I had an urge to title this blog “Look Who’s Funny,” despite the fact that comedienne and poet Elizabeth Wylder has no connection whatsoever to talking babies or Kirstie Alley circa 1989. I don’t think she'd mind though. Wylder’s comedic sensibility is delightfully haphazard, combining humor both razor sharp and wide-ranging. Last weekend, her sketch show, Bea's Knees - A Second City Writing 6 Sketch Revue, opened at Donny’s Skybox. Our Town spoke with Wylder about Chicago comedy, the literary world and her goldfish, but not about John Travolta.
Our Town What’s a comedian doing writing poetry or what’s a poet doing in comedy?
Elizabeth Wylder I wanted to be the female Dave Barry, and I had a brief career writing humor articles for the student newspaper, covering things like the annual Turkey Testicle Festival in Byron, Illinois. I stumbled into poetry in my last year of undergrad [with a] poetry workshop. Free verse seemed like the most logical next step after turkey balls.
OT Say something funny.
EW I’m pretty sure my pet fish, Tommy Hotdog Fingers, is immortal. And miserable. Converting fish years to human years, he’s roughly 425 years old. I mean, I can’t prove anything, but all he wants to do is watch Highlander and listen to old Queen LPs with the lights off.
OT Now say something poetic.
EW Tommy keeps the pH levels in his algae-ridden prison stabilized with his tiny fish tears.
OT What inspired you to start Pure Francis?
EW I was asked to co-edit another journal with two of my classmates from grad school. It followed a format very similar to Pure Francis; a focus on one story, poem, photo per week. Unfortunately, that journal [only lasted] long enough for me to get the editing bug, so I started Pure Francis with my former co-editors’ blessings. It’s named after an abandoned Robbie Williams side project from several years ago. Williams, who is a massive success pretty much everywhere in the world except for the States, was going to start recording experimental electronica under the pseudonym Pure Francis, who he said would be like “Neil Diamond, but with a bit of Kraftwerk or Depeche Mode, and not afraid to do a big chorus.” That seemed like an excellent goal for a literary journal to me.
OT How did you get involved with Second City?
EW Taking writing classes at Second City was something I had wanted to do ever since I moved to Chicago in 2006. Last year, the timing was finally right, and I lucked out by ending up with the particular group of writers that I did. Second City encourages writers to stay together throughout the entire six-part writing program, which is more difficult than it might sound, and there are ten of us who have been working together for close to a year now. Having that shared history benefits all of our work, especially with regard to trust and a sense of comfort—knowing you’re in a comfortable environment makes it a lot easier to put yourself (and your taste) out there and bring in five pages worth of something you think is hilarious, but realize might be absolute crap.
OT They say the comedy scene is inhospitable for women. What’s been your experience?
EW I’ve definitely heard that, but it hasn’t been my personal experience. I do wonder if part of that sense of inhospitable-ness comes from the fact that many female comedians’ material—be it stand-up or sketch—revolves around the fact that they are women, daughters, girlfriends, mothers, etc., and perhaps that limits their audience somehow or affects their reception, as unfair as that may be. Male comedians don’t often approach their material from a specific “what it’s like to be a dude” point of view. That said, being a woman certainly influences my comedic sensibility, but I don’t really write about being a woman or how I interpret things specifically because I’m a woman—at least not in my sketch writing; I do in my poetry. I don’t know if that’s played any part in my comedy experience so far or not. I’m sure the fact that I bring brownies wrapped in $20 bills to workshop every week doesn’t hurt.
OT How is writing sketch different than writing poetry?
EW To me, they’re actually quite similar. First and foremost there’s the use of rhythm: comedy and poetry are both obviously about timing. Second, they share an economy of language. In both my poetry and my sketch writing, I’m constantly trying to be more concise and precise. They’re also similar in how visual they are, just in terms of how, in poetry, one negotiates the white space on the page, and how, in sketch writing, one has to write with an eye firmly on the stage.
OT What can audiences expect from the show?
EW Without giving too much away, we’ve got some revisionist history, a glimpse into the home lives of superheroes, murder, doctors with questionable medical training, Vikings, meatball sandwiches, and a pile of lingerie. Oh, and singing and dancing. Basically, audiences will get ten sketches from ten different writers, all delivered by six dynamite actors.
Bea's Knees runs Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. through July 23rd.
A writer with an MFA in Creative Writing from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Sarah Terez Rosenblum freelances for a number of web sites and print publications. Her debut novel, “Herself When She’s Missing," is forthcoming from Counter Point Press. She is also a figure model, Spinning instructor and teacher at Chicago’s StoryStudio. Inevitably one day she will find herself lecturing naked on a spinning bike. She's kind of looking forward to it actually.
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