So Chicago is pretty good, right? The weather is shit, but it’s just as miserable and gray in Minneapolis or Milwaukee or Cleveland or Buffalo. Unlike those cities, in Chicago there’s always something different to eat, or somewhere new to drink! In Minneapolis if you’re frightened by the hideous world outside, you hunker down at home and wait for it to be over. In Chicago when confronted by a sense of doom, we go to a bar!
The drinking culture, the bleak weather, and the working class past and lingering affordable rents feed our comedy scene. There are shows every night of the week in all kinds of venues from dive bars and stores after hours, to theaters and established clubs. The number of free shows Chicago offers makes comedy one of the more accessible art forms, though it does cater to a young and childless drinking crowd.
Tina Fey said she found Chicago improv to be a warm inviting environment and lifestyle for someone in their 20s but not for anyone older than 32: “After that, you probably have an alcohol problem.” [In discussion with Chris Hardwick on the Nerdist Podcast.] I’m still in my 20s and I consider myself a comedy enthusiast, but sometimes the stink of depression and stale Schlitz is too much even for me.
The Kates seem to be an exception to this comedy=escapism/gloom paradox. They’re a female comedy showcase whose biweekly, free shows at the Book Cellar in Lincoln Square involve a lot of clapping, whooping and camaraderie. Their shows include a rotating cast of female Chicago comics with regulars like founder Kelsie Huff, Amy Sumpter, Kristin Ryan, Soli Santos, Elizabeth Gomez, Heidi Butler and others. The Kates put on a diverse show including women of color and women in their 20s and their 70s (and nearly every age in between). There are amateurs and professionals, dirty joke tellers and comics I’d feel comfortable seeing with my mom. Attending a Kates show doesn’t feel the same as a regular stand-up show. There’s an overall sense of positivity and warmth partially owing to the visible real-life friendship shared among the comics, and partially because the Kates seem to be inviting you to join them. They have a vulnerability that quickly turns into a camaraderie with the audience. After a comic’s successful set, audience members feel empowered. What is that?
The Kates really are inviting you to join them, if you’re interested! They host a weekly open mic at the Gallery Cabaret, 2020 N. Oakley, and founder Kelsie Huff offers very affordable workshops and classes for women interested in comedy and storytelling. In addition to their show at the Book Cellar, they have a monthly showcase at the Laugh Factory and a number of different pop-up shows throughout the city. Visit their website for details on shows and classes.