What are your favorite TV moments of 2022? Mine happened on October 12 between 3-4 p.m. I was watching The Kelly Clarkson Show on NBC. Jay Leno was on. He confessed that Kelly’s next guests had comedy kudos that even he lacked. For one thing, he’d never brought down the house at a P.T.A. event, a notoriously difficult crowd.
So who are these comics who go where even Jay Leno can’t? The camera pulled back and there, sitting on Kelly’s couch, were three of Chicago’s funniest, most accomplished comedians. With genuine joy and big cheers from the audience, Kelly introduced the Bad Momz of Comedy: Orly K.G., Colleen Brennan and Lia Berman.
Lia and Colleen are co-producers of Back Room Comedy at aliveOne. Lia hosts and produces Monday night comedy at the Logan Lounge. Colleen produces and hosts comedy showcases throughout the Midwest and the podcast Defending Indiana with Janice Rodriguez. They are both sought-after headliners. Amazingly, Orly, who conceived the Bad Momz of Comedy, has been a comedian for just one year. She is a former news anchor and a publicist who leads her own P.R. firm.
These Momz are all moms. Colleen has both a college senior and freshman. Orly has a high school senior and junior. Lia has a six year-old, who was home sick when we all Zoomed, running up to his mom for hugs and whispered consultations, and adorably representing all the sweet intricate souls who make the Bad Momz of Comedy possible.
And can we talk about that Zoom? I am suddenly inspired to consider airing these interviews as podcasts. These three comedians radiate comedy, but even beyond that, they are profoundly insightful, authentic, and supportive of each other and their audiences. Their energy and laughter lit up my Zoom screen like a TV studio, no additional lighting needed. I felt welcomed into their circle. It became obvious why their shows, which feature a rotating mom roster, are consistent hits.
So how did these three talented comedians from Chicago make it to Kelly Clarkson’s couch and beyond? Please read on.
IN THE BEGINNING
Teme: I’d love to hear your comedy origin stories!
Orly: You all go first!
Lia: Colleen, you go. I like your story.
Colleen: I started comedy acting at Second City in the conservatory program twenty-two years ago. I remember somebody there saying, “Ugh, the only real comedy is standup comedy.” Then I took time to raise a family and work full time. When I started losing my mind in my early forties, I went to see an energy reader and she said, “Why don’t you try standup comedy?” I was like, “You know … I think I will!” That was crazy, but it was a good idea now that I look back on it.
I’d always done theater and music on the side. I would have loved to take an eight-week play, but I couldn’t. Standup gave me an opportunity to be a mom while controlling getting back on stage. Comedy gave me the outlet that I needed. It’s been ten years and I love it. Now I’m back to acting again and still doing standup, producing and writing.
I’ve been in commercials. This past summer I played a conservative, Fox-newsy TV anchor on a locally produced show called WBS News America on VPOD TV. I look like a Fox-newsy kind of person, but I’m not. And I’m not sure how much I’m allowed to say, but I’ll be in an independent feature film coming out next year.
Lia: A bazillion years ago, there was a comedy club called The Edge Comedy Club. It was actually thirteen years ago – and they offered standup comedy classes. Dave Odd taught comedy classes and afterwards, an open mic. It was in this place that was also a church in downtown Chicago.
I’d memorized standup comedy my whole life. As a kid, I used to sneak downstairs and watch Stand Up Spotlight. I was obsessed with Gallagher. I knew all of Rosie O’Donnell’s HBO special. I knew all of Eddie Murphy. I could do it right now.
So I tried standup. Six months later, the church bought out the building and the Edge had to close. I was really bummed and even more because I had met all these new friends. I worked for the real estate company that owned the Logan Theater in Logan Square. They had redone the entire theater and there was this room in the back that just had chairs. I said to my boss, “What if we put an open mic back there? I can assure you, thirty people on a Monday night will come … I promise you.” And he was like, “No way is that going to happen.” Then we did it and thirteen years later, we still get thirty people on a Monday night.
Teme: That’s awesome. Especially with Chicago weather.
Lia: Those are the most packed nights!
Orly: I just began a year ago. I have teenagers. I’m jealous of Lia being able to do this before she had kids and while she had kids. I felt like the second I had kids, all these ideas that you have in your brain of what you can do go out the window because somebody else controls your schedule.
