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Article updated: 6/4/2013 11:54 AM

Chicago's Funny Festival celebrates women in comedy


Villa Park resident Kristin Toomey said she's performed stand-up in all kinds of places -- even state prisons.

"It was fun; they were a great crowd," said Toomey, 31. "They were very receptive."

Laughing connects people, Toomey said. That's one reason why she loves comedy and also why she will perform with 400 other women at the second annual Chicago Women's Funny Festival, which runs Thursday, June 6, through Sunday, June 9, at Chicago's Stage 773.

About 80 percent of the performers are from the Chicago area, said Jill Valentine, the event's executive director.

Audience members will get to see acts from across the comedy spectrum, Valentine said. Some, like Toomey, will perform stand-up, while others will showcase improv, sketch, vaudeville or musical comedy.

Last year's festival sold 2,000 tickets. This year, attendees can see any of the performances under one roof on four different stages.

Groups were selected through a screening process, and about half made the cut. Among them was Molly Hall's group, Dumpster.

Hall, who grew up in Glen Ellyn, said Dumpster got its name when the group's four female members took a shot of vodka behind a Dumpster to ease their nerves before one of their first performances in 2010.

Since then, the improv group has performed regularly in both Chicago and Ohio. Hall said this is their first year at the Women's Funny Festival, where they'll perform a set at 8 p.m. Saturday, June 8,

"When we heard about (the festival) this year, we were just really excited," Hall said. "Any chance we have to be goofy together onstage, we take advantage of that."

Hall, 32, who now lives in Chicago, said she gets tired sometimes working a full-time job and spending nights doing comedy shows. But she said the lack of sleep is worth it if she gets to do what she loves.

Des Plaines resident Claire Swanson, 27, realized performing comedy was her dream job after she tested out different careers.

Swanson, who works and takes classes at the renowned Second City, is sort of the outlier in her family -- the first to pursue a career in entertainment.

"Because I've been doing so many shows, I think my (parents) are taking it more seriously, like, 'Oh, this could be something she could potentially do for a living,'" Swanson said.

She'll be the headliner at 5 p.m. June 9.

There are multiple time slots for different performers, but some audiences may catch two groups if their show is at the top of the hour.

"We're trying to cross-pollinate the audience," Valentine said. "Performers can share audiences and get some new following."

Looking at the big picture, Toomey said "it's an exciting time for Chicago" as more women embrace stand-up comedy. At the festival, she performs at 10 p.m. on June 8.

While Toomey's stand-up performances bring in some money, the married mother of two doesn't earn a living at comedy right now.

But that's fine with her.

"My kids are seeing me pursue my dreams," she said, "and that's a better example to show them than a paycheck."

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