April’s Chi-Town Comedy Chat is sponsored by The Second City’s She the People: Girlfriends’ Guide to Sisters Doing it For Themselves performing weekends through May 27 at UP Comedy Club
Improv, stand-up, storytelling, podcasts, web-series; Shannon Noll does it all to fantastically funny perfection. Their creative well runs deep as Noll combines inspiration in speaking out on important issues with a great desire to simply make people laugh.
This may sound like fearlessness, but it is, in fact, bravery, as Noll dives head first into the scariest of performance scenarios. “After years of doing improv, I got a little bored with it and I wanted to do something that scared me, so I tried stand-up and ended up falling in love with it,” Noll said. “I felt like I got to have my own voice for the first time with stand-up.”
Noll’s stand-up style seamlessly blends intelligence, social consciousness, kindness and hilarity to create a comfortable, welcoming atmosphere while still addressing the important topics of our time.
“I think that combination comes from the fact that I only want to talk about stuff that interests me, and that tends to be more nuanced topics, but I do want to make it accessible to people because it’s still comedy,” they said. “I think it’s always about finding that balance. I have – in working on jokes – realized that if I approach the writing in a way that allows too much anger to control the joke, it’s just not funny. So, for me, I try to find that balance to make it approachable and funny while still having the point come through.”
Improv was Noll’s first love starting out as a young comic residing in Connecticut and commuting to New York to study the form. More than 10 years after moving to Chicago, they still can be seen generating once-in-a-lifetime laughter with Baby Wine at The Annoyance Theatre.
“I love this improv group,” Noll said. “It’s an all queer group of veteran improvisers. I love it because I’ve never in my improv experience been able to have a team – almost at any time – with more than one queer person on it. So to have all queer people, for some reason, no matter who’s playing that night, we all can kind of read each other’s minds. We’re all coming from a similar place yet still bringing different qualities to the table.”
In 2017, Noll became the target of unrelenting online trolls after creating the variety show Barron Trump: Up Past Bedtime. “It was a perfect storm of the wrong or the right elements depending how you look at it. But, the show was completely not what anyone made it out to be,” Noll explained. “I don’t naturally gravitate towards doing political humor so it was kind of an experiment in itself.
“It’s kind of nice to know that is a thing that can happen, and I know what buttons to press to get there, but it’s not something that I love doing. It was such a weird, intense blip in my comedy experience,” they added.
Never one to shy away from embarrassing or uncomfortable subjects, Noll counts producing the showcase and podcast, “We Still Like You,”– held the first Saturday of the month at COLLABORACTION Theater – as a perennial favorite gig. “The show is ongoing, and it’s always the same concept. Performers tell shameful stories, and the audience has to say, ‘We still like you,’ at the end,” Noll explained. “Sometimes the comedic stories are super cathartic – oftentimes all the stories are – but we do also intersperse some heavier stories and more serious topics. We always try to include stand-ups along with some veteran storytellers, but we love having new people as well.”
Whether it’s the people, the history, or the sights, Noll regularly finds inspiration in the city of Chicago. As a tour guide, they immerse themselves in the majesty of the city while sharing its greatest attributes with first-time visitors. “I’m doing it less and less as time goes on, but it’s my favorite job I’ve ever had,” Noll said. “Being a tour guide and learning how much architecture was innovated here while watching people from out of town be impressed by our city is a really amazing experience. It made me fall in love with Chicago even more.”
Final Five Questions with Shannon Noll
What makes you laugh?
I love watching people genuinely mess up (Laughs). If someone falls down, but they’re not hurt, that’s always funny to me. And then, forever, farts will be funny to me.
Do you have a favorite joke either that you do or you love from another comedian?
So much of Paul F. Tompkins’ stuff really cracks me up. I really love his story about working in a hat store and people coming in and asking to try on the king hat. And he’s like, “It’s called a crown.” I love that.
What establishments or landmarks would you recommend for someone to visit in Chicago?
It really depends on who it is, but if it were a friend of mine, I would probably say that if you’ve never been to Chicago before definitely check out the Cultural Center downtown. I also love walking inside buildings’ lobbies. There’s a building called the Marquette Building that has a gorgeous rotunda with mosaics around it and a great free museum in the back.
Do you have any comedy recommendations to share with the world?
Oh man, let me think about this. Well, I always recommend “Messing with a Friend” if you’re looking for improv and, of course, “Helltrap Nightmare” is fantastic. I think “Ladylike” is a great storytelling show, and if you’re looking for something to bring your pal to, “Lincoln Lodge.”
What makes you Rebellious?
I’m OK with being stubborn. If I really don’t want to do something, I will always find a way not to do it.