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Tragic Comedy to center queer, femme, BIPOC comedians in Lawrence

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First of regular performances set for Friday night

A new comedy troupe in town is bringing parody, musicals, sketch comedy, and stand-up in a space with room for all who love comedy to showcase their authentic selves and their jokes.

Producer Madeline Roger said after seeking out stand-up opportunities in Lawrence, she found that the small comedy scene was white-dominated and centered on hegemonic masculinity.

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That’s why she created Tragic Comedy, a comedy troupe led by queer, femme, BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and people of color) comedians in the area.

“There’s some stand-up nights around town and I kind of investigated into those, and all of them were run by cis white men. And so many of the jokes were honestly what I would say is hate speech disguised as comedy,” Roger said. “I really wanted to not only continue in my own comedy career and production, but I really wanted to focus on making a queer safe space.”

“You don’t have to tear other people down to be funny. If you do, you’re not that funny. I’m not trying to censor anybody, but it’s not a place for hate speech disguised as humor. I’m not gonna allow that kind of thing.”

Carter Gaskins/Lawrence Times Madeline Roger

Tragicomedy is a literary genre, incorporating both theatrical tragedy and humor, which is why Roger felt the name Tragic Comedy was perfect for her troupe’s style. She recalls the moment the name struck her as perfect while attending a stand-up show with a friend. 

“It was almost all white, cis men and then I could see a noticeable difference in the audience interactions when it was a woman on stage and it was just tragic,” she joked. 

Previously, Roger had performed in burlesque, which is a literary, dramatic style of musical performance that often involves elements of comedy. After 10 years performing and five years producing in burlesque, she felt it was time for something new, so she started recruiting friends and local comedians to join her efforts.

Two main cast members by Roger’s side are Kimberly Stiles and Devi Arkeketa (Kiowa and Lenape-Delaware). Both have helped with writing and production leading up to Tragic Comedy’s latest projects.

“It’s refreshing to have this panel of strong, funny women going up and having a chance to perform,” Arkeketa said.

Carter Gaskins/Lawrence Times Devi Arkeketa (Kiowa and Lenape-Delaware)

Similar to Roger, Arkeketa is trying her hand at stand-up comedy after years of performing burlesque. Her comedic style is primarily musical theater, aligning with her years of acting experience.

Arkeketa said Tragic Comedy’s commitment to inclusivity and free access is what empowered her to try stand-up.

“In the performance world there is a lot of ‘pay to play.’ Not everybody can afford to take classes to be featured in a showcase. So this gives people an opportunity, that are not involved with troupes or classes, to get noticed and have a platform to perform,” Arkeketa said.

Stiles, also known as Kimmy Khaos, has been doing comedy performances for around six months now. She said she’s always been a comedian in nature, but now she’s decided to take her one-liners to a stage.

Carter Gaskins/Lawrence Times Kimberly Stiles

Tragic Comedy has allowed Stiles to do that, and she shared the value in marginalized communities being able to joke about their own experiences.

“If we are already building from the ground up, I think it’s important to make sure that it is a comedy scene that is a safe, welcoming environment to anyone. With new voices and with new perspectives and experiences come new jokes, and all that can be funny.”

“I am transgender, and I have jokes about it. And I think that’s really important because there’s so much about it that’s funny and I don’t want it to turn into a thing that’s just ‘hush hush, nobody ever talk about it.’ There are funny things in this, and there are definitely ways of going about it that are respectful, that are not offensive, to where we can be joked about like anybody else,” Stiles said.

Roger started the troupe last year, making it Facebook-official in November and hosting the first show in April. Now, the group is excited to have a regular gig.

Starting Friday night, the troupe will bring their jokes to the stage at Elmo’s Tavern in North Lawrence every other week.

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The show starts with an open mic, a chance for aspiring or established comedians to sign up and perform live. After the open mic, scheduled performers will take the stage. Roger, who will host this Friday’s show, booked a lineup of comedians for the headlining cast, including Arkeketa and Stiles alongside Shannon Musgrave, Lulu Glocken, Spencer Chase Perkins and Martha Cheddar.

Roger plans to have a rotating cast each show, giving a variety of performers the chance to showcase their talents as headliners and give audiences something new every time. She said this stand-up series is the “perfect event for beginners and professionals alike, and a chance to have your voices heard, and laughed at, in a good way.”

The first Tragic Comedy Night is scheduled for Friday, July 1 at Elmo’s Tavern, located at 508 Locust St. 

Those who would like to participate in the open mic portion can sign up at the door beginning at 8 p.m., first-come, first-served. Roger said performers should be prepared for a 5- to 7-minute set. The open mic performances will begin at 9 p.m., followed by the headliner performances at 10 p.m. to wrap up the night. 

Patrons must be 18 or older to enter Elmo’s Tavern, and the event will cost $3 at the door. The troupe will also be selling merchandise, including stickers, buttons, keychains and more, and will have a tip jar for performers.

For more information, visit the Facebook event page.

Carter Gaskins/Lawrence Times
Carter Gaskins/Lawrence Times
Carter Gaskins/Lawrence Times

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Maya Hodison (she/her), equity reporter, can be reached at mhodison (at) lawrencekstimes (dot) com. Read more of her work for the Times here. Check out her staff bio here.

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