One night a year ago, we went out with friends to the Lincoln Lodge. I went to the washroom and I saw a sign that said, “You want to take up standup comedy?” And I went, “Yeah, I do!” It was either doing that or a dance troupe for older women. I apparently need way too much spotlight and attention. I didn’t want to share the stage. So I took the class at the Lincoln Lodge. I fell in love with it and I just kept doing it.
I do public relations for a living. As I started doing comedy, I noticed that I’m not seeing other moms at these open mics. I’m not seeing my people. But then I went to Colleen’s show at aliveOne and I went to Lia’s show, and I finally started seeing my ladies. That’s when I decided to come up with Bad Momz of Comedy. I also started a writer’s group which is a bunch of comics getting together every other week as well as doing open mics, and I love it. This is scratching a creative itch and bringing a community of people together that I really think could use this inspiring moment. And we’re having a good time!
Teme: How does comedy activate your purpose in life?
Colleen: I think it’s really important in this world to bring joy to other people. If I can take part in creating that positive and joyful energy, then I am living my purpose. That’s what gets me up on stage. If somebody can feel lighter walking out of a show because they’ve related to something, perhaps a human condition that otherwise would make them cry but they leave laughing at it, that’s a big deal.
Lia: I’ve definitely healed myself through some of my jokes. If you’re struggling with something that is heavy for you and you can flip it, if you can change the narrative, it can help. It’s therapeutic.
Orly: I’m in sync with what Colleen and Lia said. I love making people laugh, giving someone that joy and those endorphins. What a gift to be able to do that for other people and let them forget about their life for five minutes because everybody’s life is hectic or chaotic or stressful. It’s also an outlet for me to be heard. I love public relations, but I’m working on behalf of clients. I love being a mom, but I’m doing a lot of things on behalf of my children. This feels like something for me. If I can use that for joy or use that for a release or use it for someone just to have a better day, then it’s a great gift.
Lia: This is something that moms crave. I’m still getting insane compliments from our last Bad Momz show.
Colleen: At the Bad Momz of Comedy show, I can breathe because I know that if the audience is coming specifically to see a group of moms perform, they’re going to welcome almost everything that comes out of my mouth.
Lia: They’re already on your side. We’re already comrades.
Colleen: We’re like soldiers. All in the same battle …
Lia: Uphill. Both ways …
Colleen: … in the rain.
Orly: Even the dads were like, “Oh yeah, I get you!” Either they recognized something their wives do or they’ve felt it themselves. Moms will make every excuse in the world not to do something for themselves because they’re taking care of everybody else, their kids, their house, their husband, their jobs, their parents. Moms feel guilty just going to a yoga class. I make it as easy as I can by coming to them. And it’s been working.
Lia: I have a lot of friends with young kids all currently making mom friends. We’re actually writing jokes currently about mom friends. But they’re using these shows as a way to invite neighbors out. At our last show, there was a group of people who had never really been out together and had a freaking great time – because we came to them, because we made it accessible. It is not a nine o’clock show …
Orly: … in the city where you have to pay for parking and worry about traffic.
Photo: Bad Momz Susie An, Lindsay Porter, Lia Berman, co-producer Alison Parry, Orly K.G., Colleen Brennan, Patti Vasquez
Lia: I feel very safe in this group. I like to talk to moms that have older kids and gain that wisdom. They’ve been there and they understand. We all had to work from home with our kids over the pandemic, even though they were various ages.
Colleen: And I always wish that somebody had told me that it gets harder. When I was holding a baby and I was up all night, I was like, “Oh, this is so hard.” And then when he was three, and I’m taking him to school. I was like, “Oh, this is so hard.” We get to first grade, I’m like, “This is so hard.” And then I get to high school I’m like, “No, this is so hard.”
I’m glad that I started comedy while my kids were still young. They were seven and ten when I started. I don’t think I would’ve started when they were teenagers because of the amount of time I needed to be there for them as high school students.
Orly: My kids were pandemic students. I was with them all the time and I was like, “I need to leave this house.” And they felt like that, too. It was just too much time together. I come from a very non helicopter-mom, and I started to see myself hovering too much.
I think it’s very important for moms to recognize that you need an outlet. We’re not saying it has to be standup comedy. If it is, give us a call. But if you want to write, if you want to do something for yourself, do it because that’s going to help you be a better human and a better parent, wife or partner.
Lia: I was doing comedy when I was pregnant. It never occurred to me to stop. Is that weird?
Orly: No, that’s great.
Lia: I was as big as a house and still running the open mic, not even getting up to give the comics the microphone. Just sitting on the chair and handing it to them. I was probably one of the first pregnant people that some of these comedians had ever seen.
