Let’s Be Broadminded
Laughing with Milwaukee’s all-female comedy troupe
Even as sketch-comedy freshmen, the ladies never backed down from a challenge, performing at the first Milwaukee Comedy Festival in 2006. Following those appearances, Kingston, Babl, Graff LaDisa and McGee became regular players in the local comedy scene, performing together at local venues and private parties. At their previous four shows, Participation Prize, Broadminded Buffet, Encyclopedia Broadtannica and Blood is Thicker than Liquor, the Broads invited Milwaukeeans to partake in some historical remedial education, bask in the awkward glory of familial dysfunction and “win, lose or just show up,” among other show-related proposals. Different as the performances were, and will most likely continue to be, Broadminded’s shows do share some similarities. Beyond possessing the same comical structure and cast, each satirical series of sketches consists of smart writing, improvisational moments, inappropriate humor, obscure pop culture references and lots of female empowerment.
Challenging Comedy’s Gender Gap
Despite the indelible legacies of great female performers like Lucille Ball, Carol Burnett, Lily Tomlin, Gilda Radner and Betty White, the business of writing, performing and producing comedy remains resolutely male. Tina Fey, Ellen DeGeneres, Amy Phoehler and Sarah Silverman may continue to work as the exceptions, providing much-needed insights and perspectives, but even their bold comedic contributions fail to make a sizeable difference in comedy’s persistent gender gap. The reason behind entertainment’s noticeable lack of female “comediennes” has been examined by everyone from scientific researchers to cantankerous cultural critics like the late Christopher Hitchens, who explored the subject in a characteristically provocative piece for Vanity Fair in 2007.
The reasons behind what is most often referred to as “The Humor Gap” are as contentious as they are varied. Most female performers will agree that circumstances have certainly improved over the years, but there are still a great many narratives that need adjusting in order for attitudes to continue to change, according to Babl, a 2005 graduate of Chicago’s legendary Second City Conservatory. “When I started taking classes at Second City, there was a good mix of girls and guys, but as a woman entering the scene you were usually the mom, the wife or the hooker. You were never expected to have much depth, although I will say that it was up to the performer to create the depth,” Babl explains. “What I feel Broadminded has done is give those more traditional characters that complexity that is sometimes missing. And in the process, I feel like we’ve proven that we can be more [versatile] and do more.”
Milwaukee’s “femme fatales of comedy” plan to continue entertaining audiences with their impressive range and comedic chemistry. Their upcoming program, Surprise!, opens April 5 at the Tenth Street Theatre. Other than promising an eclectic lineup of surprises and original sketches, the Broads intend to keep the show’s finer details securely under wraps. Revealing its particulars would spoil the fun and the funny four-some are looking forward to reintroducing Milwaukee audiences to their special brand of humor one surprise at a time.
But even more than surprises and satire, the women of Broadminded are anticipating the sense of euphoria that accompanies performing in front of a live audience. “When you’re younger and you don’t know how a lot of things work, performing can seem like an amazing career,” McGee explains, recalling the dream vs. reality realization all performers eventually face. “It’s not that I mind hard work, it’s just that you have to be really singularly focused in your pursuit, and eventually you have to take control and look for something in between work and the theater to nourish your creativity. The great thing about Milwaukee is that if you want to perform and you can find a venue, you can create your own work. “
Babl, like her friends and castmates, is in complete agreement. The human resources professional enjoys her day job and personal life as she continues to pursue laughs on the side and excitement on stage. “It’s about chasing laughs,” Babl exclaims, recalling her after-school television favorites and late-night influences. “I remember watching ‘The Carol Burnett Show’ and ‘Laugh-In’ on Nick at Nite when I was a kid, and there would be these moments where you would just die laughing. There’s nothing better than laughing uncontrollably–it’s the best feeling in the world,” she concludes with a sigh. No one can argue with that.
Surprise! runs April 5-13 at the Tenth Street Theatre, 628 N. 10th St. For tickets, call 414-271-1371 or visit broadmindedsurprise.brownpapertickets.com.