The classroom theater is tiny and DIY-looking, a dimly lit studio tucked behind a Sherman Oaks residence. The stage is modest, a raised platform backed by a plain crimson curtain — it conceals a kitchenette peeking out behind it. And the viewers is intimate, 11 ladies crammed collectively in steel folding chairs.
However we’ll see the total vary of human emotion onstage tonight — tears, anger, anxiousness, humility and a wholesome dose of laughter.
That is Lisa Sundstedt’s stand-up comedy workshop, Pretty Funny Women, a females-only occasion held at her dwelling. Sundstedt’s dwell stand-up comedy showcase of the identical identify, which she hosts at comedy golf equipment, has been working for greater than 25 years. She’s offered a few of the largest feminine comics of our day there, together with Sarah Silverman, Tig Notaro, Natasha Leggero, Maria Bamford, Chelsea Handler and others. She’s nurtured main skills in her class, again after they had been unknown newbies, together with “Saturday Night Live’s” Chloe Fineman. Between the 2 entities, Sundstedt has steered greater than 3,000 humorous ladies and counting.
Tonight, the vibe is “The Kominsky Method” meets “Seinfeld” meets HBO’s “In Treatment.” The scholars — largely aspiring comedians and actresses — fidget of their seats, nervously avoiding Sundstedt’s gaze. They’re every to current a stand-up bit for assessment.
Which means: remedy.
“You’re really hard on yourself, super critical, where does that come from?” Sundstedt says from a chair behind the category, addressing one girl onstage.
“I’m a Virgo?” jokes 42-year-old Diana Zhawn. Laughter throughout.
“Could it be a critical parent’s voice, from growing up?” Sundstedt presses. “A mother?”
“Oh — mother, grandmother, aunt … it was, like, a lot of criticism,” Zhawn says. “My grandmother would say I’m the devil and I was gonna grow a tail.”
“See? That’s funny! That’s material!” Sundstedt says, leaping to her ft. “Comedy equals tragedy plus time.”
“It’s definitely a very humbling experience,” Zhawn says later. “Lisa doesn’t sugarcoat things, she tells you as it is. But she’s very patient. And if she doesn’t push like she does, she’s not doing you a favor. She does that because she cares about you succeeding.”
Regardless of her direct and probing type, Sundstedt manages to create what looks like a protected house for these ladies, who meet her questions with unvarnished honesty. Their six-minute units are fearlessly candid. Melissa Paakh, 30, tentatively exams a joke about abortion and the reversal of girls’s rights; 52-year-old Whitney Cicero opens up about menopause (“I dunno what’s happening down there!” she admits, pointing to her crotch). And 38-year-old Billie Lee rants about self-care fans (“How about self I don’t care!” she bellows).
However when wholesome-looking Claire Younger, 24, takes the stage, her set about her father, a homophobic pastor, ends in tears.
“I’m sorry, it’s a family trauma thing and I thought it was funny,” Younger whimpers after being met with silence from the viewers.
“Don’t be sorry, we’re learning,” Sundstedt says. “Just because we’re not laughing doesn’t mean we don’t like you — we just don’t understand. The wording is off and needs to be tweaked.”
As Sundstedt provides notes, Younger hugs her pocket book to her chest, eyes fastened on the ground and tears streaming down her cheeks. When she slumps again down in her seat, the others fall in round her providing shoulder squeezes and hugs.
Then: “OK, who’s up next?!” Sundstedt roars, merrily.
Sundstedt, 55, grew up in Oceanside, Calif., the eldest of 4 and a born entertainer. She’d direct her three brothers in performs she wrote and watched “The Carol Burnett Show” each Saturday evening for inspiration. She all the time knew she’d be an artist.
After one yr at MiraCosta School, Sundstedt dropped out to pursue appearing. She obtained a waitressing job and honed her singing and dancing abilities in native lessons. That led to just about a decade of regional theater, largely musicals, in addition to stints acting at Tokyo Disneyland, in a spread present in Morocco and touring with the band Sha Na Na as a featured singer and dancer. Later, voice-over work and tv commercials would pay the payments.
However what Sundstedt actually needed to do, was act in sitcoms, like her inspiration, Julia Louis-Dreyfus. An agent she was relationship informed her stand-up comedy was the quickest path to touchdown a tv gig, so she started making the rounds at open mic nights. Mainstream comedy golf equipment, within the early ’90s, had been too tough to interrupt into, she says, particularly for an unknown feminine comedian.
“It was always 10 men and Margaret Cho. Or eight guys and Sarah Silverman,” she says. “There were, like, five women they would book and if you were a new female comedian, it was very hard to get on one of the main stages. ”
Sundstedt says she grew to become “obsessed, relentless — eat, sleep, drink comedy.”
“I’d drive all over town, three open mics a night, just to get five minutes of stage time to see if a joke worked,” she says.
A sexist encounter, on the Hollywood Improv in 1995, modified the course of Sundstedt’s profession.
She was hanging across the membership, making an attempt to get stage time, she says, when a male TV producer she met put it merely, from his perspective: “He goes: ‘you’re too pretty to be funny.’ I didn’t know how to feel — is that a compliment because he’s telling me I’m pretty? But then he’s dismissing me.”
The thought for Pretty Funny Women, a dwell stand-up showcase of largely rising feminine comedians, got here the following day.
