Five years and counting! Janice V. Rodriguez talks about Las Locas Comedy

Five years and counting! Janice V. Rodriguez talks about Las Locas Comedy
Janice V. Rodriguez/Photo by ANF Chicago

I remember the first time I heard about Las Locas Comedy. It was five years ago, almost to the day. Chicago comedians Janice V. Rodriguez and Soli Santos saw a critical, unaddressed need. Talented Latina comedians in Chicago, both beginners and established stars, were not getting the stage time that they – and audiences – deserved.

That first time I heard about Las Locas was memorable! It was a brand new showcase in a hair salon in Wicker Park where you had to hurry to snap up advance tickets which, guaranteed, would sell out if you waited. Even this relentless pandemic could not dampen the show’s on-fire popularity. When Las Locas was forced to go online, scores of fans rushed to sign up. The show also brings on “honorary locas, whatever ethnicity or background.”

Las Locas Comedy, which began at the Karen Marie Salon, moved through bars, sometimes illegal pop-ups in warehouses and across the internet, has now landed at Chicago’s prestigious, world-renowned Laugh Factory. On Thursday, February 3, Las Locas Comedy will celebrate its fifth anniversary with The Chingona Comedy Hour, an in-person show with an all-star lineup, including Janice, Soli, Patti Vasquez, Audrey Jonas, Stephanie Weber, Jess Martinez, and Gwen La Roka who is hot off her first-place victory at HBO’s Latino Comedy Competition in December.

Adding to rave reviews from the Chicago Tribune’s Redeye and the Chicago Reader, happy fans on Google (male fans, by the way) write, “Funniest stand up experiences of my life consistently”, and prophetically last year: “The best comedy show in Chicago. A must attend. It will only get bigger.” Las Locas was awarded “Best BIPOC Show” by Lady Laughs Comedy, and with its move to Laugh Factory last October, has doubled the size of its audience.

Janice kindly spoke with me by phone about making dreams a reality, Chicago comedy’s need for more diversity, Las Locas’ anniversary, and why names should be pronounced with care (please note: there is a reason Janice uses the hashtag #rhymeswithDenise).

IN THE BEGINNING

Teme: How did you get started in comedy?

Janice: It’s a New Year’s resolution story. In December 2015, I was thirty-seven and I wanted to do something for me, something creative. At the time I had a very busy event staffing company. I had just relocated back to Chicago so I thought, “I’m going to take a class.” I googled “women’s comedy classes.” I had no dreams of becoming a standup, but I started classes with Feminine Comique. The people were really supportive and I got into writing again. Then people laughed at what I was saying, so I got bit by the bug.

NAMES MATTER!

Teme: One of the many things I love in your material is when you talk about people mispronouncing your name. I relate!

Janice: In my original joke about my name, I say, “I let my third grade teacher call me “JANess” the whole year, and I really did. She finally talked to another teacher who said, “Her name is Janice,” and I remember her being mad at me for not correcting her. But I was a nine-year old who hadn’t quite found my voice yet. Way to put it on the nine-year old girl who’s just started her period!

After that I decided I’m going to correct people. But for some reason, correcting brings out a lot of people’s feelings. So I say it very gently. Sometimes they double down as if I’m attacking them like, “But it’s not spelled that way!” They say the weirdest things!

Teme: So true, and as a kid you can’t just correct your teacher. I still have a hard time correcting people. Sometimes I’ll just let people call me “Tammy” from now until forever.

Janice: But it is a big deal. Names matter. Your name is your identity. It can take a while to raise your voice. But just because it’s a little different for someone’s mouth to make that sound, they should at least still try.

Teme: What does your comedy says about you?  

Janice: I think my comedy really represents who I am, all the different sides. I’m not really into third party observational comedy. I’m speaking from a place of truth. It’s all very personal things that have happened.

Teme: I think that’s a wonderful way to connect with the audience and for people to get to know you. It’s such a great experience for the audience when a comedian is personal and honest.

Janice: Thank you. I want the audience to know why I feel the way I do about things. It’s not just to make a quick joke!

Teme: How did you decide on the names Las Locas and Chingona?

Janice: Las Locas means “the crazies.” I wanted to play on the word “loca” because “women are crazy.” Like whenever you have an emotion, you’re “crazy.” They do that a lot in Spanish. I mean they do it about women in every language, right? So it’s about taking the power back on that word.

Same thing with “chingona.” I wanted to name the show at Laugh Factory something specific. I was talking with my co-producer Jess Martinez about it. My Spanish isn’t great, but I remembered “chingona” being a bad word. It meant women who are difficult troublemakers and “unladylike.” But over time, language changes. So now it’s really like saying, “Hey man, she’s a badass.” It’s another word that women have taken back. My mom said, “You know, that’s not a good word in Mexico.” And I was like, “It is now!”

Teme: How did Las Locas Comedy get started? How does one create a successful, award-winning showcase in Chicago?

