Tucson Comedy: More ways to laugh in different voices

click to enlarge Tucson Comedy: More ways to laugh in different voices
(Jen Blanco/Submitted)
Jen Blanco sparkles at The Screening Room.

The disco ball, the glitter bomb, the power pixie of Tucson comedy, Jen Blanco, is a driven woman.

At age 14, was very certain of two things: She would go into medicine, and she would be a high-school comedy star.

To those ends, she spent many an under-age night at open mics, drinking only Shirley Temples to meet her two-drink minimum. “I knew I’d never get into med school with priors,” she said.

As a senior she won her Chicago suburban high school’s slot in its district and regional comedy competitions. And then, apart from fronting a ska band in college, she mostly set comedy aside. She went on to become a mother and an audiology specialist, logging enviable flight miles on call to assist in cochlear implant surgeries.

Late in 2018, comedy started calling her name again. “Comedy has always been my best coping mechanism,” she says. She took improv classes and performed at Tucson Improv Movement (TIM), and when COVID-19 hit, she took a both of Mo Urban’s TIM stand-up courses on Zoom. “It was a kick in the pants to restart my writing,” Blanco said. “Mo is an amazing teacher.”

Traveling for work has allowed Blanco to perform in Denver, Phoenix and New Orleans, and she has started performing for audiology conferences. But her TIM classmates also inspired her to create an open mic at TIM. “When you’re first starting, it’s a little bit scary,” Blanco said. “But when you take a class, you’re already familiar with TIM’s stage. It’s like mom’s kitchen. It’s not like starting at Laff’s (professional stage).

“At least Kurt (Leuders, co-host) or I are always at the mics, and we’re easy,” she said. “We’re happy to laugh and clap and support you.”

In 2021, Blanco also began producing her own booked showcases at The Screening Room. Called Lady Bits, they feature only people who identify as female, a population that historically was underrepresented in Tucson’s comedy scene.

The same gonzo energy and commitment that won her intramural comedy contests has only gotten more focused with time. She promotes the show early, often and everywhere. “If you ever talk to me, you’re going to hear me drop Lady Bits, Saturday, July 16, at The Screening Room.” She’s had a full house for nearly every show.

Lady Bits tickets are $10 at the door or at eventbrite.com. The lineup includes Lisa Kristine, Ly Johnson, Autumn Horvat, Allana Erickson-Lopez, Ashley Tappan and Phoenix comedian Cari Medina. Blanco hosts.

There’s a place for us

“I just felt like there wasn’t really a space that was highlighting Latino comedy, specifically,” said Jesus Otamendi, explaining what inspired him to produce the Chicano Comedy Show series at The Screening Room. The next show is at 8 p.m. Thursday, July 14. Tickets are $8 on eventbrite.com, $10 at the door.

Otamendi said it’s not that Latino comics aren’t welcome at other Tucson Shows. It’s that being bilingual, bi-cultural, and a member of a bi-cultural family inspires jokes that can only be fully appreciated through common experiences.

The proof of his theory is that his Chicano Comedy Shows tend to attract more people with Latino backgrounds, and with Otamendi’s brotherly nudging, a few more Latino comedians are turning up at open mics.

Otamendi’s Chicano Comedy Show, performed entirely in English, launched in February 2021. A few years earlier, TIM Comedy Theater debuted “Carcajadas,” a show that features improv and standup sets in Spanish. Otamendi has performed in Spanish for that show. “Some jokes only work in Spanish,” he said. “Some jokes are just a cultural thing, or wordplay. They wouldn’t be as punchy in English.”

He said the audience for the Chicano Comedy show appreciates that “the primary subject of the jokes is the Mexican way of living, both in the U.S. and Mexico, and especially the oddities of how they raise children.”

The July 14 lineup features Raul Garcia, Savannah Hernandez and Peter Jordan, all of Phoenix, and Tucsonan Drake Belt, whom Jesus is presenting as this show’s “Token White Person.” Otamendi’s grandmother will be selling tamales in the lobby.

The rest of the weekend

Unscrewed Theater (presales at unscrewedtheatre.org), $5 kids, $8, live or remote/7:30 p.m. Friday, July 8, Family-Friendly Improv Comedy Show; 9 p.m. Friday After Dark booked variety comedy (adults only), every second Friday. Lineup TBA. Apply to play via hunscrewedtheater.org/fad/; 7:30 p.m. Saturday, July 9, Friendly Improv Comedy Show; 9 p.m., Not Burnt Out Just Unscrewed, Uncensored (adults only).

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