Four Female Comedians- Four Shows, Delivering Laughter In Unfunny Times.
Christine Peake, Jessica Winther, Teri S. and Eugenia Kuzmina Leave Santa Monica & Los Angeles and Blow into The Windy City.
August 9, 2021
During these uncertain times we all need to find laughter. Do we wear masks? Do we not wear masks? Are we heading for lock down? Do we care? Do I need to stock up on sanitizer and toilet paper again? Another booster vaccine? Should I have avoided the vaccine? What's Happening?
Myself and my talented three comedian friends, the boisterous Jessica Winther, the dark and hilarious Teri S. and abstract humorist supermodel Eugenia Kuzmina embarked upon a mini-tour of comedy shows in Chicago and Wisconsin produced by Mark Klaber.
I had been advised again and again that stage time is valuable to hone one's craft. The trip is one we will never forget.
LAX airport was packed with carefree travelers, we all discussed the fear of Covid and the recent numerous stories of the Delta variant spreading like a California wildfire.
Eugenia was carrying a tennis racket. I was curious and excited to see her new act incorporating the tennis racket. She is known for performing as different characters. What would the racket serve? Pun intended. We were fearless and excited - we were not flying Delta, we chose United Airlines so we knew we would avoid the virus. We were smart. No Delta for us.
The flight itself was both uncomfortable and hilarious, Jessica sent me a text saying "I am sitting on the very back row, literally in the toilet, If you need to take a sh*t, come say hi!"
On arrival to the first hotel at 10-30pm at night we were greeted by, no one. No food available and no water in our rooms. Chicago restaurant's were all closed. We high fived each other on how much weight we were destined to lose. Eugenia seemed oblivious to this as she has not eaten in 15 years. So she was "fine".
Teri S. got into survival mode and downloaded the Uber eats App. She found Thai food, then kindly shared a 'dumpling' with Jessica and myself- we both wondered what kind of meat was in it and briefly shared fake concern for the well-being of local dogs. I had smartly stashed English chocolate in my bag so I was going to be OK.
Teri summarized that she was convinced the hotel was for 'Ladies of The Night' to frequent and the lack of refreshments in the room was "not due to Covid but maybe Chlamydia?"
The next morning Jessica and myself decided to see the Chicago sights. Teri had not slept so could not join us as she would stay in the room and hopefully the Olympics would bore her to sleep?
Eugenia was getting tested for covid. (It was negative).
We walked through the city taking photos of ourselves leaping in the air in front of Chicago landmarks, our instagram posts would be "fire"..
We bought tickets for the Architectural Tour and found seats on the top deck of the boat, we sat at the back so we would have a clear view of Chicago's majestic buildings, they were beautiful. 90 minutes of listening to our tour guide explain the history of the city was a welcome break and our only touristy moment. Jessica, the eternal romantic, fixated on a building known as the Pink Lady whilst I looked in awe at the glass buildings. We had thoughtfully sat at the back for clear views but a desperate and narcissistic woman was taking selfie's of herself moving around and blocking our views, I quietly pondered how much of a splash she would make if I threw her overboard? I settled for glaring at her in disdain.
That night was to be our first two shows. They were to be back to back.
We arrived at the venue and walked into the room. It was empty. Apart from three people. To capture the full of extent of this, I suggest you watch Spinal Tap.
Fellow comedian JT Newton, (a Chicago native and respected comedian), JT's loyal best friend and Producer Mark Klaber were waiting for us. I sensed their spirits lift as we walked in, the room was filling up.
We decided to push ahead and still do the show, using it as a form of rehearsal for the next show. Four people came in and sat down. We were inspired. Maybe they had gotten lost on the way to the bar? We locked the door. Just incase.
The show must go on, right? Right?
We did our sets. I felt the need to share with the people of Chicago that we were happy to leave behind Los Angeles and it's gun problems and homelessness- oh wait.
