For as long as I can remember, I have loved stand-up. The first time I saw Margaret Cho, Doug Stanhope, and Eddie Izzard, I was laughing so hard that I didn’t care if I never caught my breath again!
But, I’m also always curious what it’s like to be on the other end of the joke: delivering the set-up, watching the crowd, and knowing you’re about to be the source of a chorus of laughter.
I turned to Ashley Linder, Chelsea Shorte, and Joyce Rebar—three of the funniest women in the D.C. Metropolitan area—to feed my curiosity. They’re hilarious, they’re queer, and they had some awesomeness to lay on me about being in the business of funny.
What makes these women so different from other comics? This is easily explained by exploring their unique backgrounds and inimitable brands of humor.
Ashley Linder grew up in Northern Virginia just outside of D.C. and jokes that she got into comedy because she thought it would be more lucrative and secure than her career in radio. “Just kidding; they both are non-profits,” quips Linder.
She describes one of her most memorable experiences with a heckler. “Once, a woman repeated every line I said, immediately after I said it: the buildup, the ‘ums,’ the punch line. Everything! I thought I was dealing with my first real heckler, but she was laughing. Afterwards, she told me she liked my stuff so much she wanted to hear it twice. She was a peach…a very loud, yet precious, peach.” Coming from a seriously funny peach like Linder, that is quite the compliment.
Hailing from Richmond, Virginia, Chelsea Shorte elaborates on her journey to comedy. “When I moved to D.C. for work, following graduation, I was really bored and lonely. I thought by taking an improv comedy class, I could meet people with a similar sense of humor and adventure. While I didn’t make any friends in my first improv class, I did discover a special ability and love for making people laugh. Since then, I’ve been studying comedy through performing improv and stand-up and by writing sketches.”
And, as many audiences leaving her set with sore sides will attest, Shorte is a natural in all three.
She describes her favorite stage moments as those when she’s fully present with the audience. “I’m balancing prepared material and off-the-cuff ad-libs, and my transitions between the two are seamless,” says Shorte. “It’s great to have a crowd with you, but it’s even better when you are with them.”
Bowie, Maryland, comic Joyce Rebar describes what got her into stand-up. “I really wanted to challenge myself to get on stage in front of people, so I made myself take this introductory class for stand-up comedy,” explains Rebar.
“For four Sundays, we would stand on stage in front of the class and tell five jokes. Every time I told my jokes, the class laughed hysterically. It was too good a feeling not to continue. Six and half years later, here I am—still working on my craft.”
One conversation with Rebar and it’s clear how she cracks up classroom and bar crowds alike. But who cracks her up?
“I’ve loved Ellen Degeneres since before she was ever famous. I know it’s a little cliché, but she still may be my favorite,” Rebar admits. “There’s a very deadpan comic named Margaret Smith. I’ve always loved her. Those who know her work often compare me to her, which is very flattering!”
What’s it like for queer comics to perform for queer audiences?
“Queer, straight, bi, and trans audiences are full of people capable of a wide range of emotions. I’ve been supported by conservative audiences, as much as the queer ones,” states Linder.
“Sure, the audience at Phasefest finds my jokes about life as a lesbian more entertaining than an Arlington Cinema and Drafthouse audience might,” Linder adds, “but that doesn’t make it easier to perform in front of them. Every time I don’t shit my pants is the best moment ever. Well, that and when people laugh at your jokes.”
Rebar describes performing for a theater full of lesbians at a show emceed by Kate Clinton. “My set went extremely well, and Kate has remembered me, ever since. My comedy sets seem to work for almost any audience. However, I enjoy the LGBT audiences the most because I can do my full range of jokes, and they really get them.”
Shorte performs primarily in local bars and showcases that don’t usually attract queer crowds. Her first mostly queer audience was at a Gaylarious Comedy Show in D.C., earlier this month.
“I was definitely nervous about how they would react,” says Shorte. “I don’t want to exploit queerness for a laugh. And, no worries! Gaylarious went amazingly well for me! My people GET me!”
And, D.C. does indeed get all three of these stand-up comics. You can catch Chelsea Shorte and Joyce Rebar on Sunday, January 27, 6 p.m., at MOVA Nightclub, 2204 14th Street NW, Washington, D.C. Ashley Linder will appear toward the end of February at the Arlington Cinema and Drafthouse, 2903 Columbia Pike, Arlington, VA.