Carly Kane - Photo by Sara Larson
Carly Kane - Photo by Sara Larson

On one hand, Carly Kane‘s meteoric rise in the Chicago comedy scene may seem fast, given that the former Pennsylvanian has only been performing for about three years. On the other hand, she has been preparing for this moment her entire life.

From making sketches with her brother as kids growing up outside Philadelphia, to being voted class clown in school, to studying comedy writing and performance at Columbia College while working as a server at The Comedy Bar here in Chicago, Kane has methodically prepared for her comedy career every step of the way.

Kane recently stepped into the spotlight as the new co-host of one of the most famous shows in Chicago, Cole’s Open Mic – held at 9:30 p.m. every Wednesday – after Sarah Sherman (AKA Sarah Squirm) left to further pursue comedy in Los Angeles.

“I started guest hosting almost a year ago, and it’s always been one of those open mics that I loved going to. I always had so much admiration for the people that hosted it prior,” said Kane by phone last month. “It’s fun and it’s challenging as the host because a lot of people return every week, and you can’t do the same set. Some nights a million things go wrong, and others go so smoothly, but it’s always really fun.”

Before Kane was one of the hosts of Cole’s Open Mic, she was a fan, in part because of how Sherman and Alex Kumin, the latter of whom still co-hosts the show, created an atmosphere of comfort and hilarity.

“Sarah is amazing,” said Kane. “Someone who I absolutely adore watching. It’s been really cool to find your place in that mix and realize that I can be a fan and also be a peer.”

Kane now counts Kumin as a great friend, and she still loves watching her do her thing on stage and off, as an inspiring voice in the comedy community.

“I love Alex so much. I’m so incredibly grateful for her. When I first moved here, I was a huge fan of her comedy, and then about a year ago we started talking,” said Kane. “She’s become one of my best friends and she’s also like a mentor to me in the way I feel. She’s been so supportive and so open with advice and recommendations. She’s always pushing me in the right direction.”

“Alex is like that for everyone in the comedy community, teaching Fem Com, always looking to get more people involved, and finding how comedy can be incorporated into fundraisers. I’m very inspired by her. She is such an incredible person.”

Kane also serves alongside Kumin and the “incredibly hilarious” comedians Elise Fernandez and Ali Drapos as producers of Diamond Comedy Hour, the popular Laugh Factory show held on the first Friday of every month.

“I think it’s so important – this sounds cheesy but it’s true – for women to be collaborative instead of competitive in comedy. I don’t think that’s just something personal to women. I think a lot of the structure of stand-up, and comedy in general, functions in a way to pit women against each other. When women get together, incredible things happen,” said Kane. “It’s fun to celebrate a stage full of women supporting each other because that’s a superpower.”

Confidence is at the core of Kane’s approach to performing, but she had to overcome personal fears and anxieties to make her dreams come true. In fact, she was once intimidated to perform at the very mic she now hosts. Reflecting on her own experiences, and the false pressure she put on herself, Kane now encourages anyone who has ever thought about trying stand-up to push fear aside, sign up for a spot at Cole’s and, “Just do it.”

“Just go for it. No one is judging you as much as you are judging yourself. The only person putting that barrier up is you,” said Kane. “The biggest thing I’ve learned in stand-up so far, personally, is that sometimes you are the only person in your way. It’s about getting over that initial fear and just going for it.”

Final Five Questions with Carly Kane

What makes you laugh?

Oh my gosh, what makes me laugh? Shows like Summer Heights High and Nathan for You have a type of humor that I don’t think I could ever do, so I think that’s why they make me laugh so much. Those are my guilty pleasures – no, not even guilty – my pleasures of comedy shows.

I love the characters in Summer Heights High. Chris Lilley is like my comedy idol and I’m amazed by his character work.

With Nathan for You, Nathan Fielder and the scenarios he does are so ridiculous, and so over the top, and so effective. I think I watched that show three times this week, just because I needed to check out and laugh.

Do you have a favorite joke either that you do or you love from another comedian?

There’s a video of Patrice O’Neal on a radio show talking about “Creep” by Radiohead and how it affects white people. It is the funniest thing I have ever heard, and it makes me laugh every time I put it on.

What establishments or landmarks would you recommend for someone to visit in Chicago?

I would say if you want to party and you want to dance, go to Queen! at SmartBar on Sunday nights. It’s my favorite place to dance in Chicago.

For a chill day, if you want to see some museums and do all of that, go to the Museum of Science and Industry.

Do you have any comedy recommendations to share with the world?

The Paper Machete on Saturdays is one of the coolest things to see if you’re from out of town. It’s comedians, and it’s essayists, and it’s just so Chicago. It’s the perfect way to spend your Saturday. Get brunch and go to The Paper Machete.

What makes you Rebellious?

Against the recommendations of all my peers and family growing up, I just really went for what I want to be doing. I’m going to try to make it work, at least until I get sick of it (Laughs).

(Photo by Sara Larson courtesy of Carly Kane)

Laurie Fanelli is a Chicago-based writer and photographer who specializes in live entertainment coverage. She is at home at major music festivals like Coachella, Bonnaroo and, of course, Lollapalooza and...