What was supposed to be a regular rehearsal session has turned into a reminiscence.
The four women of Broadminded are revisiting the disparate paths that took them from neophytes to hardened veterans of Milwaukee’s humor scene. How they all met through ComedySportz, how they weren’t sure Broadminded would get off the ground, how the city’s lone all-female sketch comedy group survived the seven-year itch. Not to mention boyfriends, marriages, motherhood and creative blow-ups.
Then, as Melissa Kingston, Anne Graff LaDisa and Stacy Babl sit in the Riverwest living room of fellow Broad Megan McGee, something odd happens: The mid-30-somethings start finishing each other’s sentences.
“Before every show...” McGee begins, “...one of us panics...” continues Kingston, “...and it’s never me,” Babl adds, “because I’m always like, whatever will be will be…” which leads back to McGee, “...and I call it the running of the bowels, because we all take turns running to the bathroom.”
And as talk shifts to the content of their sketches, the mind meld plays out again.
Babl: “Twenty-five percent are life-based…” Kingston: “...but then there’s also media and politics…” McGee: “…and then there’s just wack, like, we don’t even know where it came from…” Graff LaDisa: “…yeah, silly, just silly.”
When the sentence-finishing phenomenon is brought to their attention, Graff LaDisa’s explanation is simple: “Eight years of meeting once a week.”
Yes, it’s been a while since Broadminded first took the stage at the inaugural Milwaukee Comedy Festival in 2006, and the Broads boast the only act to be involved with it every year since, doing either a live performance or having a video shown. “Every show I’ve seen of theirs has been hilarious,” says Matt Kemple, the festival’s founder and producer. They’ll appear again at the festival’s eighth edition, which runs Aug. 1-4 at Next Act Theatre.
Broadminded began on something of a whim in February 2006. Noticing a decidedly male slant among the area’s comedy groups, Jerilyn Dufresne recruited six female ComedySportz performers. “I thought it would be cool to have an all-women’s group,” says Dufresne, who turns 66 this month and lives in Illinois.
They crafted a short show for the first comedy fest (then the Milwaukee Sketch and Improv Comedy Festival), and Broadminded did its first full show that October. Then, for various reasons, three women dropped out, including Dufresne, whose work took her out of Wisconsin. “I was really glad the four stuck with it,” she says.
The remaining quartet pressed on, encouraged by positive feedback and undaunted by how much work the shows required. Performances feature an average of 17 sketches centered on a theme, each lasting anywhere from mere seconds to 10 minutes, making for a 90-minute runtime.
But they had no clue they were embarking on an eight-year saga of writing, acting and directing themselves. “We didn’t know it would be eight months,” Kingston says. Making the longevity more remarkable is how eclectic a collection they are – a pharmacist, a kindergarten teacher, an employee relations investigator and a former Spanish language teacher/translator turned process consultant. Graff LaDisa is married, as is Babl, while Kingston is engaged, and all but McGee are parents.
“I wasn’t sure we’d make it after the kids,” Kingston admits. But chats with husbands ensued. Other extracurricular activities were shelved to ensure time for both families and fellow Broads. They settled on doing just two full shows per year.
Now, they have a system that’s comfortable, practical and productive. They still meet regularly, still collectively mold sketches, still do all the acting and directing – and not for the money. Net proceeds from their shows barely cover annual Christmas dinner outings. So why?
“It’s partially habit,” McGee says, “and it’s partially, like, if I didn’t have you guys, I’d feel this huge hole in our lives.”
“It’s very cathartic,” Babl adds. “We’re able to infuse a lot of our views of society through our sketches. Despite being a bunch of morons sometimes, we’re pretty socially aware and…”
Kingston: “...we pride ourselves on trying to make comedy that…”
Graff LaDisa: “...it’s my favorite comment if people say we’re witty and smart.”
Babl: “Not that every one of them is earth-shattering.”
McGee: “No, we’ve done sketches about penises. On purpose.”