Alexandra Tsarpalas has everything you want in a comedian. Hilarious on the stand-up stage: check. Versatile character work: Check. Steeped in the surreal and absurd: Check.
As a frequent collaborator of The Kates – Chicago’s popular all-female comedy showcase created by the incomparable Kelsie Huff – and one of the founding members of Mom Genes (the hosting duo with the hysterical maternal instincts, comprised of Tsarpalas and Kristin Lytie), Tsarpalas has earned a reputation for finding the funny in the most unexpected of places. Whether she is turning prop comedy into a fine art, using physical humor to generate big laughs or sharing “Keen Observations” on social media as her handle suggests, big laughs await behind every punchline.
“Even before I was in kindergarten, my mom put me in a pre-school program at the local community college, and I told everyone that I was in comedian college. So, from day one I’ve been on this comedy train,” said Tsarpalas of her humble beginnings.
Supportive parents and an unquenchable thirst for humor – the weirder the better – helped to nurture the uniquely hilarious comedian she would become. “I watched a lot of comedy growing up. I would stay up late to watch ‘Letterman’ with my mom. Pee-wee Herman was a big influence, and he was on ‘Letterman’ a lot. I liked all those weird characters like Larry Bud Melman and the stuff Chris Elliott did when he was on,” she said. “Also Martin Short and Jan Hooks, both of their character work is still hugely influential on what I do today.”
What Tsarpalas does today is a distinct blend of improv, traditional comedy and an undefinable talent for uncovering jokes in everyday objects. “I honestly don’t know what that is. I guess it’s because I’ve always liked mixed-media visual art for myself, I think my combining of comedy genres comes from that. It’s a weird thing and I like it,” she said.
Tsarpalas is also drawn to performance spaces and groups that support and promote female comedians, and she is a champion of everyone with whom she has shared one of these stages. “I feel like they are the most supportive rooms. I have never experienced that with mixed-gender shows. Many of the female-heavy shows have a lot of women in the audience, too, and there’s nothing like that. I didn’t even think that was a thing until I started doing these shows,” she said. “It’s amazing.”
Sometimes these rooms are so supportive that Tsarpalas pulls back her more self-deprecating material because the audience is so sympathetic and doesn’t laugh as much. “That’s a very nice problem to have,” she said.
Mom Genes is going on a bit of a hiatus following their Dec. 20 performance at Cafe Mustache, but that doesn’t mean that Tsarpalas will be taking a break. She will continue to open her own doors and create spaces to do what she loves. “I really enjoy the character kind of thing, and I don’t always get a chance to do it, so I’m going to make more opportunities for myself to do it.”
Final Five Questions with Alexandra Tsarpalas
What makes you laugh?
I’m one of those people that laughs a lot. There are a lot of things that make me laugh, but really weird stuff truly gets me. I love a weirdo. That’s my thing. That’s my sweet spot.
Do you have a favorite joke either that you do or you love from another comedian?
Honestly, anything that Amy Sumpter says. She kills me. I’m so lucky that I’m friends with her because you get to live that laughter all the time. She has a joke about falling and that always plays in my head. Any time I trip on the sidewalk, I think about Amy Sumpter.
I have so many jokes that I love from all my friends. It’s weird how I’ll reference those to people who don’t know them, and it probably doesn’t make sense to them. A lot of people do know Kelsie [Huff], and I quote her jokes a lot, too.
What establishments or landmarks would you recommend for someone to visit in Chicago?
Definitely The Kates at The Book Cellar. That’s my number one pick.
There are so many good shows in this town, though. This is so hard. Chicago Underground Comedy is always going to be a good show. My favorite open mic show is You Joke Like a Girl produced by Elyse Nylin. It’s so much fun. The vibe there is so good.
You can go to anything in this town, and it’s going to be good. There are only a few things where I would be like, “hmmm, steer clear.” Look for more women on the lineup, and you should me good.
Do you have any comedy recommendations to share with the world?
There’s so many things. Like a lot of comics, I have to recommend Maria Bamford. Anything she does is magical. I watched a lot of “Tim and Eric Awesome Show.” It’s so much fun, and I’ve noticed after going to their live shows for so many years that there are more women in the audience now, which I love.
In particular, my favorite “Tim and Eric” episodes are when Maria Bamford was on their show a few times with weird lotions – I love the scenes. They are so good.
Amy Sedaris is also one of my favorite people of all time. She has a new show out that is totally up my alley. It’s kitschy crafts and recipes and weird scenes with other famous people. It’s awesome.
What makes you Rebellious?
I do love to be a contrarian. I don’t know what that is in me, but I guess that everything that I love to do is not necessarily the norm for most women. It’s funny because to me, it doesn’t feel like rebellion. I’m just doing what I’m doing and then I look and I see that everyone isn’t doing this.
I’ve never really been someone to go along with the status quo. My music taste is weird and fun and expansive. I like to be in cultural spaces that are not necessarily meant for me. Like, I love metal and I really like stoner metal. I’m not a stoner and I’m usually one of the only women there.
I go to a lot of stuff that isn’t geared towards me and that makes me so happy.