Orly: Now you know what it’s going to feel like running an open mic at age forty-eight. I don’t want to get up from the chair.
Lia: I had the baby on a Saturday and I remember thinking, “I’m going to miss the mic, but I can probably go back next week.” And I did.
Colleen: I did the same thing with the conservatory program at Second City. You audition to get to different levels. The second time I auditioned, I was pregnant. I hid it because I didn’t want anybody to think that I was going to leave the program and lose my spot. I was wearing overalls for a couple months and then finally it was impossible to hide anymore. I was pregnant through the whole Conservatory program. Then when we started our graduate showcases, things were a little more intense. I had my son and then I went back on stage the next week.
Orly: Like you with comedy, I was a TV news reporter when I was pregnant. I was anchoring the news an hour before I gave birth. A hurricane was coming and I was like, “I … may have to go.” Women are always pushing to keep proving themselves. We’re juggling a little more than just a regular dude.
MOTHERHOOD NOT REQUIRED
Teme: What should people know about the Bad Momz’ shows?
Orly: That you don’t have to be a mom to enjoy our shows. Women are funny. Women have found men funny for a really long time. There’s no reason why men can’t find women funny. Especially men who are dads, men who are around children, men who feel like they have a lot of different roles in their life. We can all relate to each other. So don’t think that we’re going to be talking only about tampons and breastfeeding. We talk about everything. We talk about life. We just happen to have uteruses.
Lia: I had a group of people come that were not moms and still can’t stop talking about certain sets. Not every set is uterus-heavy.
Colleen: But to be perfectly honest, I’ve laughed at dick jokes. I don’t have one.
Colleen: One of my kids has been to my shows and he laughs with all the mom stuff. We can all relate to the human condition of the relationship between parents and children. It’s ludicrous that society has trained us to think that we have to put motherhood on this pedestal and that once you’ve achieved that status you’ve lost humor, attractiveness, a voice in society. We’re busting walls and ceilings.
Orly: I love how this has grown. We know there is an audience out there. At our November show at Zanies in Rosemont, we had husbands. We had a whole table of Hasidic women. We had a table of women in their 70s and 80s who were laughing so hard. It was so good it could have been a comedy special. And, Teme, we’ve gotten phone calls from national outlets that I can’t even talk about yet. Every advertiser is looking to sell things to moms ages 38 to 47, but we’re not being represented on stages. That doesn’t make sense.
“CAN YOU BE IN L.A.?”
Teme: What was the road like to Kelly Clarkson?
Lia: That road was paved by Orly.
Colleen: I was just swept up in the tornado.
Lia: I just followed the Yellow Brick Road. I had imposter syndrome over it. I was like, “I can’t go, I can’t go. I can’t go.”
Teme: You all were amazing.
Orly: Weren’t they?!
Colleen: It was a lot of fun!
Orly: I’d asked the editor of Chicago Parent magazine to come to our Glenview show and she said, “I can’t, but I have an idea. Would you write an op-ed for my paper?” And I said, “Sure!” I wrote about finding your voice as a mom and how it’s okay to do something for yourself, and starting Bad Momz of Comedy.
I have no idea how, but The Kelly Clarkson Show read it and emailed me saying, “This is great. Can you be in L.A.?” And I’m like, “I’m sorry, what is happening?” And then they asked, “Do you have other moms?” I said I do.
I kept turning to my husband like, “Okay, I guess this is my life right now?” I don’t know what this means, but I can tell you what I want to do with it, which is inspire more moms to know we have a voice and we can entertain people. And if we can inspire and bring joy then, yeah! Kelly was amazing and she smelled like an angel. I’m not a very affectionate person, but I gave her a hug and she goes, “Oh, you’re a hugger.” And I wouldn’t let her go.
Teme: How did you prepare for your appearance on the show?
Orly: These women helped me a lot.
Lia: We can talk about the hotel room the night before when it was a slumber party. We were just giddy. That was probably my favorite time of the whole trip. We were going over Orly’s ninety-second bit that she was preparing for the show. There was this hotel artwork in the room that said “Hollywood.” We made her stand in front of it and practice. And Colleen’s lying on the bed… maybe there were potato chips. I don’t know if there was food. I was starving the whole trip.
Orly: Really? I couldn’t eat. I can’t believe I even ate the In-N-Out burger.
Lia: I made them get In-N-Out.
Orly: No, you did not make us. That was not a twist-my-arm situation.
