Oak Lawn woman heads up comedy fest
It’s about time.
Oak Lawn native Jill Valentine helped form the Chicago
She said the consensus among performers were, “Why haven’t we celebrated ourselves as women in comedy sooner?”
Better late than never.
This year’s edition of the fest will be held next Thursday through June 8 at Stage 773, 1225 W. Belmont in Chicago. There will be 70-plus shows and 400 performers during the four-day event with Orland Park native and “Saturday Night Live’’ writer Katie Rich headlining.
“Chicago is my favorite place in the whole world,” Rich said. “Some of my favorite ladies in comedy honed their craft here. It means a lot to me to headline this event.”
Valentine is an old hand at making people laugh and hosting large events that make people laugh.
She has been the Executive Director of the Chicago Sketch Comedy Festival since its in 2000. It’s said to be the largest sketch comedy festival ever seen in America. That success was used as a springboard for Valentine and co-founder Liz McArthur to launch the Chicago Women’s Funny Festival.
Valentine said she and McArthur wanted to build a comedy festival where women could come together to celebrate a buffet of comedy under one roof.
“Comediennes from around the world filled Stage 773’s four theaters every night [in 2012].’’ Valentine said. “The response from comedians and audience members was overwhelmingly positive – which is why the festival is coming back for its third year.”
In the last decade, women have increasingly gained respect in a genre that was mostly dominated by men.
Valentine graduated from Bradley University where she was scouted for her gift of competitive communication. She went into an improvisation program at Second City.
“Classes 15 years ago were about 1 percent female,” she said. “Now it’s at least 50 percent. We need to celebrate that.”
Rich prefers to let talent, as oppose to gender, speak for itself.
“One thing I hear a lot is, ‘Oh, she’s funny because she acts like a dude’ but I rarely hear, ‘Oh, he’s funny because he acts like a chick.’ Rich said. “When a male colleague writes a joke I don’t think is funny, my first thought isn’t, ‘That dude isn’t funny.’ My first thought is, ‘That joke isn’t funny.’
“An easy way to overcome sexism is to judge the art not the artist.”
Rich went to grammar school at St. Bede The Venerable in Chicago. She lived on the south side of Chicago before moving to Orland Park.
At the age of 13, her dream of being a comedian sprouted from seeds planted during a family excursion to see the Second City troupe perform.
She said she never lost sight of that night.
After graduating from Sandburg High School in 1998 and completing her degree at Northwestern University, Rich’s dream was realized. She found herself on the main stage of Second City with leading roles in their productions such as “The South Side of Heaven,” “Who Do We Think We Are?” and “Let Them Eat Chaos.”
Second City is known for helping to birth careers of actors and actresses such as Tina Fey, Stephen Colbert, Jane Lynch, Steve Carell, Chris Farley, John Belushi, Mike Myers and Bill Murray.
In November, Rich received what most consider an opportunity of a lifetime by joining the writing staff of SNL.
“What is funny is the truth,” Rich said. “If you are exposing a truth, hitting on something universal, and doing it in a unique way, you’re probably funny. And I love that women can take the truth about being a woman and be successful as comics.”
Women’s Funny Fest will also host events throughout the week where women from across the country can come together, network and see each other’s work.
Stand-up comic and actress Beth Stelling and Rich will facilitate separate workshops June 7. For artists looking to break into the business, Talent Agent Marisa Paonessa will host “Getting Started in the Business” June 8 from 10:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.
Rich said her biggest suggestion to those aspiring to be successful in comedy is to fail. She said,
“Fail. A lot. It’s the only way to develop a unique voice,” she said. “Don’t write what you think other people will find funny. Concentrate on what makes you laugh and figure out why. And did I mention fail? Please. Dare to fail gloriously.”
Rich will perform with her Second City Alumni Holly Laurent in a sketch at 10 p.m. June 6 at the fest.
Valentine performs with several popular and critically acclaimed groups in Chicago, including The Cupid Players, Off Off Broadzway, Feminine Gentleman, The Deltones and others. She will perform in two shows during the fest: Feminine Gentlemen at 8 p.m. June 6 and @ 8 p.m. (in the Thrust) and Off Off Broadzway at 9 p.m. June 7.
For an entire performance schedule/group bios and on-line tickets visit www.chicagowomensfunnyfestival.com. Ticket prices range from $14-$15, to purchase by phone call 773-327-5252, or in person at the Stage 773 box office.