By Katie Conway, Contributor
If you’re like any of us here at WICF, you’re probably still missing that wonderful time of year where we celebrate women in the comedy industry and showcase their awesome talents at our annual Women in Comedy Festival. But wait a minute – did you know there are even more fantastic places around Boston that have up-and-coming open mics and comedy shows run by and starring women? Yes, you heard that right! And WICF Daily got the chance to interview three of these amazing female showrunners – who they are, what their shows are about, and some advice for anyone else trying to break into the comedy industry.
Here to talk about her comedic start at ImprovBoston, her favorite berry-flavored tea and her new Ladies Night Open Mic – part of the Comedy Lottery series that she produces – is none other than the wonderful Srilatha Rajamani!
Tell us a little about yourself! Where are you from? How did you get started in comedy?
I’m an immigrant from India. I came to America for grad school during the Y2K scare time when schools and companies were desperate to hire computer engineers or anyone with basic systems knowledge. I lived in the San Francisco Bay area and worked at several IT companies there for many years. I spent a couple of years in North Carolina and then moved to Massachusetts for my daughter’s school. I took improv classes at ImprovBoston and then discovered stand up comedy there and found it to be something I was happier to perform as a comedian; it was more suited to me.
My first show was the student showcase at ImprovBoston. Dana Jay Bein was my teacher. I also later took a comedy class with Rich Gustus and Rick Jenkins at The Comedy Studio in Harvard Square. It was a great class to learn about writing tight jokes. Since then, The Comedy Studio has become an important and beloved place in my life. A historic club led by Rick Jenkins (it has hosted comedy legends like Louis C.K. and Eugene Mirman), it is also a great place that fosters and supports fresh talent. The Boston stand up comedy scene, and new comics like myself, owe a lot to Mr. Jenkins and The Comedy Studio. I still consider all my comedy teachers mentors – they are brilliant comics like Kelly McFarland, Rob Crean, Dana Jay Bein, and Rick Jenkins. I still request their guidance and I’m very grateful for them. Recently, I have also ventured into the art of Storytelling. And thanks to Massmouth, I was fortunate enough to feature for WGBH recently.
Who are some of your comedic inspirations?
I only saw stand up as an adult when I came to America. But as a new, aspiring comedian, Aparna Nancherla and Hari Kondabolu were among the first comics of Indian origin I saw. I could relate to things they said. And the fact that they could communicate their thoughts and life stories in such a funny way to an audience largely unfamiliar with that experience – well, I was shook. Around that time, there was a show on the FX channel produced and hosted by W. Kamau Bell (also one of the comics I look up to) called “Totally Biased,” which also fostered my passion for comedy – especially because they focused on diversity-, women-, and minority-centered issues.
Other comedy heroes: Ellen DeGeneres, Phoebe Robinson, Tina Fey, Maria Bamford, Hasan Minhaj, Myq Kaplan – such excellently worded, whimsical jokes, he is a master – Chris Rock, Kevin Hart, and Seinfeld; Boston comics Sam Jay and Ahmed Bharoocha; newer comics like Subhah Agarwal; rising Boston comics like Liam McGurk (such original imaginative bits, so funny) and Jiayong Li (so smart, the punchiest jokes with the most word economy) and Boston vets Emily Ruskowski, Kelly McFarland, and Ken Reid. I can hear their story-based comedy bits over and over and laugh because they’re fresh every time.
I understand you run Ladies Night at The Comedy Lottery at ImprovBoston. Can you tell us a little more about that? What are some of the daily tasks of a comedy showrunner? How does someone become involved in this show?
I’m a producer of The Comedy Lottery and a member of the Stand Up Producing Team at ImprovBoston. The Comedy Lottery weekly open mic at ImprovBoston is on Wednesday nights from 10:00 PM -11:15 PM. The idea of having a Ladies Mic night was first proposed by the longtime host of the Lottery, Stirling Smith. The Standup Producing Team at ImprovBoston – who are all Boston-area comics – and the Theater management saw a need for a show and a venue to encourage more women participating in stand up comedy and open mics in general. Most open mics here are overwhelmingly male. While that is not a problem in any way, we all felt that new, aspiring comics who identify as women may benefit from a supportive, encouraging, safe environment where they could be real, try their material, new bits, stories, and characters – and we could provide all that through Comedy Lottery Ladies Night.
This ladies mic is co-produced by ImprovBoston Stand Up and Sketch Comedy producer Kevin Quigley, who also produces a lot of shows in other venues around the city. This Ladies Lottery Mic happens on the fifth Thursday of every month from 7 PM to 8 PM. In addition to stage time, we also want to provide opportunities for more new women comics to host because hosting is an important skill. Hosting is often a growth step for stand up comics, and it’s also not so easy to find hosting opportunities. If you wish to participate in The Comedy Lottery or the Ladies Night Lottery, if you have something you want to try – a joke, an act, a character – you can do it for free on our stage. We will laugh, support, cheer you on, give feedback if you want. At the Ladies Lottery, we always have a couple of more experienced comics as featured performers. Their showcase is a great learning experience for new comics. But any woman, regardless of experience, can sign up for our open mic portion.
Just send an email to email@example.com. As producers, Kevin Quigley and I book features and the host. We promote the show in various venues and encourage people to sign up for the open mic portion of the show as well. We are very thankful to comedian Stirling Smith for first proposing this and to ImprovBoston, especially Artistic Director Mike Descoteaux, for making this possible and for supporting the concept from the beginning.
Any really funny/inspiring/horrifying stories you can give us from previous Comedy Lottery nights?
