Chi-Town Comedy Chat: On the Move with Rima Parikh

Rima Parikh

Chicago-based comedian Rima Parikh has spent the last few years honing her craft on some of the best stand-up stages in the city, all while earning her degree in writing and her master’s in journalism. Having checked a few major accomplishments off her list, she now has her sights set on New York, where she will be moving later this month.

Reflecting on her experience with Just Us Gals (JUG) – the monthly variety show she co-produces with Clare Austen-Smith and Naomi Spungen at Sleeping Village – Parikh explained how she enjoys curating a show where people feel comfortable enough to laugh.

“Before us, Sleeping Village didn’t do any comedy shows. When JUG started, one of the challenges was bringing comedy to an audience that wouldn’t normally go to comedy shows because Sleeping Village does mostly music,” said Parikh. “It’s been really fun.”

Starting with a blank slate at the venue allowed the JUG team to introduce stand-up comedy to new fans who were already frequenting Sleeping Village because they love the space.

“One thing that we didn’t realize is people who don’t go to comedy shows sometimes don’t know how to act at comedy shows,” said Parikh. “As hosts you have to make them feel welcome. I think people in the beginning were really attentive, respectful and all that, but they would feel weird about laughing too loud or making too much noise. We had to be like, ‘This isn’t the opera, you’re supposed to laugh.’ That’s been really fun to navigate.”

One of Parikh’s stand-up philosophies is that the art form is a two-way street that allows performers to check in with the audience at any point during a set.

“What I like about stand-up is you’re allowed to be a person. When things aren’t going well, you can acknowledge that. Whereas with improv you can’t break out of the scene. I sometimes feel like a comedy mom,” she said with a laugh. “I want everybody to have a good time. I’m like, ‘Are you guys having fun? Is there enough juice? What’s going on?’”

Parikh is always learning from her audiences, taking their temperature when considering how to better refine jokes. As a co-producer of JUG – the next show will be held at Sleeping Village on Sept. 12 – she also prioritizes the fan experience by booking lineups that appeal to different people.

“We want it to be where if you watch the show, you’ll at minimum love at least one comic,” explained Parikh. “We like to have people that are diverse comedically and also diverse background-wise. We try to curate a lineup by having someone who’s a little bit higher energy, with someone who’s a little weirder and more alt, and also having someone who is faster with well-written one-liners.”

Parikh, Austen-Smith and Spungen, all of whom are primarily stand-up comedians, also perform at each JUG show, taking advantage of the opportunity to explore their more experimental sides.

Growing up in Skokie, Parikh always loved comedy, and she enrolled in Second City as a teen. Presently, along with performing stand-up, she is a contributing writer with Cards Against Humanity and Flexx Mag.

Parikh believes that Chicago helped her nurture her talent in a way that is unique to the city.

“I’ve been able to do a lot of things here that I really don’t think I would have if I’d just moved to New York,” she said, also noting her familiarity with Chicago and support from local friends as bonuses starting out. “The comedy scene is really nice because you’re allowed to just be bad, and no one cares. One thing that’s unique about Chicago is there is the traditional scene, the alt scene and other little scenes, and I don’t feel like you get pigeonholed into one thing or the other. Then, there’s The Onion and Cards Against Humanity and all sorts of other little pockets of things. It’s nice to weave in and out of different groups without feeling like you just have to do your one thing.”

Final Five Questions with Rima Parikh

What makes you laugh?

This is kind of a basic answer, but stuff that’s unexpected or absurd. Absurd stuff really makes me laugh. I love seeing someone do something that’s insane. Something that doesn’t make sense but in its own universe it makes sense. Doing mostly traditional stand-up, that’s something that is so interesting to me. Really good alt comedy is so funny.

I also really like watching comedy where it feels like the stand-up is so comfortable with themselves and you almost can’t discern who they are as a person versus the person on stage to the point where they make you feel like you’re their friend. That’s something that I would want to do at some point, to be so good that that comes across naturally.

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

At JUG, we were talking about cockroaches during our host set, and Naomi Spungen said something like, “Cockroaches seem a lot less scary when you don’t think of them as scuttling – you just think of them as jogging. Like they’re getting their steps in.” I’ve been giggling about this for six hours.

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

They should go to Bang Bang and get like six slices of pie. The key lime is really solid.

I think my favorite thing that I like to do here that I’m gonna miss is getting a vegetarian burrito with plantains from Irazu and sitting in the park just gorging on it. It’s my favorite thing.

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

Well, there’s so many good shows that happen every night of the week here, which is really nice. I think people here don’t take advantage of that enough. CAMP on Mondays is really great, CHUC [Chicago Underground Comedy] on Tuesdays, CYSK [Comedians You Should Know] on Wednesdays. There are so many good shows. I’m trying to think of things that aren’t basic answers that everyone has said to you 18 times (Laughs).

AJ’s [Marroquin] show Deluxe Editions he’s done at Schubas. AJ is so funny. He’s like insane and everyone should follow him on all social media platforms.

What makes you Rebellious?

Being a quiet person and wanting to be in spaces that require you to be vocal or loud is something that’s always been hard for me. I like that I can still do it. Also, not being self-conscious about being somewhat quiet. You don’t need to be loud to be valued or to be good at something. It’s really nice that I can be comfortable with being quiet.

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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 Riot Fest. She loves chatting with hilarious comedians and has interviewed the likes of Maria Bamford, Paula Poundstone and Tracy Morgan, to name a few. She has photographed tons of great bands/musicians – from every genre – including Rob Zombie, Florence and the Machine, Alabama Shakes, Neil Young, Shania Twain, Pitbull, Pierce the Veil, Kendrick Lamar, Patti Smith and many, many more. When not writing or shooting shows, Laurie loves to spend her free time training for marathons and exploring the city of Chicago. She is a longtime vegetarian and animal advocate who likes to cook healthy, delicious meals that everyone can enjoy. For more information or to contact Laurie, head over to www.lauriefanelli.com.