Chicago Women's Funny Festival

Chicago boasts of funny women all day long. However, from June 5th through June 8th there will be an influx of comediennes flowing in and out of the doors to Stage 773 for The 3rd Annual Chicago Women's Funny Festival (CWFF). I spoke with Executive Producer, Jill Valentine, and Associate Producer, Liz McArthur, to learn a bit more about what to expect at this year's fest.

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What can we expect to be the same and what can we expect to be new in this year's fest?

JV: Every year, the type of applications we receive define the festival. It’s fun to see what’s happening in the industry and how it changes. As we get the applications, it’s exciting to see the reflection of what’s happening in the Chicago comedy scene as well as around the country. This year seems to be a little stand-up heavy, which is exciting. 

It does seem to be a bit stand-up heavy. How many performers and shows are we looking at here? Any out of towners?

JV: I think there are over 400 performers, about 70 shows and roughly about 85% is Chicago based and the other 15% are from out of town.

So you two are the masterminds behind this festival. How did it get started?

JV: Initially, I had said to Brian Posen that I was interested in doing this women’s fest and he said, “Ok.” Sketchfest was going really well and I said I thought it was time and he agreed. He gave me his blessing and I talked to Liz, who is a big comedian in the city and has a strong belief in women in comedy, and we both just decided to get going.

Any big things you’ve learned so far in planning this third festival versus the first one?

JV: Well Sketchfest is all sketch comedy. So for CWFF, I think the big thing is taking all these art forms and pulling it all together. We talked to the “Women in Comedy Festival” in Boston and they offered some great advice, but they have a bigger budget than we do. We’re doing workshops this year, which is a new thing. Katie Rich is doing an improv workshop and Beth Stelling is doing a stand-up workshop -- a sit-down stand-up workshop that is.

Any exciting acts you're especially looking forward to having this year?

JV: Liz and I have certain things we get quietly excited about. Obviously, the veterans, people who have paved the way for me and other people. They’re a big reflection of what’s happening in the Chicago comedy scene. Then you see young kids like The Fruit Flies and Shannon DeVido. It’s always evolving. We’re the hub of comedy and this is where it happens, so I’m always insanely proud of what we have to put up for our Chicago audiences.

LM: Jill mentioned Shannon DeVido from Pennsylvania, who also happens to be in a wheelchair, but also Kelsie Huff, Sherra Lasley and Amy Sumpter. And Friday night, She’s Crafty, an all-female Beastie Boys Cover band is playing at midnight. They’re ridiculous.

What has been the biggest challenge in putting on this festival?

JV: Every year it gets bigger and more exciting and more applications. I think one of the hardest things is telling people “no” because there were so many good people.

What is the decision process like after all applications have been submitted?

JV: We have a panel of people we put together and we all watched the videos and score them. We deliberate as a group and the festival is redefined every year based on the types of applications we get and...what the hell is funny!

Where do you hope to see it in the next five years?

JV: I guess, I hope to see it be similar to Sketchfest. CWFF is already growing exponentially compared to Sketchfest’s early days. So that would be my goal.

Do you think there is any more draw to the festival because this is just specifically focused on women?

JV: We’ve been doing comedy for about 15 years and we’ve seen how women have grown. We just want to acknowledge it, empower it and get excited about it. It’s nothing more than that. 

LM: It’s a celebration! Oh, ask us who are major comedy influences.

Haha, ok. Who are your major comedy influences?

LM: Jill Valentine
JV: Brian Posen

There you have it. Check out the Chicago Women's Funny Festival June 5th-8th and sign up for a workshop if you're feeling fancy.