Chicago-based comedians (and writers for Cinema Femme magazine) Alyse McGuigan and Kana Felix have been passionate about comedy since grade school.
“I was very shy growing up. I was always the nice quiet girl, and people would come up to me and be like, ‘You’re so quiet, why don’t you talk more?'” Alyse said. “But among my family and friends they would say, ‘You’re so funny, you have such a good sense of humor.’ And I would like making people laugh and that kind of thing, And I realized people did that for a living.”
“I was just a really big dork then; a lot of kids made fun of me because I was the only Asian girl there,” Kana said. “I was chubby and I had a unibrow. But I remember writing my butt off, making it really silly and funny, and when I read it, it was funny to them.”
The two met at NYU freshman year during their study abroad program in Florence, Italy.
“We started doing improv at the improv club,” Kana said. “I remember being nervous all the time. I felt like I didn’t fit in a lot of places, and then I met Alyse and some of the other girls, and it was really fun. We were all comedy nerds, so it was great.”
They did one final show at the end of the semester, and when they got back to NYU sophomore year, they auditioned for all of the existing improv groups, and—”we didn’t make it in,” Alyse said. “So they said, if you don’t make it, start your own. So we did that.”
“Comedy or anything creative is mostly rejection. It will hurt the first few times, then you start to toughen up a little bit, but don’t make a big thing about it; it’s not that weird to get rejected. It’s kind of part of your job. Just accept you’re going to be rejected,” Kana said. “Just keep making stuff all the time. Find a support system with people that actually care about you.”
“Anything with rejection, eventually you’ll find the person who likes what you’re doing,” Alyse added.
Kana, Alyse, and other NYU students created a sketch comedy group called “Antonio’s Army,” which still exists at NYU today. They found that they liked “slower improv,” where you’re building a solid relationship and foundation.
“People call it a Chicago style,” Alyse said. “So I think we all had that in common; we didn’t do just crazy wild improv. We appreciated that slower type together.”
After college, Alyse moved back to Chicago, and Kana—who’s originally from New York—moved there too. They did the five-week intensive improv program at iO.
“I flew to Chicago for the summer just to do the iO program. But I ended up loving Chicago and the comedy scene so much that I moved here,” Kana said.
In their work, Alyse and Kana hope to bring dynamic female characters to the stage and screen.
“I happen to love women making stuff. Going back to doing improv, in a typical improv class, out of twelve people, there’s like three women,” Alyse said.
“Sometimes your lucky if it’s half women,” Kana noted.
“Just to be like, ‘I know the women are out there, am I just not seeing them?'” Alyse said. “So anytime I can do anything to get more women involved, or highlight women doing different things, [I try to do it.]”
Both Alyse and Kana are in Sidebar Sketch, an all-female sketch comedy group, with Antwoinika Bass, Chloe Caudillo, Sara Fox, Michelle Spies, Calli Ryals, and Amber Washington. They’ll be performing “Girls, Interrupting” at Donny’s Skybox at Second City in July and August. The 50-minute show explores the idea of radical feminism in a funny way.
“I think #MeToo has to happen in the comedy world too,” Kana said. “I feel like there is a reckoning in every industry, especially in the entertainment industry. I do understand there’s like a messy relationship between the freedom of speech and expression, specifically where it’s stand-up comedy, it’s maybe edgier material. But I also think you should listen to the criticism, like if you hurt some group. I think it’s kind of an excuse to say ‘No, I’m a comedian, so I have to do this.’ I also feel comedy pushes the expression in a strong way, which is really important. So it’s a complicated relationship.”
“There has to be that conversation, listen and respond to what people are telling you,” Alyse said.