Guess what? Women are funny. And there’s a boatload of them in Omaha just waiting to make you laugh. Over the past decade the Omaha comedy and improv scenes have exploded into their own niche of entertainment culture. Since The Backline’s early beginnings in a Dundee basement, doors have been opened to anyone who wants to get on stage and make people laugh.
Omaha is abundant with classes, weekly showcases, tournaments and open mics, beckoning new faces to get behind the mic. Many of them are women. I wanted to sit down with some of the comedy scene’s most-talked-about players and hear about where they started and the truth about comedy (like so many other professions) being a boys club.
Angi Sada, Makayla Kelley, Carmela Anderson and Stephanie Finklea are the names that kept popping up as I asked who are the women making names in local comedy today? I brought us all together so we could talk about the challenges and triumphs of being a woman in comedy in Omaha.
What made you want to get on the stage?
Angi Sada: For me, humor has always been my steadfast coping mechanism. I had to be funny because I was a fat, nerdy, bespectacled kid. It was ‘be faster on the draw or get into fights’. I did a lot of both.
Beau: I think a lot of comedians I love have said that was the case for them.
Angi: But, in the end, what got me on stage was therapy. I had been in a really bad place after my dads died. They were the funniest, smartest humans I’ve ever known. Losing them was so painful that I couldn’t cope with anything successfully anymore. My therapist worked with me on rebuilding the sense of security and confidence I had when I had dads.
Makayla Kelley: Absolutely. The more trauma you’ve endured, the funnier you are. I don’t tell jokes. I tell stories. All of my “stories” are all real-life phases of my life that I’ve reflected on, accepted, and are fucking insane. Which turns into comedy gold. I actually have a friend and mentor that is a successful comedian, and one show I went to of his, I thought to myself, “I am WAY funnier than him on the daily.” So, I got booked on a show and have been doing them ever since. I’ve never done an open mic either.
Carmela Anderson: I started doing comedy way back. I am in love with all the greats from Redd Foxx to Moms Mabley to Paul Mooney. I love the physical comedy of Lucille Ball and Carol Burnett. As a kid I always found the funny in everything, which would always get me in trouble. I love to see ladies in comedy. I feel we are just as strong and if not funnier.
Stephanie Finklea: I got into comedy because of Murder Mystery Dinner Theater. I started working it with Dylan Rohde and found out about improv classes at The Backline. In class they give you a “get-in-free card” to attend shows, and you’re encouraged to do so. As far as stand up, I went to a Backline open mic and saw a guy who was awful. I thought, if he has the guts to do it, then I can too. Ryan de La Garza asked me to be on his show, and that was my start. Interestingly enough, I didn’t think it was stand up until a year later it hit me. Pre-written material, duh. I don’t think I would have done it if I realized it was stand up. At the time I didn’t think I was ready. Ryan was really the driving force to developing my stand up. I see him as a mentor.
Makayla: Ryan also was very helpful and booked me on a lot of shows when I first started, which is fantastic. Definitely a mentor, and also I view Zach Peterson as a mentor to me, but the people that motivate me the most are people like you, Beau and Angi. I can be a successful person in a professional world, be a mother of two, have morals and beliefs, but still be cool AF and do what I want to do and show my titties when I want to. I work hard and I shouldn’t have to fit one mold of what a mom’s supposed to be.
Do your families come out to support you?
Angi: I was a military kid. Military members don’t make friends at new bases. We make family. Art was the dad of a kid I babysat. But he became my dad, too. My dad Tony was my biological father and my very best friend in the universe. Comedy was something I’ve loved my entire life. I remember my dad quoting Flip Wilson bits. Geraldine! My mom and grandma came to a few shows before grandma died in October. She wasn’t my biological grandmother. I was with her grandson off and on for many years. I kept her in the breakup; she was cool with it. My daughter and niece come out all the time. I’m lucky. We have the traditional, close-knit, Mexican family. My parents knew this would be in my future. I was a gifted kid with unmedicated ADHD and no filter ever.
Makayla: My parents would NEVER come to a show, and they think it’s dumb I do comedy. My husband’s sister has come before! Also, I’m the black sheep, so …
Carmela: When my family can make the shows they do come out to support, and I love when I look out and see them, especially when my older grandchildren come out.
Stephanie: My … family has more than a few times. The support means so much.
So what is the climate like locally for women comedians? I ask because we’ve all heard the sentiments that women aren’t funny and comedy is a boys club … etc., etc. I don’t know what Ellen D. or Ali Wong would have to say about that, but what say you?
Angi: I think there are some male comics who get it. I really do. Then there are some who are — maybe not intimidated — under the impression that intentional inclusion is like censorship. As a show-runner, I try to include everyone I can to keep the stage diverse and eclectic. However, I will gladly take a quick jab at comics who can’t or won’t do that. Unfortunately, like so many other venues, this is a straight, white dude’s game. Then you throw us in the mix and they’re like, “Whoa.” Some of them are incredibly supportive, and I’ll take one really supportive guy over ten wishy-washy guys any day. But, conversely, we are showing we can fill up rooms, too.
