A former ballerina and actress turned comedian (who also does home renovation on the side) is looking to open a comedy club on the Madison Street commercial corridor.
Emily Ramirez, of Berwyn, said that comedy has always been her passion, and she wanted to create a safe environment where performers have financial guarantees and protections that are often lacking in the stand-up world. She already runs the BAPS Comedy Club organization, which holds public and corporate comedy events throughout the Chicago area. Now, Ramirez wants to open an actual comedy club, and she said she specifically wants to open it on Madison Street because she fell in love with the corridor since she first saw it while walking around town with her husband.
Ramirez is still in the process of buying a location, and she plans to secure a liquor license before opening it. In the meantime, she is launching a monthly comedy open mic series at Kribi Coffee’s Forest Park location, 7324 Madison St., which will take place every first Tuesday of the month from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. The series will kick off on March 7, and Ramirez said she wants to use it to not only introduce Forest Park to her brand but give local comics an opportunity to perform without having to travel to downtown Chicago and further-flung suburbs. She said she wanted it to be an event where some topics may touch a nerve, but where performers and audience members would ultimately feel safe and comfortable.
Ramirez was a ballerina for 10 years before transitioning to musical theater. But something was missing. She has always been interested in stand-up comedy, and she decided to take sketch comedy writing classes from the Second City comedy club.
“When I was learning about writing it, I just really fell in love with it,” she said.
That led to Ramirez trying her hand at performing sketch comedy.
“I did stand-up while on tour for the Phantom of the Opera,” she said. “It wasn’t something where I thought – oh, I was going to be great at it. But I was like – I’m only going to be in each of those cities for two weeks. If I bomb, they’d never see me again.”
When Ramirez returned to the Chicago area, she went into comedy full-time, writing sketches, taking more classes and performing. But as time went on, she realized that, while ballerinas and actors had union contracts that provided some guarantees and protections for performers, nothing like that existed in sketch comedy.
“I want to bring some of that polish into the comedy world,” she said. “There are amazing comedians in Chicago, but there’s a crazy amount of hustling for them to succeed.”
Ramirez also wanted to create a space where female comics wouldn’t face harassment and even assault.
In 2020, she launched That Time of the Month, a monthly comedy show featuring “women and female-identifying performers.”
“I always paid them, and part of the proceeds always went to Sarah’s Circle [women’s homeless services organization],” Ramirez said. “I believe artists should be paid for their work.”
That evolved into the BABS (short for Bad-Ass Bitches – a reference to a Saturday Night Live sketch), which continued to put on That Time of the Month and other comedy events, as well as private corporate events.
BABS performers rehearse – something that, Ramirez said, was unheard of in the comedy world. Ramirez drew upon friends and contacts she made over the years, and she screened the performers carefully.
“I would never [hire] someone who’s like – he’s a bully and he yells at everyone, but he’s the funniest person in the room,” she said. “No, you can be funny and not a bully.”
Through it all, Ramirez made plans to open her own comedy club – and the first time she and her husband visited Madison Street, she knew exactly where she wanted to open it.
“I was like – I love this street,” Ramirez said. “It was such a fun, mixed community, which is so nice for a comedy club.”
She said she enjoyed the thought of having people from different backgrounds and different tastes come together and bond over comedy.
“For people like me, who are comedians, who move here and who want to do comedy and not want to live downtown, it gives me my place to do my thing and other people to do their thing.” Ramirez said the club will serve alcohol – as she saw it, a sober comedy club “is a business model that doesn’t work that well.” The staff will be professionally trained on how to de-escalate dangerous situations.
“The kind of comedy that we do – we can get blue and racy, but it can be family-friendly too, and, depending on where in the week it is, we can cater to different crowds,” Ramirez said.
She said that she is currently considering two possible sites on the street.
In the meantime, Ramirez is launching the Highly Laffinated [sic] Standup Open Mic to both introduce herself to the community and to give comics in the area an opportunity to practice and refine their craft.
“I’ve been trying to gently introduce myself to the area and just kind of ease them into bringing something fun on their block,” she said.
Abbey Brumfield, Kribi’s director of operations, says they have been looking to host events in the downstairs lounge, which many people don’t realize even exists.
“We were all completely on board with [the open mic],” she said, adding that she loved the name. “We weren’t worried about the money aspect – we just wanted a community space. Building the community is one of our biggest missions at Kribi Coffee. The community really helped us get through [the pandemic], so we wanted to really be able to reach out and support it.”
The lounge can seat up to 35 people, which, Brumfield said, suited everyone just fine, given the atmosphere Ramirez is aiming for.
Ramirez said she wouldn’t apply the kind of screening she would have at BABS events, because she wanted it to be open to anyone interested in comedy. But she said that she planned to set the tone before every show.
“I can’t speak to any ability or experience to those people, you might hear something offensive to you, but it’s a free country,” she said. “We’re just here to practice.”
Ramirez would encourage performers to stay after and talk to each other.
“I encourage people to stay after and talk about their sets, and learn from each other,” she said. “People, a lot of them, describe the stand-up world as this dog-eat-dog place. It doesn’t need to be. You’re going to succeed if you’re good, and that’s it.”