Colleen: You made me get an In-N-Out.
Orly: Okay, how did we prepare for The Kelly Clarkson Show? Before we went out, we were on the phone with the show’s producers several times. We had several Zooms with them. We each had to send them a clip.
Lia: We did the whole thing in nine days via DocuSign. It was like, “Send me this, send me this, send me this, send me a picture. Have your husband sign off on this so we can show your kid, get a COVID test, get another COVID test, send a picture of the COVID test.” It was nonstop. Since they’re in L.A., I was getting stuff to sign as I was putting my son to bed at 8:00 p.m. and their day was wrapping up.
Colleen: We had a phone meeting with them while I was in the car in the middle of Wisconsin driving my kid up to University of Minnesota. I’m getting this flurry of texts like, “Send photos of your wardrobe choices.” And I’m like, “I have a toothbrush and a backpack in the back of my car. There’s a department store down the street. Do you need me to go? I can go take pictures in the dressing room.” And they were like, “It’s okay. We’ll wait.” It was a very intense few days. And in the meantime we’re trying to live life, take care of kids. It was crazy.
Lia: But they could not have been nicer. And they are workhorses. I have talked about the producers of that show to so many people. I’m like, “You don’t understand. These women were running the show like well-oiled machines.”
Colleen: And they were so kind and accommodating. For an L.A. production it felt super Midwestern.
Lia: It was like a warm hug. They were wonderful.
Teme: I bet the plane ride there and back was really fun also!
Lia: We should tell about the Emmys.
Colleen: United Airlines had the Emmy awards on our plane. They were flying them out.
Teme: Oh right, aren’t the Emmy awards made in Chicago?
Orly: Yes. They were shipping the Emmy’s to L.A. on our flight. So they had an Emmy on display at our gate. We all posed with it. And all of us, unfortunately, except for Colleen, made NBC News. Lia was so funny, too, she was like, “This is a sign!”
TÊTE-À-TÊTE WITH JAY LENO
Teme: What was it like to meet Jay Leno?
Orly: Kelly Clarkson’s producers told us so nonchalantly. They said, “So Orly, you’re going to do ninety seconds of standup and meet Jay Leno.” I’m like, “I’m sorry, what?” As a former journalist, I had a whole list of questions for him. He talked about getting stage time, about getting to the crux of the joke and timing. He talked about making sure that material is relevant to everybody. What an honor to be able to talk to someone with so much experience.
Colleen: I’m always impressed by people who don’t have to be nice, but they choose to be. He leaned over during one of the commercial breaks and asked me questions. I was afraid. I was an extra on a movie set once and they were like, “Do not talk to the talent.” I was like, “Well, I’m kind of talent.” But it gave me this fear. But he turned around and started asking me questions. I thought, “Well, Jay Leno, just asked me a question. So I guess I can talk to the talent.”
Teme: That’s so cool. What did he ask you?
Colleen: He was gracious and kind and really listened. He asked me what kind of clubs I’d performed in around Chicago and I was like, “Your picture is up on the wall at Zanies” and he said, “I love Zanies, I love The Improv.” He talked about coming up through the national club scene and how different it was then versus now.
Orly: While you were talking to him, there was music playing because it was during a commercial break. I was dancing in the seat and I was like, “Wow, Kelly Clarkson is singing next to me!
Lia: I remember being like, “This is insane!” Just the whole thing, the studio audience, the bands, the walking out like, “Come on, here we go, let’s go, let’s walk on stage. Oh, there she is. There he is, there they are! Oh my god!”
Colleen: I can’t wait to do it again.
Colleen: I know it’s happening. I know it’s coming.
Orly: We’re going to do it again.
Lia: That was such a high. It took a very long time to come down from it.
Orly: It didn’t take me long. I came home and my basement flooded.
Lia: The next week I was doing a show for six people that did not laugh and did not think I was funny and I was like, “And isn’t this ironic?”
Colleen: It’s like a pie in the face from comedy.
Teme: How do you do everything you do? What are your energy tips?
Lia: I suggest working out very early in the morning before your body knows what it’s doing and taking a very hot shower and drinking copious amounts of absolutely black coffee. That’s how I function. I don’t know if other people do that. I crash when I get home. I crash.
Colleen: I haven’t figured it out yet. I think regret fuels my energy. So everything I do, it’s to avoid regret and then a lot of gratitude, which also fuels my energy. And I think that’s it. No regret. So that propels me forward.
Lia: FOMO too.