We have special guests that drop in sometimes. A few weeks ago, Boston Comedy Festival winner – and a writer for Conan, comedian at Conan, comedian at Jimmy Kimmel, etc. – Alingon Mitra dropped in to do a set. It was so inspiring to watch him working on his craft. Open mics are important and necessary as comedy gyms. They help comics build their strength and work out their comedic muscles. But comedy work is tiring and oftentimes discouraging. Then you see brilliant, successful comics like Alingon Mitra still on the grind, working on their jokes, and you learn from them and get inspired. At least the “you” in this case refers to me! Every time I feel like lazing out, memories like this give me a kick and get me moving and working on jokes.
What are some of the challenges you face as a comedian? What are some of the rewards?
Stand up comedy is lonely – as in single perspective – and my challenge is to make connections that are so obvious to me obvious to my audience as well. In many ways, if my audience is the “norm,” I’m outside that norm. I have a joke line that goes like this: “I’m a middle-aged plump woman with mad computer skills.” I don’t go clubbing. I’m slow to catch onto trends – I became woke to woke only when being woke was no longer lit. I don’t share a common childhood and youthful pop culture history with my audience. I grew up in India in the eighties. Things that are funny to me I have to make funny to the audience as well, meaning I have to look at things from their perspective – which is why I appreciate open mics so much.
The biggest reward: when that magic happens and the jokes land well. An unexpected reward: when I discover a previously unknown aspect to the joke on stage and my audience is with me on that journey as well, all the way to the funny end. It’s the best feeling in the world to make people laugh. Absolutely nothing can equal that. And as a comic I want to capture that magic moment over and over. Sometimes the magic happens, sometimes it doesn’t. But whether the magic happens or not, the thrill is always alive and keeps me going. I can do the same bits and still never be bored because I don’t know if it will work at that moment with that audience.
Where can fans of yours see you perform? Where can they follow you on social media?
I perform around the Boston-Cambridge area, New Hampshire, Maine, Vermont, and – very rarely – New York. I’ll be Comic In Residence at The Comedy Studio in Harvard Square for the month of November this year – which means I’ll open all of their shows for that month. And along with comedian Kwasi Mensah, I produce Laughing Liberally Boston – our city’s first and only progressive comedy show. Our show is on the second Saturday of every month at Arts of the Armory Cafe in Somerville at 8:00 PM. You can find us on Facebook as Laughing Liberally Boston. Kwasi and I host progressive comics who get to do longer sets of material they don’t get to do in clubs. We also interview a community leader. Our previous guests include ACLU Massachusetts, Planned Parenthood, and MA State Representative Mike Connolly. You can contact me via email at firstname.lastname@example.org, on Instagram at SrilathaSauce and on Facebook as Srilatha Rajamani. I’m on Snapchat but I don’t know how to use it. I once sent an embarrassing picture of myself sitting on a magic toilet to the public at large on Snapchat.
Tell us a joke!
This is something I’m working on now at open mics: Everyone says Bostonians are terribly racist. I don’t think Bostonians are that bad, though, because I used to live in North Carolina. Bostonians are the most woke racists. I was at the Whole Foods near my house the other day. I live in Cambridge and there is a Whole Foods near every home; that’s who we are as people. I was third in line at the checkout. The first person – this lady was writing a check with a quill pen that she was dipping into an ink bottle. Then there was a lady with a little kid. Then there was me. I started making funny clown faces at the kid. The kid laughed. I felt so cool then. It’s awesome to make someone laugh. The kid turned to his mom and said “That lady – she’s funny.” Mom looked at me, just shocked and appalled. The she looked at the kid and said, “She is not funny. She is just different from you and me.” See – Bostonians – most woke and nicest racists ever!
WICF is an organization that stands for creating more opportunities for women in a field that has often been predominantly male. Do you have any advice for other women who are considering a career in comedy?
Do it. We have to work extra hard, the playing field is not just not level – it’s actually uphill for us. But this is the same for most career paths for women, isn’t it? If you have the wish, why not try it? We will only regret the chances we have not taken. The more of us there are, the more diversity in voices, better comedy gets as a career field over time. Go to a show or a mic with an open mind. At least in the Boston comedy scene, there are a lot of good people to support, guide, and encourage you. There are so many shows, mics, and bookers who will give you a chance, and we are among the smartest and most supportive comedy audiences in the country.
Give us the inside scoop: Any comedians on the rise you think we should be on the lookout for?
Kenice Mobley, Liam McGurk, Kwasi Mensah, Jiayong Li, Xazmin Garza, Sam Ike – that’s off the top of my head. But I see so many brilliant comics at shows and mics. Like this newer comic Brandon Lee. I’m in awe of all of them.
Any other advice you can give to aspiring comedians in the Boston area? How can they stand out? How can they improve upon their craft?
I’m a comic of no particular consequence to offer any advice. But I’d request that aspiring comics respect the shows, mics, fellow comics, and most of all, the audience. Support the shows with your presence and your engaged laughter and support shows and mics with with your wallet if you can – buy something so the venue keeps being of value to the business, support your fellow comics by listening to their bits or helping with a suggestion if you have an idea. Watch comedy specials and listen to podcasts. Go to mics. Work on your craft sincerely. Most of all: don’t be a dick.
Aside from comedy, do you have any other hobbies/interests/a super secret double life?
I like to travel and hike. I also love Korean pop and have a super secret double life on various Korean pop sites as a fangirl and fanfiction writer.
Final Question: What is your favorite ice cream flavor? Please elaborate on why.
None. I don’t take ice cream. Anything cold makes my throat sore almost immediately. But I like tea and recently I’ve fallen in love with this magnolia berry Korean tea – also called five flavored berry – Omija tea. Every time I drink it, it has a different delicious taste and surprises my mouth.