Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Chicago native bringing the laughs to Zanies


Chicago native Patti Vasquez took a chance after leaving graduate school at Northwestern University to work as an emcee at Zanies Comedy Club in 1995.

Although she never received her Ph.D in history, Vasquez has never regretted her decision. Vasquez has starred in two hit one-woman shows, and will present her "Comedy with a Heart" from Thursday through Saturday, Sept. 16-18, at the Zanies Comedy Night Club in Vernon Hills.

Tickets are $24, available through www.ticketweb.com.

I had the chance to talk to Vasquez about her decision to get into comedy.

Q - Do you ever regret leaving graduate school?

The only time I ever gave it a second thought is when I ran into this comedian from New York who has a master's degree and she is a headlining performer, and she was able to do both.

It was not the right place for me. I came right out of undergraduate school. I was 22. I was the youngest in my program at Northwestern. It's funny, there's a nurse at my son's hospital (her son is disabled), and when he was really born and really sick, I was thinking, ''Maybe I should have had another child.''

She told me that regret is a wasted emotion, and I live by that motto.

Q - You started as an emcee at Zanies. What did that experience teach you?

It taught me that nobody thinks the emcee is going to be funny. People either had low expectations of the first comic, or people had just gotten in the club, they waiting for their first drink, they are just kind of getting the lay of the land.

There is just a different dynamic in going first.

Q - Does it kind of take the pressure off?

You always want to be liked and you always want them to laugh. But you kind of know that when you are first man on the beach, you are going to take the hit.

Q - Do you remember when you told your first joke on stage?

Yeah, I have an audiotape of it actually. I remember my first set and the first thing I said was, "Wow, these lights are really bright." Which is funny when I watch these comedians and hear how many people say that, because it is surprising.

You can't see the audience at all, that's how bright the lights are. I was still in grad school when I started doing open mike nights, and I was working as a salesgirl at The Limited. So I did material about that.

Q - And it went over well?

Yes, it did. It was beginner's luck. I remember what I was wearing too. I was wearing Doc Martens Oxfords, black tights, and a black dress. I can't remember why it was all black. But it was all from The Limited.

Q - Did you always think you were funny, or did other people think you were funny?

Definitely not my teachers. I was a disruption in class. I always got those report cards that said, "Lacks self-control. Talks too much in class. It's a wonder that she learns anything because she talks too much in class."

I was also called a class flirt, which is really an unnecessary label by your teacher when you are 11.

Q -Your material revolves around family and relationships. What makes that good comic fodder?

Everybody has grown up in a family and you develop relationships as you go along. I've been talking a lot in my shows lately about the difference between idiots and jerks in public. The difference is that the idiot in front of you is often extremely sorry, but the jerk in front of you doesn't care. Screw you, I'll do what I want.

Almost all of my material is about my reaction to others - my reaction to my family, my reaction to relationships, my reaction to people in public.

Q - With show like "Last Comedy Standing," it seems like stand-up comedy is making a comeback. Do you think that's true?

Shows like "Chelsea Lately" give comics a good platform. Obviously, Comedy Central has done a lot. Yeah, I think there's a lot of avenues for comics for go. When the economy is bad, people are looking for a shared experience, like a live performance. It is sort of an outlet for laughter. I think that people look for that thing.

That's why vaudeville was so strong during the depression. That's why movies were so popular during the depression. There is something about being around others that is sort of reaffirming for people.

Q - Who has inspired you?

Margaret Cho. She reminded me of myself. Margaret is the daughter of immigrants, and she is culturally between two worlds. That was a big inspiration for me. That was it for me. When I saw her, it was like, "Holy crap, I have to do comedy."

Q - There does seem to be a lot more women in comedy these days. Why do you think that is?

I think it is such an appealing forum for people in general, to tell your story, to have a voice.

Q - What projects are you working on now?

We have a sitcom pilot that's being shipped around L.A. It's about my family, which is cool to say that. It's been five years in the works. It's about living in Chicago in a two-flat with my parents, and that my husband is unemployed, which is based on fact.

It's very exciting. It's called "The New Normal." It has the tag line, "For every family that's multi-generational, multi-racial, underemployed, and with special needs, it's the new normal. Everybody is trying to get used to it."

Q - What if the show becomes reality and is big of a hit as "Seinfeld?"

Here's where I am now, as compared to when I started in the '90s. Then, I wanted to have the "Seinfeld" show. That was the goal. My goal now to make sure my sons are taken care of. If it were to be as popular as "Seinfeld," that would be what that meant, that I could take care of my family.