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posted: 3/17/2014 5:45 AM

Comedy festival embraces 'nerd culture'

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  • The Improvised Star Trek comedy troupe will perform at the Chicago Nerd Comedy Festival. Members include Nick Wagner, Irene Marquette, Sean Kelley, Matt Young, Griffen Eckstein, Mary Cait Walthall and Chris Rathjen.

      The Improvised Star Trek comedy troupe will perform at the Chicago Nerd Comedy Festival. Members include Nick Wagner, Irene Marquette, Sean Kelley, Matt Young, Griffen Eckstein, Mary Cait Walthall and Chris Rathjen.

  • Mount Prospect native Fran Hoepfner hosts a stand-up showcase for the Chicago Nerd Comedy Festival.

      Mount Prospect native Fran Hoepfner hosts a stand-up showcase for the Chicago Nerd Comedy Festival.

  • The sketch comedy duo Urlakis and Cusik appears at the Chicago Nerd Comedy Festival.

      The sketch comedy duo Urlakis and Cusik appears at the Chicago Nerd Comedy Festival.

  • Matt Griffo performs Thursday, March 20, at Chicago Nerd Comedy Festival.

      Matt Griffo performs Thursday, March 20, at Chicago Nerd Comedy Festival.

  • Cody Melcher headlines the standup showcase Friday, March 21, at the Chicago Nerd Comedy Festival.

      Cody Melcher headlines the standup showcase Friday, March 21, at the Chicago Nerd Comedy Festival.

 
By Joe Salvato

Fran Hoepfner may be new to the Chicago Nerd Comedy Festival, but she has proudly considered herself a nerd since she was a teenager.

The Mount Prospect native will host the festival's stand-up comedy showcase, hoping to connect with the audience's passion for Vulcans, Hobbits and everything in between.

From a performing standpoint, Hoepfner has only done a few open mics before this festival.

"It's a little intimidating being the host, because there's going to be a lot of me onstage, but it feels like a more accepting venue because it's a thing for nerds," Hoepfner said.

The Chicago Nerd Comedy Festival returns Wednesday, March 19. Showcasing everything from the stand-up showcase to improv troupes, this year's festival -- the second -- features 21 different acts.

The festival brings together comedy troupes, mostly from the Chicago area, that pay tribute to movies, games and TV shows that attract particularly fervent fan bases. Some of the acts are themed, like Improvised Star Trek or Who Prov, in which the actors ask the audience to give them scenarios.

Many are new to the festival.

"We couldn't let in all the acts from last year because that would've filled too many spaces for this year, so we're looking at about a 50/50 split," said Fin Coe, co-producer of the festival.

The original idea for the Chicago Nerd Comedy Festival came from co-producer and fellow nerd Katie Johnston-Smith. She credits her nerdiness to Saturday morning cartoons and hanging out with her brothers.

She sees the festival itself as "a real celebration of nerd culture."

Organizers expect a boost in attendance from last year.

"We're really looking to pack the house this time," Coe said. "We're definitely expecting a big turnout for this festival."

The stand-up showcase that Hoepfner is hosting takes place Friday, March 21. It focuses on observational pop culture humor.

"I thought I might as well give it a shot since I knew that this was a niche market that I could tackle," Hoepfner said.

At the showcase, Hoepfner will be joined by three other comedians, all planning to riff on and relish the fans and the comic book frenzy.

The 22-year-old Prospect High School graduate started reading "Harry Potter" books as a teenager and branched out to "Lord of the Rings," "Artemis Fowl" and other novels.

She proudly embraces the "nerd" mantle, and she's not alone. The festival's producers say the word has a different connotation than it had in the past.

Nerdiness, in other words, has gone mainstream.

"Today, with smartphones, we're all into knowledge and information and obscure hobbies, and that's why nerdiness I think has become mellowed in society," Coe said.

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