Alex Kumin, Pivot Arts performer and stand up comedian, discusses comedy as a way of coping with sadness with Pivot Arts Assistant Producer, Meg Sutter.

MS: Let’s start with the basics. How did you get into stand up comedy?

AK: A few years ago a friend of mine suggested I take an improv class over at Second City, so I went ahead and signed up.  I went through their improv program then joined a couple of independent teams that I played with around the city for the following year.   I loved being on stage and pulling jokes out of thin air, it was such a rush every time.  In the spring of 2013 I tried standup comedy for the first time, and remember getting hooked on it the moment I got my first laugh.  I feel lucky to have started in Chicago, the comedy scene here is unbelievably rich and there is so much opportunity for stage time, which has really allowed me to grow quickly.

MS: You’ve been through some tough situations including battling cancer twice so far in your life. How has that affected your comedy?

AK: One of my favorite things to do in comedy is talk about dark, scary stuff.  It might seem counterintuitive, but everyone has their skeletons, their horrible moments in life, and so often feel isolated or alone by them.  I remember when I was first diagnosed with thyroid cancer, I was laughing about it within a few hours…my mom and I were joking about how I’d be able to go as a real-life Pez dispenser for Halloween after my neck surgery.  Comedy is a vessel you can use to take power away from a situation that you might otherwise feel powerless in. When you can turn that tragedy upside down and laugh at it, it doesn’t own you anymore.

MS: What makes sadness so compelling and how do you use it in your work?

AK: Sadness is universal, yet we live in a society that tells people to keep their “negative” thoughts and feelings to themselves.  We treat depression, anxiety and trauma with medication and silence rather than helping people work through their pain.  I think a lot of people feel hesitant to talk about what bothers them in every day conversation, so I like to use my comedy as a way to normalize otherwise taboo topics, as well as let people know that it’s okay to laugh about serious things.

MS: You are known for tackling tough social issues in your comedy. How do you incorporate awareness for those issues into your work?

AK: I’ve been working at a rape crisis center for the last four years, so I understand the social dynamics behind a lot of topics surrounding gender inequality, sexual violence and child abuse, which is one of the things that makes me so much fun to talk to at parties.  People typically shy away from having open conversations about these issues, but when you really break all of it down, the conversation can be a lot easier to have than most people think. I try to  just take away the initial shock of talking about those topics, and make people question why we normalize this kind of violence and brush it all under the rug.

MS: What is it like being a female comedian in a male dominated field?

AK: I like to consider myself a comedian, rather than a female comedian, which is difficult when you are a female…comedian…I would say the hardest part for me is seeing such an underrepresentation of women in comedy.  A large majority of the male comedians I know are wonderful people, so it’s been great getting to know all of them, but there have been many nights where I look around the room and I’m one of the few, or the only woman in the room.  I think this only hurts showcases.  There needs to be diversity (in every sense of the word) on the lineup, because your audience is never going to be homogenous.  It makes for a better show when you’ve got different viewpoints coming from the comedians. Also, I’d like to see less dick jokes.  Or at least a 1:1 penis/vagina joke ratio.

MS: And finally, Valentine’s Day. What’s your favorite part?

AK: Nobody questions the person at Walgreens buying $40 worth of chocolate.

MS: And your least favorite part?  

AK: I’m the person at Walgreens buying $40 worth of chocolate.

Alex Kumin will be performing/competing in our upcoming Sadness Show: An Ironic Valentine’s Celebration on February 10 at Francesca’s Bryn Mawr. (Photo Credit: Anthony McBrien)