In the thick of the 2016 presidential campaign, Janice Rodriguez observed a gap in Chicago’s comedy scene. There was a shortage of shows providing a platform for women, especially women of color and Latinas, to explore the issues of the day.
Rather than simply fighting for her own personal representation on the stand-up stage, Rodriguez took the matter into her own hands and created Las Locas Comedy. The monthly traveling showcase has grown to become one of the most popular in the city and its diverse lineups are lauded for featuring funny sets from the best Latina/Latinx comedians around.
Rodriguez explained that providing a safe space for comedians and fans to engage in conversation was a driving factor in creating Las Locas Comedy.
“Right before Trump got elected – and started talking about the wall – people wanted to talk about things that were very specific to the Latina or Latinx experience,” she said. “There was this anti-brown people sentiment and anti-immigrant sentiment and I wanted to talk about how bullsh*t this is. It’s kind of scary, but it’s good to laugh about it, I guess, because if you don’t laugh, you’ll cry. It’s cool that we can get together and talk about things through a lens of comedy.”
Growing up outside of Chicago in Hammond, Ind., Rodriguez first developed a love of comedy watching stand-up specials with her family. Richard Pryor, Eddie Murphy, Benny Hill and more were frequently flickering on the television screen in her household.
“I tried to seek out female comics, but even now, it’s hard for me to name women of color in comedy from back then,” said Rodriguez.
Undeterred – and perhaps motivated – by under-representation, Rodriguez made a New Year’s resolution going into 2016 to start pursuing her love of comedy. She soon signed up for
Feminine Comique classes and started hitting open mics. She credits her age – Rodriguez turned 40 this month – as a source of strength in her budding stand-up career.
“I had some scary moments there when I first started open-micing and I’m glad I’m my age because if that had happened when I was younger, I’d have quit,” she said. “I continued to schedule comedy into my life instead of treating it like a side project.”
Along with a passion for providing a megaphone to diverse comedic voices, Rodriguez also strives to bring stand-up to different neighborhoods across Chicago. While many monthly showcases have permanent homes – typically on the north side – Las Locas travels to Hyde Park, Pilsen, and elsewhere, often performing to standing room only crowds.
“We can take our show anywhere,” she said. “It’s a good problem to have that we’re growing and people want to see us. I try to put together line-ups that are as diverse as possible with different energies, different styles of comedy, different backgrounds and everything else. Through word of mouth, I’ve been getting contacted by different colleges and other groups, so that’s great. That shows me that people are hungry for what we’re saying.”
Final Five Questions with Janice Rodriguez
What makes you laugh?
I laugh at everything, even myself. I laugh at how ridiculous I am.
Stupidly, the stray cats in my backyard make me laugh. I make up a little soap opera around them. I work from home so when I look out into my backyard I find entertainment. It’s so sad (Laughs).
I’m projecting a lot onto these stray cats.
Do you have a favorite joke either that you do or you love from another comedian?
Right now, I do have a favorite joke that makes me laugh. There’s a really long set-up, but basically the punchline is, “I’m from The Jackson 5 part of Indiana, not the f*ck your sister part.”
It works every time. I don’t know if it’s something about the Jackson Five or something about incest…I’ve gotten so much feedback from that joke. It’s a keeper. You kind of have to pat yourself on the back when you write something that’s completely ridiculous, but gets a reaction from people, so that’s my favorite.
What establishments or landmarks would you recommend for someone to visit in Chicago?
This is super cheesy, I guess, but I’m a huge art fan so I love the Art Institute, and MCA is really cool. I would recommend someone to do the architectural cruise if they could. It’s a really good way to see the city from the river.
And then, I would really recommend that people go to the neighborhoods. Hop on the Blue Line, get off somewhere and walk around. Go eat in a neighborhood, go drink in a neighborhood and go to a random dive bar. Get into the fabric of Chicago because the downtown is the glossy side.
Do you have any comedy recommendations to share with the world?
I’ve worked with some really amazing people, locally. There are some people who are just good and fun and talented.
Kelsie Huff, for sure. If it wasn’t for her support, I wouldn’t be doing comedy at all. Alex Kumin, who teaches Feminine Comique now is another one who really gave me opportunities. It’s cool to have someone look out for you and give you a nod when they see you. It may sound stupid and minimal, but when you’re in a fun, but competitive, space it’s great to see those faces.
Sonal Aggarwal is a really good friend of mine so I’m kind of biased. She hosted our last Las Locas show. She’s hilarious because she’s Indian-American but she speaks better Spanish than I do. She’s got great energy and always elevates a show. She goes on stage like a firecracker.
I would also say my current associate producer, Jess Martinez. She’s new on the scene and she’s killing doing open mics, shows and group work five nights a week. And also helping out with Las Locas. It’s cool to see this new group coming up. They are really supportive of each other – meeting each other out at mics – and Jess has a lot of important stuff to say from a younger perspective. It’s cool.
What makes you Rebellious?
I was just looking out my window at my cats and I don’t feel rebellious right now (Laughs). Oh man, I don’t know. I hate talking about myself, it makes me so uncomfortable.
Maybe it’s that I’m always trying to do my own thing. I have a hard time following other people. I like true partnerships. I’m all about helping people out – as I’ve been helped – but, for me, being rebellious, I think, is being OK with doing things on my own. And trying to do new things on my own first.
Whatever thing I’m trying to do, I’ll just do it.
(Photos courtesy of Janice Rodriguez)