J.T. Newton was hosting the show and it was a joy to see him perform, I had heard about the greats he had shared a stage with and it was clear to see why. His wit, coolness and knowing delivery can only come from experience and his warm monotone voice made me remind myself to watch the 'Shawshank Redemption' again.
Teri S. delivered what I believe to be one of the funniest comedy sets I have seen. She was hilarious. I admired her vast library of jokes and she delivered them in her dark deadpan manner that I have only ever seen by legendary comedian, the great Steven Wright. Teri S. lives on a farm with donkeys, dogs, cats and many other animals, her stories of her life and her family are uniquely hilarious and not for the politically correct crowd. To be honest if Teri performs in front of a PC crowd, I don't think she gives a damn, and that is the genius of a true comic.
Jessica Winther, myself and Eugenia Kuzmina all performed our sets well and we were now warmed up for the second show of the night.
We were aware that covid and other issues had prevented a great crowd here. So we kicked into die hard Producer mode and invited the patrons drinking at the bar to come and see the show. This filled the room to half and we all delivered our sets professionally and felt good about it. It was a great learning experience.
Never give up and use every opportunity to rehearse, try new material and enjoy the show. The audience laughed and we all had a fun night considering.
We went back to our rooms to sleep, Teri again did not sleep, her insomnia was once again back with a vengeance.
The third day started badly. A mother's worst nightmare, Jessica received news that her son Haidyn had covid. Already having pre existing health issues he had not been vaccinated. Her eyes filled with tears and she turned her back to us as she fought to find her inner strength. If your know Jessica, she is a tornado of energy, a loudly energetic and funny woman who muses on life with her catchphrase "What's happening?!!"
Well this was happening.
And it wasn't good.
She would spend the next couple of hours on the phone with her family giving orders and instructions better than any Doctor I have ever heard. She was a sight to see. The strength in her voice did not reflect the fear in her tearful eyes. We would leave her on the phone as she remotely supported and held her family together.
We Ubered to our new hotel.
Again, no one at the front desk, and when the receptionist did arrive she unapologetically told us that there was no food on the premises, the restaurants were far away and we would have to Uber to get food, or walk and meet sudden death on the nearby freeway.! The hotel was huge and I used the bathroom which was miles away and did not see one person. I had visions of Jack Nicholson in 'The Shining' and knew we had to abort. I was done.
I needed Yelp for Help.
I quickly searched for a nearby hotel and found The Holiday Inn Express in Buffalo Grove.
The phone was answered by the helpful front desk admin Nicole Clark, she quickly sent a bus for us which arrived in five minutes and we were greeted by her smart and sunny composure, when she told us they had a full complimentary breakfast daily and a pool, we almost wept. God bless Nicole.
That night, Producer Mark Klaber picked us all up and drove us to Wisconsin where we were to perform at The Bottle Shop.
A stunningly elegant wine shop that has a huge out door restaurant patio, and a wonderful theater at the back that made me long for the London stage. The owner Beth greeted us and I immediately liked her, she was professional, generous and she was ready for us. She had even taken out ads on the radio to promote the show. If I lived in Wisconsin I know for sure she and I would be friends. Her staff were attentive, kind and all hard working.
The theater was packed and the show began. And what a show it was!
Teri S. hosted and started the show with her usual dark wit which the eager audience totally appreciated.
Teri was followed by Eugenia, who has made friends on the patio with a young girl celebrating her birthday, she had invited the girl to perform a small set, a birthday gift to remember for sure. The girl appreciated it massively and told her jokes as her friends all watched in support.
Producer Mark Klaber watched with the rest of us as we wondered who was on the stage? And as Jessica would say...
Our faces said "What's happening?"
I am certain the girl will always remember this night and the favor that Eugenia had kindly done for her.
Eugenia performed her set and had the audience laughing as she shared her stories of modeling and life as an actress in Los Angeles.
Next up was me, as my Nana told me " self praise is no recommendation" so I can hardly review myself- but I had a great set and for the first time opening up to dance music and had the packed house dancing in their seats.
