“It’s pretty easy to start a show. It’s really hard to keep it running,” explained illustrator, comedian and producer Meredith Kachel at the Beat Kitchen, prior to the April edition of Chicago Underground Comedy (ChUC).
As the executive director of the long-running Tuesday night show – which she took over from her mentor Jeff Hansen and produces along with Stephanie Weber, Nicky Martin and Chad Weaver – Kachel knows all about the challenges show-runners face on and off stage.
“Consistency is a giant part of running a really good show, which is why it’s so hard to start a new show. To be consistent, you have to get the right talent and the right producers who are going to show up every week.” said Kachel. “I think if you look at the legacy stand-up shows in Chicago – Comedians You Should Know, ChUC and Lincoln Lodge – what you find is really great curators and people who aren’t going to cater to new people just to cater to new people.”
Late Late Breakfast – featured at The Hideout on the first Saturday every month – and the now defunct, forever-beloved Hoo-Ha Comedy, which Kachel credits as the start of her producing career, are also among her credits.
“Hoo-Ha Comedy was awesome, and I had so much fun every week hanging out with my girlfriends and learning what makes a good show,” she said.
Kachel’s enthusiasm for alt comedy, medium-blending and unique voices has helped her curate interesting and diverse lineups across the city.
“It’s really important to me to have identifiable people at ChUC. We always try to have the most diverse lineup that we possibly can each week. Does that suck for a lot of men? Yeah, a little bit, I’m sure. But, it also sucked for us way longer, so suck my d*ck, you know,” she said with a big laugh.
Sick of the old arguments that men are funnier than women and there isn’t enough diversity in stand-up to create inclusive lineups, Kachel produced a 2017 study on discrepancies in gender in Chicago’s stand-up scene.
“I wanted to stop the arguments and have this definitive data,” Kachel explained. “The data really found that if you have people of different genders, or on the spectrum of gender, on your producer team, you are more likely to have a wider variety of people performing.”
Her work is now being used in doctorates exploring the ways that women and gender non-conforming people keep themselves safe while holding others accountable in spaces without human resources departments.
“I feel really grateful that it’s out there and, also, I got to say I’m right,” Kachel said laughing. “Now I can actually present questions like, ‘Why do you think less women are participating in this particular art form?’ It’s not some genetic men-are-funnier thing. It’s that women don’t feel as comfortable or safe when there aren’t other women around.”
Kachel – who has been performing comedy since first developing her style of humorous illustrations studying at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago – is optimistic that the future will be brighter as she sees bookers making more of an effort to host diverse lineups. She also sees change in the next generation.
As a mentor with the artist program Ag47, Kachel is inspired by the creativity – both in artistry and problem-solving – of her young proteges.
“These kids are extremely political. They’re very woke, and by woke I mean extremely respectful of others, which I think is how they would define being woke. They can handle a lot more than other generations could because we’re giving them a rotten world. They know that they are inheriting that, but they remain extremely positive and really driven.
She continued, “They feel more political than ever before. The youth will figure it out, but we do have to give them the tools. By teaching them the skills to get out of their environments in their heads in stressful situations – and focus on this lovely history that we as humanity have created – they can then use those creative skills to solve these very strange problems. I think it’s all dope.”
Final Five Questions with Meredith Kachel
What makes you laugh?
I think projectile vomiting is so funny or any sort of fake blood in the mouth that’s very funny to me. I really like mischief so I like – not like pranks but – people getting together and getting into trouble together. I’m sorry, but I love “Jackass.” I love “Jackass” so much. God, it’s so funny. They just punch each other in the face. Friendship.
Do you have a favorite joke either that you do or you love from another comedian?
It’s Paul F. Tompkins. His peanut brittle joke. It’s a joke where he is pretending that he is living in a world where peanut brittle is the most common snack in the entire world. He’s like, “Yes, where do I go every time I go to the grocery store? The brittle aisle and I get my favorite snack peanut.” He slowly talks about opening this peanut brittle can and snakes flying at his face and nipping him with their fangs.
The build-up is so good. He’s amazing. He’s part of that weird alt-crew with “Comedy Bang! Bang!,” which is more my boyfriend’s style, whereas I’m on the opposite spectrum of Stella and David Wain. Whatever David Wain does is perfect.
That’s a lot of white men that I just named isn’t it, but that Paul F. Tompkins peanut brittle joke is my absolute favorite.
What establishments or landmarks would you recommend for someone to visit in Chicago?
I have a blog amassing everything – it’s not done yet – but it’s asking Chicagoans, if they’re given $50 for a day what would you do with $50. It’s people who live here not people who are like, “Go see The Bean.”
So what I would do in a weekend is I would go to the Bunny Hutch up on Devon and play mini-golf. Then I would go to Superdawg and get a hot dog, go to American Science and Surplus and poke around there, hit a thrift store – we have great thrift stores – and go to King Spa. You’ve got to go to King Spa.
And then, if you are here on a Saturday – preferably a first Saturday – check out Late Late Breakfast and We Still Like You because those are my two favorite shows. Oh my God, there’s so much to do. Where else should they eat? Go to La Pasadita and get one regular taco. It’s mind blowing how good it is.
Do you have any comedy recommendations to share with the world?
Obviously ChUC. Obviously Late Late Breakfast. Go see Helltrap Nightmare if you are into alt-comedy. That is Sarah [Sherman] and The Shrimp Boys and Scott Egleston, the crew. FreakFest, I think that is the first Monday at the Hideout. Also support anything at The Hideout while it’s still there [In reference to the recent approval of the Lincoln Yards TIFs]. Thanks a lot, Lori [Lightfoot]. Jesus Christ, it makes me so mad.
Lincoln Lodge. You can’t go wrong with Lincoln Lodge and it’s on the weekend, which is what people really want. If you want to go to a mic – if this is something you are reading because you want to start performing – head over to Schubas on Mondays and Tyler Snodgrass will take care of you.
What makes you Rebellious?
The fact that life can get super boring and monotonous and people are just OK with having weddings in barns. The same wedding in the same barn over and over again. Just spice it up, Goddammit. We’re here for such a short amount of time.