Janice: My initial intentions were to produce a show where I could perform and get more stage time. Part of it was also, “Wouldn’t this be great because it’ll force me to write.” I was also really inspired by The kates. The kates were doing a really good job showcasing everybody. I was also inspired by BAPS, a showcase by African American women.

But no one was focusing on Latina women and there were a few of us trying to get out there. I thought, “There IS enough space for this!” And there was. There really was. There was enough interest in it, too. So Soli Santos and I started Las Locas. I like producing. My background is in events planning. So it all came together. Then I was just meeting people who weren’t getting the stage time they wanted.

BLASTING AWAY BARRIERS

Teme: What were the barriers to getting stage time in Chicago?

Janice: When you’re starting, you have to go to a lot of [open] mics, but that late night schedule for somebody like me, who at the time, before coronavirus, had a very busy small business, is not really conducive.

People would tell me, “Well, that’s the way it is.” But that whole process of getting in front of people doesn’t really work for a lot of women. If you have a kid, forget about it. The whole way the system is set up is not conducive for new people to get involved and especially not for women. I hope I could be a part of trying to change that. In 2022, I am sometimes still the only woman on an all-male lineup.

I’ve heard criticism like, “Who needs an all-women show?” And I’m like, “Hundreds of us do!” In a “mainstream” show, you’re not going to see so many of those people because we’re fighting for one spot. [With Las Locas] we have a chance to get out there. It’s the whole point. I want [our performers] to have more exposure. It’s all mutually beneficial. I think it’s good for the audience to see diverse people and people who were under the radar because they’re not getting booked on those popular shows that a lot of people know about.

Teme: Were other producers not interested in giving these voices space onstage?

Janice: At the end of the day, people want to book their friends and they want to book people who book them. Also, as a producer, you have to get out a lot to see people and people have to see you to get on their radar. So it’s kind of a “Catch-22.”

I’ve been doing comedy for six years and there are still some shows I just don’t get booked on. I can’t take it personally, but producers sometimes act like they don’t know us. I’m like, “You know we’re here. Why do we have to do this thing where we have to prove to you that we’re here?”

Las Locas Comedy/Photo by ANF Chicago

UNDENIABLE SUCCESS FROM THE GET-GO!

Teme: Do I remember that tickets for Las Locas sold out from the very beginning?

Janice: Yes, a lot of times. We were in a much smaller space and we moved around a lot. For the first year, we were at Karen Marie Salon, a salon owned by my friend. At first it was like, “Oh, come on in!” and we would pass the bucket. We started to get so many people, I was like, okay, I don’t want to disrupt my friend’s business. He was more than gracious, it was amazing.

Then we started moving around to different bars and doing pop-up shows in different neighborhoods. We had standing room only. We did it at my friend’s loft, in a storage facility, it was crazy. I felt bad for people standing and leaning on stuff, but I dug the pop-up shows.

Teme: How did you decide to make the move to the Laugh Factory?

Janice: The self-production, quite honestly, was getting to be too much. I was really reliant on my husband being available the third Saturday of each month. Our previous venue was great, but we were using our own lights, audio and equipment and I needed more help.

I emailed Curtis [Shaw Flagg], the [Laugh Factory] manager, who is really trying to bring in diverse shows. I’m also very happy to be in a space this large. There’s some comfort in having 50-foot ceilings and space to spread out. We all even have our own mics. Laugh Factory takes safety very seriously. And it’s Laugh Factory, which is known around the world. It gave the show a little bit of that cache. It’s great to be there. But I still think there’s space for us to do something on the other side of town which is something I always wanted to do.

So it is a change for us to go into a club like Laugh Factory. From the production standpoint and getting in front of more people, it’s great. So we’re going to keep Chingona Comedy Hour at the Laugh Factory, but also produce other shows in other locations. Laugh Factory is really open to that. I’m conscious of keeping comedy affordable and accessible. So it’s like, hey, this will be our club and we love it. But we’ll also try to do some stuff that’s more local to the community. We’re waiting a little bit because of COVID.

FAVORITE MOMENTS

Teme: What are your favorite moments from Las Locas’ past five years?

Janice: So many. Just seeing the evolution of the audience. Our show is open to everybody, but in the beginning I thought, oh, it’s going to be people like our friends. But then very quickly, people started bringing their boyfriends. And guys would be like, “Oh, I can meet girls here.” They’d be laughing and I was like, okay, you’re listening.

People brought their moms and their grandmas who said, “Hey, you opened my eyes to some stuff.” I especially remember a group of women in their seventies having the time of their lives. It filled me up with so much joy. I thought, “Okay, we’re going to keep doing it. We’re going to be ourselves.” What I thought originally would be primarily a Latinx crowd now was really like 50/50, I mean, it’s everybody. That’s important to me. We’re talking about things that affect everybody.

It can be hard as a Latina, Latinx. Sometimes you’re pigeon-holed right off the bat. The fact that we can speak our truth and it can go out to a lot of different people and they can accept it is awesome-because I was always kind of afraid of that in a way. I want our show to be for us, but also for everybody, which is a hard thing to balance.