We had a great theater and a wonderful audience. A man in the audience was eating cheese and didn't mind when I asked if the culture in Wisconsin was in the cheese? Jessica told me I had opened up the room for her, they were lively and ready for more.
Next up was Jessica Winther.
She did not disappoint. She arrived on stage like a Category 5 Hurricane and kept the audience laughing for 25 straight minutes. Housewives of the 818, divorce, botox, age- she took zero prisoners.
What struck me about her performance was that I knew she was deeply stressed and exhausted from the worries of her son's covid and wanted to be with him. But she gave everything she had on the stage, she was present, or did she go to another level of consciousness that she just 'let rip', and they loved it.
For me and the rest of the team this show show was the highlight of the trip, and we hope to go back there, but we had another one to go.
Teri embarked on her third sleepless night in preparation. She had now been awake for 72 hours.
Our last show is one we will never forget and a great learning curve. Teri S., Jessica and myself are all young mid lifers, (with a zest for life stemming from our young souls. Eugenia being the youngest of the group in her early 30's.)
Producer Mark Klaber had repeatedly told us to be prepared as it would be an older crowd. But he had failed to tell us that this crowd was so old that a man had died in the bathroom the previous night. I felt this was a lost opportunity to tell an Elvis joke?
Jessica took the stage with abandon and opened with her usual energy, quickly realizing this crowd, whom I would put money on it had been bussed from the local retirement home. A couple of tables were luckily filled with people our age and they reacted positively to all the comedians.
The others were not familiar with stories of the 818 zip code and her dating and being a Hollywood Housewife life, she switched to jokes about life but was always deeply considerate to remind the audience that their lives would indeed, soon be over.
Teri S. came on stage with her usual dry wit like the grim reaper to share stories of cooking her pets. She mentally reminded herself to send the recipe to the Thai restaurant we had sampled on our first night.
Eugenia appeared on stage as her sister Irina - which left the audience a tad confused, this was due to the age gap of the audience, her progressive performance comedy was a little too progressive, this was a hard room indeed. She performed like a professional and delivered her jokes, looking stunning in her designer gown made by a fabulous designer from Dubai - Valentina Rusu.
I was closing the show, but had used my time to rewrite and rework my set to for with the room. I compared the times we live in now to the experiences of WW11, and how the woke times we were living in were pointless and we should focus on being kind to each other.
Jessica called it my "Ted Talk." She wasn't wrong. But it had worked.
After the show we were able to meet some of the audience members who were the sweetest people and had enjoyed the show.
Our shows in Chicago & Wisconsin were now complete. It had been a enlightening trip filled with different experiences on each night. But we did it. We found humor with each audience and did the job that was expected of us.
The flight home was all that was left.
In the airport Teri was by now in a sleepwalking state and was randomly bumping into strangers asking for her room key.
Jessica and I sat opposite an architect as we we waited to board the plane aka sardine can, who had no idea about all the wonderful buildings in Chicago, so we high fived each other with pride, we were now scholars in architecture as well as comedy and he clearly knew nothing.
Eugenia also proudly texted us on the plane that she had accidentally managed to bring a bottle of wine through customs with her tennis racket which has now served as a most useful 'carry on she had ever used'. Seated next to her was a woman who also had a tennis racket? Is this a thing?
I was sitting at the back right near the toilet when I received this text. "Come and say hi" I replied "if you need to take a sh*t!"
United Airlines I fear have long seen their days of luxury travel. The only thing 'united' are the passengers squashed together like mask wearing oily sardines. A Covid virus dream.
Back in Los Angeles I realized that comedy is not an easy game, every night is a different room, a different crowd. It is hard and unpredictable.
I also realized I am grateful for the experiences it affords me and for the friendships I have been given, so I thank Teri, Jessica, Eugenia and Producer Mark Klaber for the experience and the laughter. These are uncertain times. We must appreciate every day. I will save the rest of it for my next Ted Talk.
Teri went home and slept. Eugenia booked a tennis lesson and Haidyn is feeling better.
That is "what's happening."