finds a way to reach the soul. On the last Wednesday of every month, that direct line to the laughing soul can be found at Soma, where late night comedy reaches its peak. This month’s line-up brings the women of the Champaign-Urbana comedy world into the forefront. Let the laughter begin.
“We’ll have five different female performers,” said Jesse Tuttle, head of Champaign-Urbana Comedy and joke-teller at the upcoming Soma show. “We’ve had an upswing in females signing up for the past three months. There are probably a lot of women that want to do it, but they’re tentative because they haven’t seen enough women. They see a shortage in the area and it may discourage them, but we don’t want them to feel that way. There are women doing it, too.
Performers Katie Prosise, Maggi Mayfield and Sandy Ott are a testament to the former statement, and the world of comedy continues to influence their lives as it did from the first day it came knocking on their doorsteps.
“I grew up with humor because I come from a funny family,” Prosise said. “My mom, older brother, stepdad, sister, dad… We all laughed all the time. Fart jokes to political commentary: We did it all. I watched and listened to all kinds of comedy from all kinds of comedians.”
In a different location but in the same comedic world, Mayfield was introduced to—and used—comedy to get through the stages of simply growing up.
“I moved around a lot as a kid, and I found out pretty early that making people laugh was the key to making new friends,” Mayfield said. “I did a lot of theatre, and improv comedy was a pretty big deal at the school I went to in California.”
While Mayfield used comedy to make new friends through adolescence, Ott found her comedic knack when friends and family saw a talent unnoticed by the comedian herself.
“I had a group of friends I would tell stories to, and they would tell me that I was so funny and that I could do it on stage like a stand up comedian,” Ott said. “I tried it, and I was pretty good at it. I’ve been doing it ever since.”
Many years, jokes, laughs and accumulated hours on stage later, a life participating in stand-up and laughter continues to thrive as strong, if not stronger, than when it was first introduced.
“Good humor is the foundation of my life,” Prosise said. “I appreciate a good punchline, especially one that comes from life. Comedy is the rock of my marriage. It is my therapy. It’s my shield. It is my religion. Some of the most intimate relationships I have in this world are with my fellow improvisers in The Abe Froman Project. I often refer to them as my family.”
However, for a performer such as Mayfield, the memory of first performances and the emotional experience attached still ring as clear as day, offering encouragement to continue forward in a loved activity.
“My first show was terrifying,” Mayfield said. “I practiced in front of my couch holding a remote controller, and I was preparing for all those people to be there. But the night I performed, it was freezing cold; it was a spell in November and no one showed up. No one showed up. There were just performers there and, I was thinking that they were going to be the worst critics ever. But I got up there and I did it, and they were like, ‘No, you were super great. Do it again!’”
With first show jitters long gone, the women of Soma have performed alone and worked together to destroy the common stereotype of women not being funny, one performance and laugh at a time.
“I think if a woman is hooked on stand up, she’ll find a way to get up on stage and be heard,” Ott said. “We have a unique voice and a unique perspective of where we come from. Women have a unique perspective on life. That’s why each individual comedian is great because no one sees anything quite like you do. They think it’s kind of a hard thing for women to get into because you have to be pushy and you have to be willing to go to some seedy bars and hang out… Maybe it comes to putting yourself out there. Maybe guys can blow it off easier, or they don’t take things to heart like women. If they tell a joke and people don’t laugh, they blow it off. I think women are more sensitive to the scrutiny.”
Each comedian has developed a unique way to tell their stories with jokes during the Soma event. Ott will be using stories from “her son and friends,” Mayfield will cover “Valentines Day and gift giving” and Prosise is preparing to “do some jokes about coffee and sex and poop—standard stuff.” But collectively, this specific group of performers showcase their love and passion for an activity that brings smiles to listeners’ faces.
Kristen Toomey, a local stand-up comedian, will also represent women of comedy community at Big Grove Tavern a day after the Soma show.
“There’s this saying that goes, ‘If you love what you do, you never work a day in your life,’” Toomey said. “It never feels like work when you’re up there. It never feels like work, it’s just a joy to be able to do this.”
The comedy show is on Feb. 25 at Soma in downtown Champaign.