The primary present, on the now-defunct Luna Park, bought out. Quickly the showcase, at which Sundstedt additionally performs, was taking part in on the Comedy Retailer’s Stomach Room, a membership evening referred to as Combined Nuts and the small stage on the Hollywood Improv earlier than ultimately transferring to its principal stage.
One evening Notaro, then new on the town and with no automobile, rode her 10-speed bike to the Stomach Room and requested Sundstedt if she might be on the present.
“I was like, why not, I’ll try ya,” Sundstedt says. “I became such a fan. I put her on every show. She became my closer.”
Handler appeared within the dwell present as nicely and ultimately, Sundstedt started writing for “The Chelsea Handler Show;” later she grew to become a author on the primary season of “Chelsea Lately.”
Pretty Funny Women, meantime, had hit its stride, working month-to-month — and practically repeatedly — over the a long time. It will definitely discovered a everlasting dwelling at Flappers Comedy Membership and Restaurant in Burbank, the place it’s been working since 2011. Month-to-month reveals additionally happen on the Comedy Retailer-La Jolla.
Sundstedt turned to educating in 2006. She’d struggled with alcohol habit, in addition to bipolar dysfunction, most of her grownup life and obtained sober in 2007. Educating helped floor her and performed a key function in her therapeutic.
“Acting can be sort of self indulgent,” she says. “I wanted to be of service, helping, doing something that was meaningful. And I had this brand — so why not turn it into a school?”
The primary workshop, for 5 ladies, was held in Sundstedt’s lounge. She marketed on Craigslist and in commerce magazines, however the class — which focuses on stand-up solely versus sketch comedy or appearing — grew largely by phrase of mouth. The vast majority of her college students, Sundstedt says, aren’t aspiring stand-up comedians however “regular people” seeking to combine comedic abilities. Attorneys and medical doctors take her class to alleviate stress; enterprise folks to hone their public talking abilities; actresses to diversify and acquire audition confidence; moms to get out of the home and escape their youngsters.
Dr. Margaret Perez, a Tarzana-based chiropractor, took Sundstedt’s class 14 years in the past to assist her navigate a milestone birthday.
“I thought: I’m turning 50, you’re either gonna get old and set in your ways and boring, or do something outside of the box,” she says. “It was amazing. It gave me confidence in talking to people and I enjoyed the intelligence of writing jokes. And humor is part of healing. Having a lighthearted, fun, easy atmosphere is wonderful for my patients.”
Different alums embody Atsuko Okatsuka, who’s first HBO particular aired earlier this month, Kimrie Lewis of ABC’s “Single Parents” and Rachel Wolfson of the film “Jackass Forever.”
Lakers proprietor Jeanie Buss took the category for public talking functions, Sundstedt says. She’s now collaborating with Sundstedt, government producing an upcoming comedy particular, “Pretty Funny Women: It’s About F— Time.” The present, open to the general public, will tape on Jan. 19 on the El Portal Theatre in North Hollywood, with tickets accessible on the venue’s web site.
Sundstedt’s method to educating stand-up may be very explicit. She breaks down joke construction for her college students, with every class specializing in one archetype. There’s the “Bait ‘n Switch,” the “Act Out,” and the “Twist,” among others. Students must focus on their own lives when writing material. No political or observational jokes allowed.
“Because if a new comic wants to do an observational joke, say about Facebook, every other comic out there is already doing it,” Sundstedt says. “She can’t compete. However nobody’s doing her story.”
Sundstedt isn’t essentially the hand-holding sort, however it’s for the higher in the long term, she says. The comedy scene is difficult and hasn’t modified for ladies as a lot as one would suppose, she says. Sexism continues to be rampant, notably amongst rising male comics on the open mic circuit. A part of her job, she says, is making ready college students for that unlucky panorama.
“If they can’t handle me giving them notes, they shouldn’t be in comedy,” Sundstedt says. “Comedy is brutal. My environment is nice. But club owners fall asleep during your set and then tell you you’re terrible.”
There are various supportive male comics on the market, she provides. “But for the most part, the feedback I get from girls who are at open mics where there are men is, they’re objectified and treated poorly.”
Every of Sundstedt’s workshops culminates in a commencement present at Flappers, in entrance of a dwell viewers. College students carry out the set they created in school. The night is taped, in order that appearing wannabes have comedic materials for his or her promotional reels.
Earlier this month, the Flappers stage is bathed in festive Christmas lights and the evening’s vibe, in contrast to the category the L.A. Occasions noticed, is something however awkward. The women are killing it, every in their very own method.
Younger is effervescent onstage, doing a festive jig as her set will get underway.
Lee is deadpan: “The only self-care I’m comfortable with is self-sabotage,” she says, which will get an enormous snigger.
Sundstedt sits behind the membership, nursing a glass of water. She leans ahead, actually sitting on the sting of her seat, as every girl begins her set. Often she mouths the jokes together with the performer, like a nervous mama watching her youngster in a faculty manufacturing. Usually, she’s the primary particular person within the room to burst out laughing, as if listening to the punchline for the primary time — a loud, appreciative cackle.
“Oh my God, they really brought their A-game, everyone destroyed,” she says later of the night.
That satisfaction extends to herself, too.
“I really, really struggled over the years to keep this all current and relevant,” she says. “I’ve come up against a lot of criticism, a lot of men putting it down. But I never give up. These female comics shouldn’t either.”