Colleen: Maybe a little bit of FOMO. There’s just too much I want to do before I die. I got back into comedy later than I should have. So that thought is pervasive. When I feel exhausted I’m like, “Nope, just put on your big girl underwear and go to the show.”
Orly: You did not start late. You started exactly when you were supposed to. Don’t say that to yourself.
Lia: Yup. I truly believe that.
Colleen: I started standup late. I’m glad that I hit “play” again on my life.
Orly: I’m learning how to juggle it all. As far as getting that energy on stage, as long as I remember this isn’t about me and this is about delivering laughs and getting people to just feel really good, then that helps me placate the anxiety of getting up there.
Lia: Even though you would never know that you have anxiety.
Orly: I own a business where I’m representing clients all the time, so that helps. I was a TV news reporter, that helped. My mom gave birth to a bunch of kosher hams …
Lia: I love that.
Orly: … but when it’s your own content and your own truth and your own vulnerabilities up there, there is a nerve up there of saying, this is me and feeling that acceptance. But again, if I can take myself out of the equation and just go, “I hope to make you laugh. I hope you have a good time.” And putting the audience first. I think that helps.
Colleen: That’s really well said.
Lia: Yes, that is well said.
Colleen: With improv or with acting in front of a camera or on stage, I was never as nervous or worried as I was getting on stage for standup. It’s a different kind of panic, but it’s also indicative of how much respect I have for the art form in general. I want to represent that art form well to the people who are there in the audience.
Lia: Talk about well said. Well said!
WHERE CAN I SEE THE BAD MOMZ OF COMEDY?
THURSDAY, DECEMBER 8:
Comedy Ablaze for a Cause at The ABL Group Design Center, 7:00 p.m. Tickets
259 Waukegan Ave., Highwood. Only four tickets left!
Lineup: Orly K.G., Lia Berman, Angie McMahon, Eliana LaCasa, Liz Greenwood
THURSDAY, JANUARY 19:
Koval Distillery on Ravenswood, Chicago. Ticket Details TBA.
Lineup: Orly K.G. and more TBA.
THURSDAY, JANUARY 26, 2023:
Hackney’s, 1241 Harms Rd., Glenview, 7:00 p.m. Tickets
Benefiting Northbrook P.T.A.
Lineup: Orly K.G., Lia Berman, Lisa Peiffer, Janice Rodriguez, Lindsay Porter
FRIDAY, JANUARY 27, 2023:
Laughing Academy, 3230 Glenview Rd., Glenview, 8:00 p.m. Tickets
Lineup: Orly K.G., Emma Sapington, Denise Medina, Deanna Ortiz, Kristen Toomey
THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 23, 2023:
Hackney’s, 1241 Harms Rd., Glenview. Ticket Details TBA.
Benefiting the Glenview SPAT PTA
Lineup: Orly K.G., Lia Berman, Avril Granato, Sara Dirks and one more TBA!
WOMXN IDENTIFYING COMICS — MOMS PREFERRED – WHO WANT TO BE CONSIDERED FOR A GIG, PLEASE LINK HERE
WHERE CAN I SEE ORLY K.G.?
Follow Orly at Chicagocomedyworks.com
Orly K.G. co-hosts Comedy at the Cabin Open Mic every Wednesday at 4104 N. Pulaski, Chicago at 7:30 p.m.. Last Wednesday of the month is the winners’ showcase. facebook.com/comedyatthecabin
WHERE CAN I SEE COLLEEN BRENNAN?
Follow Colleen at Colleenisfunny.com
Colleen and Lia are co-producers of Back Room Comedy at aliveOne, 2683 N. Halsted, Chicago.
Follow Back Room Comedy @backroomcomedy_chicago on Instagram for line-ups and ticket links.
Listen to Defending Indiana with Colleen and Janice Rodriguez: defendingindianapodcast.com
Follow Defending Indiana @defendingindiana on social media.
WHERE CAN I SEE LIA BERMAN?
Follow Lia at Instagram: www.instagram.com/liaberman3/
Lia Berman’s Logan Lounge is every Monday at the Logan Theatre, 2646 N. Milwaukee Ave., Chicago Details
Laughs on a Hot Tin Roof at Five and Dime, 1026 Davis, Evanston, 7:30 p.m. Details
Comedy Ablaze for a Cause at The ABL Group Design Center, 7:00 p.m. Tickets
Raising The Dead for the Festival of Lights at Weinstein & Piser, Wilmette, 6:00 p.m. Tickets