We had a group of older white women who kept coming to the show for a long time even after we had moved a couple times. One of the ladies came up to me after the show and was like, “This show needs to be in a bigger place! And you guys aren’t charging enough!” At the time, we were still passing the bucket.

She was kind of mad about it. And I was like, “Okay, I appreciate that.” I think that conversation first gave me the thought, “Oh, this is something good. It could be bigger. It doesn’t have to be small.”

The show was a little underground, a little word of mouth and in-the-know, but the caliber of talent could go anywhere. I felt that was her point – you’re big enough to be on a much bigger stage and good enough. We kind of knew it, but to have somebody validate it … it was important to hear that.

That’s why, as much as I wanted to keep it small and approachable, the move to Laugh Factory was the right thing to do. It expands the reach and brings the show to people that maybe don’t know about it or wouldn’t necessarily go to a comedy show in a salon.

Teme: I don’t remember another showcase being so successful so quickly. It sounds like you’ve really connected with people in a way that doesn’t always happen.

Janice: I really appreciate that. I think so. I’m hearing that from people. I have seen people that come back to the show over the years. It’s just word of mouth. I remember when we were dragging our stuff around and my poor husband was like our pack mule/sound guy. I remember dragging stuff up the street and I’m like “I can’t do this anymore.” But then I’d go inside and we’d just have this mix of people, this rainbow. And women are onstage saying what they got to say, they’re talking about this, talking about that. And I’m like, ah, this is why you do it.

There are also some new people coming on the scene and we’ve been able to give them a guest spot, just let them get on a bigger stage. I’ve had comics say, “You’re the first one to give me a chance.” That’s cool because you have to do that in this industry. You have to bring people up behind you. There’s enough space for everybody.

HOW CHICAGO COMEDY CAN DO BETTER

Teme: What is the state of diversity in Chicago comedy now?

Janice: It seems like to get out there, we have to produce our own shows because other shows are not going to put two of us on the same lineup. So it’s kind of tough. Often, you see a lineup where everybody looks the same and has the same overall feel and vibe.  

Teme: What do you think that comedy and Chicago comedy will look like post-pandemic?

Janice: Great question. I thought people would be more open after coming out of all this, a little nicer and more loving. But I feel lately, [the comedy scene] is starting to get kind of weird and competitive again. There was always a bit of that element. So I need to get over that and just continue with the good trajectory of making sure we’re intentionally being diverse and intentionally working on these lineups. Let’s stop the gatekeeping.

THE FIFTH ANNIVERSARY SHOW!

Teme: So for anyone who should go to the Las Locas Anniversary Show on Thursday, which is everyone, please tell us about the evening!

Janice: We’ll be talking about topics from our perspective, focusing on female and femme-identifying comedians. We’ll have an all Latinx lineup. All these women are very, very different, so you’re going to hear different perspectives. We’re all from different places. Even if we’re not from different places we grew up differently. So it will be high energy and eye-opening, especially if you’re not from one of our cultures. You will learn things maybe you didn’t know. I think it’s important because we’re not necessarily always getting up on those main stages. You will be exposed to somebody where you’re like, “I didn’t even know you were out here.” I love that part of it.

Gwen La Roka/Photo by ANF Chicago

Teme: And such an amazing lineup! When I saw it I thought, this is one star after another!

Janice: There are so many other people I wanted to have. I thought, “Everybody just be on it for like five minutes!” But I thought it was going to get too crazy. Maybe we’ll do that down the road. Just have a marathon. For this show, I tried to get people who were with us from the very first Las Locas show like Gwen, Soli and Audrey, back when we didn’t know if we were going to do it again and thought no one’s going to come.

Teme: Absolutely anything else that we should add?

Janice: Our roots will always be very independent. I think back to a couple of weird pop-ups, like where we were in a warehouse illegally. I love the vibe of that. I’m grateful for our audience that will follow us anywhere. If anything, I want there to be credit for that, not for me, but for our comedians and the fact that it’s just hard to break in through traditional avenues. So don’t follow me, but follow our Las Locas comedians who are doing great work and have really cool, different things to say. I want Las Locas to be accessible to everybody. People may think it’s one thing and then they come and they’re like, “Oh, okay. This is something else!”

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“Las Locas Comedy Presents: Chingona Comedy Hour” is Las Locas’ Fifth Anniversary Show and will be at The Laugh Factory, 3157 N Broadway, Chicago, on Thursday, February 3, 2022 at 8:00 p.m. Advance ticket purchase recommended! Tickets are available here.

Follow Las Locas Comedy here and on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.

Janice also hosts the podcast Defending Indiana with Colleen Brennan. Listen here.

Meet Thursday night’s All Star lineup:

Audrey Jonas

Gwen La Roka

Jess Martinez

Janice V. Rodriguez

Soli Santos

Patti Vasquez

Stephanie Weber

Filed under: Entertainment, Interviews

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