Combining stand-up comedy with parenting
Chicago parents getting big laughs on comedy scene
Monday, January 30, 2012
If you try to picture the comedy scene Chicago is so famous for, you'd likely picture a group of 20-something hipsters, with a high bar bill and no responsibility. And, for the most part, you'd be right.
But there's another group of people out there making the funny. This group mostly works a day job, pays its bills and-wait for it-has children. Yes, there are a handful of folks pursuing comedy, often heading out to clubs and gigs after the day's last diaper has been changed, bedtime stories read and spouses attended to.
Now, lest you think this is some suburban mom a la Sally Field in "Punchline," let this be known-these folks are serious about not being serious.
Take Jeanie Doogan, for example. Doogan, who has four children, spends her days crafting the minds of ninth-graders. And, as you may expect, that takes a toll.
"It had always been a dream and I was looking for something because I was having a really tough time teaching and I needed something to do that I enjoyed," she says.
For Doogan, stand-up also was an outlet from the strenuous adoption process she faced in adopting her youngest from China.
She started slowly and now does several shows per week. She's careful to keep her two personas separate, though.
"A lot of my material isn't based on my kids," she says. "I don't share a lot about it. It's private. It might change the way you're seen for gigs and shows being thought of as a mom."
While Doogan started her career after giving birth, others simply rolled parenthood into their unconventional lives.
Patti Vasquez is mom of two boys, 6 and 8. But 12 years ago, she was just a stand-up comic hoping to strike it big. By 2001 she was plagued by doubt and trying to figure out what was next. She even took the Chicago police officer exam. Then, in 2003, while pregnant, she was hired to be the opening act for a popular touring group called "Puppetry of the Penis."
"That changed everything because the audiences were 90 percent female. And I started adding material about being pregnant, about going to the doctor's office-mostly female things," she says. "It was the biggest confidence-builder of my career and from then on, I became a headliner. For me it was liberating. I didn't feel like there were any restrictions and I could say anything. I just had a blast with it."
Her act became based on motherhood-becoming a parent helped her hone her voice as a stand-up and launched her career into overdrive. Less of her act is now family-focused, but it's still a big part of what her fans come to hear.
"My comedy reflects my life. It always has," she says. "I have a child with a disability. My younger son has special needs. People come out to hear how things are going."
Sketch and improv comedian Brendan Jennings just welcomed his third little one into the world.
"Comedy isn't paying a ton of riches. I'm not like I'm Scrooge McDuck in a giant vault somewhere. It's just not feasible to pay a babysitter, which is the most expensive thing ever to get your kids covered for four hours."
In fact, for most of these comedians, it's figuring out the balance of bills, babies and bits that is most difficult.
Sean Flannery, father of two, has been performing for more than nine years. Becoming a dad four years ago didn't change his act much, but it did change everything else.
Flannery hangs onto his day job-despite being lauded as one of the best stand-ups in Chicago-to make sure there's health insurance for the family. But he finds the few sacrifices he's had to make have been worth it in the long run.
"I probably have more in common with the crowds than most stand-ups do. Single white males are overrepresented in stand-up and most talk about getting drunk-and that's funny, of course-but that's not always the situation for the crowd," he says.
While a comic like Vasquez has a pretty clear and stable path, the others are still pursuing their dreams. Doogan hopes someday to do comedy full-time.
"When I have to miss something of (the kids') for a show or I feel like I'm not around enough, I hope what they get from that is that I'm pursuing a dream and that that's passed on to them," Doogan says.
While it's hard to say where everyone will end up, one thing is clear-there will be some funny kids coming out of these houses.
"The only thing I sometimes worry about is that Colin (4) is always telling jokes to me and is always trying to get me to laugh. And Jessica and I don't want him to feel the pressure that he has to be the class clown," Flannery says. "He says, 'I go to school and I tell everyone jokes.' So we've been trying to sort of explain when are good times to joke around and when are not."
Jennings, on the other hand, encourages his sons' attempts at a punchline.
"I think being a parent lends itself to being loosey-goosey goofy for the most part. I'm definitely the jump-around and play-on parent," he says. "Not surprisingly, I think it's fun to play with the kids because they think the same way I do. We find the same things humorous. Ingi might be mad because I'm the one who introduced fart jokes into the family."