Makayla: Also, certain men in our comedic community who aren’t too keen on booking women or have said women aren’t funny have come out to FLOcase all-femme lineup that gets good traffic just to spy on us and see what all the fuss was about.
Why in 2018 is there still this idea that women aren’t funny?
Carmela: I don’t know why they don’t think we are funny. Shit, we date them!
Angi: Art is a reflection of the times. Comedy is an art. I think there’s a lot of misogyny in the world today. But, the young femme comics don’t stay as long. Keeping them in it is what matters.
Makayla: It’s not other places. Just fucking stupid-ass Omaha.
Angi: I think we’d be woefully remiss to mention this whole notion that all femme comics talk about is their periods. It’s among the most insulting concepts that our menstrual cycle is the only thing that makes us women or funny.
Beau: I’ve heard that my whole life. Get some new material!
Angi: Our voices are valid beyond our bodies. However, the ownership of our bodily and emotional autonomy is non-negotiable. That’s why it’s so important for women of all identities to be a part of this art form. This isn’t just about me and mine. This is about every damn last one of us.
Who are women in this field who inspire you?
Stephanie: I’m inspired by Maya Rudolph and Tracee Ellis Ross. Tracee was on The Lyricist Lounge Show years ago and I just loved when she would have her own sketches.
So what’s your process? Where do you find material? Do you write it, or do you wing it on stage?
Carmela: My material is from my life, the things I see and hear … true-life shit, and I like to do both writing and winging it — especially when I have a menopause moment.
Angi: Honestly, a little of both. I mean, I write. I went to school to be a writer, so I love a good soliloquy. But a lot of times you have to read the room. If you’re not first and you see that certain jokes aren’t flying you have to be flexible. Keeping it fluid has saved my ass more than once. But I spend a lot of time reacting to the current political and social climates.
Stephanie: Life is also my greatest source of material. I often make some comic observation and then try to figure out how to make it work in my stand-up set. I have fully written out the whole joke and I have winged it. I find that I like doing a mixture of both. I like reading the crowd and adapting to what they’re nonverbally asking for from me.
Makayla: I never read the room. I’m terrible at that. My attention to detail is god awful. But my ability to adapt and retaliate is second to none. Again, my material is all true-life stories, and a lot of it are things that have happened to me that may have been traumatizing but I make them into funny stories because that helps me deal. And that’s real.
Any other women on the scene whose work you like?
Makayla: Literally cheesy, but the people in this group are my fave.
Angi: Same. I also love Katie Anderson and Serenity Dougherty, but they moved.
Carmela: And the ladies in this group are all amazing and beautiful. I love these ladies.
What’s your favorite place to play in town?
Makayla: Reverb is my fave, and then O’Leaver’s Underground Comedy just started up and is doing great for being brand new.
Stephanie: My favorite venues are the ones that book me. I need some coin before I’m ready to plug a name. That said, Backline has a great open mic every Tuesday night at 9 that I occasionally host. I also perform improv with an all-femme cast every second Thursday of the month at 8 p.m. at The Backline. It’s a show meant to encourage womyn, femmes, and non-binary folks to give improv a try. Men are welcome to come and support, but we ask that they not take space on the stage.
Carmela: I really don’t have a favorite spot and there have been a few times where I couldn’t get my words together and thought I was going to bomb but ended up killing it … couldn’t tell you what I said. Blame the menopause.
If there’s someone out there who wants to try it but is terrified, what’s your advice?
Stephanie: My advice would be to jump into it headfirst. That’s what I did. There’s no better lesson than experience. Taking improv classes is also really helpful for those who aren’t confident.
Angi: As a rule, new comics should expect to fail a couple times. Plug away and talk to the other comics. Especially the other women. It sounds hokey as shit, but we have a solid sisterhood. Sometimes you get really damn lucky, though. I walked off stage at my first open mic. I was three feet from the stage and was asked to be on a show. Later that week, I had two more asks. It’s about luck.
Carmela: I love all the ladies who I do comedy with and encourage the ones who want to try … Shit, what do we have to lose.
Where can we see you next?
Stephanie: Broad Perspective every second Thursday of the month, 8 p.m. at Backline.
Angi: Feb. 5 at Fast N Fresh at 8 p.m. at The Backline, Feb.15 at Barley Street Tavern at 8 p.m., Feb. 23 in Bennington.
Makayla: FLOcase and Politically Driven, both dates are TBD but both at Reverb.
Carmela: Feb. 5 hosting open mic at The Backline, Feb. 9 at the Ramada hotel and will be on the Fast N Fresh at The Backline on the 12th.
Check out The Reader’s Cool Things To Do listings to keep up with your favorite local comedians at The Backline, The Reverb and Big Canvas.
All photos by Debra S. Kaplan feat; Makayla Kelley, Carmela Anderson, Stephanie Finklea and Angi Sada. Thank you to The Reverb.