Just when you thought Chicago couldn’t get any funnier, America’s largest comedy festival, the TBS Just for Laughs festival, swoops through the city for six days of stand-up, sketch, improvisation and more. Celebrating its fifth year in Chicago, the festival kicked off this week with a mixture of marquee headliners and local heroes. With such a wealth of talent monopolizing the cities best stages, the only problem is that you’ll never be able to see them all. Also, none of the headliners, the folks playing The Chicago Theater, are women. But really, who cares as the talented women who are on this year’s schedule are outstanding. While Russell Brand, Bob Newhart, Seth Meyers, David Cross and Bill Maher play the big stage, some of the best talent will be within the walls of this year’s newest venue, Stage 773.
A digital comedy hub, Stage 773 will play host to some of the most hilarious ladies in comedy, plus breakthrough performances by emerging comics. Most commonly known for it’s intimate improv shows, Stage 773 will be providing comedy fans across the nation a sort of all-access pass by presenting performances across multiple digital channels and podcasts including YouTube, Google+,Team Coco, Dailymotion, Yahoo!, The Nerdist, Instagram, Pandora, SiriusXM, Set List as well as the festival’s website, justforlaughschicago.com.
But back to the ladies. Rasa Gierstikas, Liza Treyger and Michelle Buteau are just a few of the comics performing this year, and while they all hail from different areas, they all have one thing in common: they’re sure to provide some of the most knee-slapping hilarious moments of the week.
Rasa Gierstikas has been doing comedy for a number of years in both Chicago and NYC. Most recently, she has found success as the co-producer/host of the uproariously funny, monthly showcase The Shit Show, which just celebrated it’s one-year anniversary. She’s also performed in popular Chicago showcases, including The Reckoning (I.O.), Entertaining Julia, The Kates and The Stand (Second City).
AfterEllen.com: When did you first know you wanted to do comedy? Who and/or what inspired you?
Rasa Gierstikas: I feel like I’ve been really fortunate to have met some interesting characters in my life, and my family members are great funny, off-the-cuff, storytellers. I always felt like there was this innate compulsion to tell funny stories to my friends, family and even people I just met. I really liked when people laughed or retold stories that I told them and thought I should try telling them on stage and share the wealth.
AE: Is your onstage persona different or an extension of your own personality?
RG: I don’t think my persona is different on stage. I always try to be as conversational as I can be with the people in the audience, mostly to make what I’m talking about relatable.
AE: Tell me about a particularly memorable gig, career high or low.
RG: For the longest time I had the worst stage phobia and I tried to do comedy in groups to distract from myself. There were two highs that I had. The first was in NYC when I did the first show that I wrote and performed my sketches and the feedback was so awesome. I had strangers coming up to me after the show buying me drinks and even had a random couple come up to me in Central Park a few days later and quote the lines from my sketch to me.
The second was here in Chicago. When I decided it was time to try stand-up, I tried to write formulaic comedy and perform it at open mics and I failed. So the first time I decided to tell a story and feel comfortable in what I was saying the crowd was so receptive and loved it. I remember being so excited that it translated.
AE: Just For Laughs is one of my favorite times of the year! Is this your first time, what are your thoughts on comedy fests and this one in general?
RG: It is my first time in Just for Laughs. It’s really exciting to have the opportunity to do the show we’ve worked so hard on to be involved. Hoping that we can have it translate in a new venue and that people will have fun both performing and watching!
The Shit Show can be seen the last Friday of every month at Shambles in Chicago, 8 pm.
Next page: Liza Treyger