The Second City and NBC Universal Present THE BREAK OUT COMEDY FESTIVAL Review–Letting Diverse Comics Shine

Irene Tu performs

A Night Filled With Laughs and Newfound Awareness

It’s a Friday night at the UP-Comedy Club in  Chicago. Waiters and audience members push through to get around the dimly lit club. But it also holds a very high sense of professionalism. That might be what one would expect from an event hosted and sponsored by such cornerstones of the entertainment industry. And yet, for many of the performers, it was their first shot at an event like this, because their voices aren't heard elsewhere.

The Second City and NBC Universal hosted the Break Out Comedy Festival from June 8th through the 10th, a show made to promote diverse voices in comedy, with various bits of stand-up and small skits filling a fun night. Hosted by Second City alum Danny Pudi and Parvesh Cheena – who jokingly pointed out they both acted on TV shows canceled by NBC – the comedians' shared Indian heritage became a jumping-off point for the rest of the night: neither of them were Aziz Ansari. Or Mindy Kalling. They, along with all the other performers, were there to promote minority voices in comedy – not as “a generic comedian with X identity,” but someone who also has comedic talent. This show existed to prove it.

Promoting Diverse Voices in Comedy

Highlights included the Bob Curry Fellows, a group selected by Second City as emerging comedians. Their sketch included a drinking game where one person describes something on their mind, and nothing more. One character begins by describing the prison pipeline destroying Black communities. Another talks about the fight over Muslim women's headscarves and how that debate often alienates the people it affects. And the last character, a white man, couldn’t come up with any struggles on that scale that he faces. The sketch introduced an interesting dynamic that emphasized why these comics needed a voice in the first place.

Danny Pudi, one of two hosts at the festival Friday night
Aisha Alfa performs

Stand-up comedian Max Thomas discussed growing up on the South Side of Chicago. Aisha Alfa told a story of two lovers who only knew how to find each other on a date because of their race. Whether they both ended up without their original soulmate was hard to determine, as Aisha concluded by saying that her "parents might just be two racist idiots.”  Jonathon Shaboo played a song just perfect enough to seem real but then hit with you with its punchline in the chorus.

The audience couldn’t stop laughing throughout. The performers got their voices to be heard.  This was proof that diverse actors need a voice in the comedic world just as much as any one else.  The fact we were so busy laughing throughout and only had time to reflect on it afterwards speaks to the success of the festival.

Second City Does it Best

To cap it off, Parvesh and Danny performed a sketch where they found themselves in a taxi with a stereotypical Indian driver, while the two of them took turns rotating to play the driver. And after all of the performers came up to take a final bow, and the night was finished, these comics knew they were moving past the stereotypes, and that they could have a voice in the comic world.

You can learn more about the festival and about Second City at their website.

All photos courtesy of the Second City.

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