Alexandria Hawkey has a problem – she can’t bring her mom to comedy shows anymore. “The one time I did she sat up front and whispered loudly to my dad during my set, ‘Honey, is this better than stripping?’”
This is one of the jokes Hawkey loves to end her stand-up sets with, because it always makes the room erupt into laughter.
“I cannot compare it to anything else – that feeling of, ‘Wow. I made a whole room of people giggle,’” Hawkey said.
She’s gotten pretty good at making people laugh, too. Having performed stand-up since her sophomore year of college, following her graduation from UIUC this May Hawkey has taken her talents to the Chicagoland area.
“While walking around campus from class to class I would be thinking of jokes. When I went to the gym I would be thinking of jokes. If I wasn’t in class or working on a homework assignment, I was either writing jokes or going to shows,” she said.
The school-comedy balance wasn’t easy though. While being a full-time student, Hawkey also worked six different internships, held a part-time job, and was the president of an RSO. At one point, she was doing five comedy shows a night.
“I definitely missed out on a lot of typical college experiences,” she said. Hawkey sees this as a positive, though, because it allowed her to hone her comedy skills and get used to performing stand-up, which she says Champaign’s small-knit community is perfect for.
“It’s a really wonderful place to learn how to perform and to really hone your act before you jump into a city. Everyone wants to see each other succeed,” she said.
Many former Champaign stand-up performers occasionally see each other performing around Chicago. It’s a unanimous opinion among “the U comedy grads,” as they call themselves, that Champaign is where they really learned how to do comedy, which helped them navigate Chicago’s comedy scene.
“It’s so competitive when you first get here,” Hawkey said about Chicago. “People won’t talk for you for six months. You have to earn their respect.”
Chicago does, however, offer “room to grow as a professional,” while also allowing Hawkey to use the connections she made while in Champaign. “Once you’re in the community, there are so many friends to be made here.”
After graduation, Hawkey began working full-time at a PR firm and she just recently moved to the city in October.
Comedy is still Hawkey’s true passion, though, and it has been since middle school. Hawkey didn’t see comedy as a viable option for her, though, because she never saw any women in any stand-up comedy specials.
“Even when I did see women doing comedy, they were mostly improv people or were doing sketch (comedy),” she said.
This opinion changed during Hawkey’s sophomore year of college, when she visited her sister in New York. They went to a comedy show and Hawkey was amazed to see a woman get up on the stage and knock out a ten-minute set.
“I thought, ‘I can do that. That’s easy,’” Hawkey said. The next week she signed up for an open-mic in Champaign and then slowly began getting shows around central Illinois while still being a full-time student.
Getting up on that stage for the first time was extremely nerve-wracking, Hawkey says, especially since she had always been really shy before doing comedy. “There was something in me and definitely a few shots of vodka that got me up on that stage the first time around” she admitted.
This is normal, though, she makes sure to add. A lot of people tend to get drunk their first time on stage to deal with the nerves. “Just don’t do it the next time,” she advised.
“At this point in my career I’m more comfortable on stage with a microphone than I am offstage trying to talk to my coworkers about the weather,” she said.
Hawkey also suggests that anybody wanting to pursue comedy should start off working clean and to “not try to be that edgy person” that often tends to make people cringe and feel overly uncomfortable.
“There are maybe like 20 or 30 people trying their hand at stand-up at any given time, so when you have 90% of those people saying ‘fuck’ every 30 seconds or talking about their genitals, when you have someone that’s just normal and pleasant and telling goofy jokes, then you get more opportunities,” Hawkey said.
Hawkey has had her share of cringey jokes, but she’s moved away from them with practice and by drawing inspiration from some of her favorite comedians, like John Mulaney, Beth Stelling and Whitney Cummings. She loves that they’re able to be funny without offending anyone or telling sex jokes all the time.
“They’re able to have hard-hitting, thoughtful jokes that are saying something while at the same time not making people uncomfortable,” she said.
Hawkey has come a long way from who she was when just starting out comedy, but she still has so many goals she’d like to achieve. One of these goals is being “passed” by a comedy club in Chicago, which is when a manager or booker of a comedy club asks someone to open for headliners on the weekend. “It’s essentially being hired at the club as a performer,” Hawkey said.
She has much larger long-term goals too, though. “I want to be famous,” she said. “Ideally I would be a late-night talk show host. I love the news. I love reading the news. I love making jokes about the news.”
For now, though, Hawkey is focusing on getting more consistent work in Chicago and continuing to make other people laugh and smile.
“I have a joke where I say, ‘I’m an avocado; I’m fat but in a good way,’” Hawkey said. One night a girl went up to Hawkey and shared that she was an avocado too. “It was so sweet and so special, and she gave me a big hug.”
It’s moments like those, when women come up to Hawkey after a show to thank her and give her a hug, that make Hawkey proud to do what she does.
“I don’t know why you’re thanking me exactly,” she says to them, “But I’m glad that I made your day a little better.”