Ladies who lunch ... and laugh

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Felicia Madison is changing the comedic climate for women in the city


  • Felicia Madison. Photo: JJ Ignotz

  • Felicia Madison. Photo: JJ Ignotz

“Comedy during the day, without a drunk audience? It’s not going to work,” was the response Felicia Madison would get from men when she pitched her comedic lunch idea.

The Upper East Side mom and stand-up comedian has already sold out her third Laughing Lunch, so it’s safe to say they are a success.

A graduate of the University of Pennsylvania’s pre-med program, Madison made her foray into stand-up when her oldest two children went off to college. After attending the Manhattan Comedy School, she began to try out her material at open mic nights, and quickly came to the realization that those occasions weren’t suited for her lifestyle. First off, the men in the audience didn’t understand her references to things like parent association meetings. And her friends didn’t want to trek downtown to watch her perform and if they did, the male comedians tended to be vulgar. Also, the shows were always at night, which wasn’t ideal for the mother of three.

Through those challenges, Laughing Lunches were born. For now, only female comedians perform at the lunches, but Madison is not opposed to including men. “It’s not like I just want women, but it’s such a man’s world that I want to give women another opportunity to perform. ... It’s also harder to find men who will not be totally disgusting and vulgar to these women. I go to some of these open mics and it’s like my mouth drops to the floor. And I’m not a prude.”

I read that you wanted to be on Broadway, but then went to U Penn.

Yes, my parents didn’t want me to be on Broadway. They had other plans for me. Actually, they had those plans for my two older brothers. They never even had to tell me. I just saw them yelling at my brothers all the time. And I was like, “OK, I’m not going to get yelled at. I’m going to do what they’re saying.” So I was the only one who went to a good school.

How did you get your start in the comedy world? Where was your first gig?

I had been thinking about it for a while. I have a good friend who’s been doing for over 10 years. And I always said to him that I thought that I wanted to try it. So finally, my two older ones are now in college, so I figured I had the time. So I asked him and he set me up with the Manhattan Comedy School. This guy Andy Engel runs it. He handles the new talent at Gotham Comedy Club. So I signed up for a six-week class with a girlfriend of mine. And then there was a graduation class at Gotham. It went really well and I really enjoyed it. And I took some more classes and just sort of got the bug and haven’t stopped since.

Describe your comedy.

Basically, it’s a cross between making fun of my kids and my husband. And a lot of it’s also, you know the whole, how “being a mom’s the best job in the world?” I sort of make fun of how that’s like the biggest joke in the world. Just how being a mom in general, I feel like, is a combination of people always telling you it’s the best job, but most people really looking down on it, especially women. All these women are like, “I’m not going to be just a mom anymore. I want to do something else.” If it’s so great, why is everyone trying to lean in?

How did the Laughing Lunches come about?

The lunches came about for a few reasons. When comedians want to test their material, we go to open mics. I found that a lot of my material, especially when it was all-male (audiences), would go over their heads. They wouldn’t understand like if I would joke about making a PA meeting. They had no idea what I was talking about. They thought it was Potsmokers Anonymous or something. And also, the other thing is, it’s obviously a night-driven business. And being a mom with kids, I thought it would be a great opportunity for women in general to have a chance to perform during the day and also in front of an audience that was really appropriate for them. And, for me, it was also for the same thing. A lot of my friends didn’t really want to come downtown and if they did, the shows had a lot of humor that was vulgar and younger.

How did you choose Petaluma as the venue?

I was reaching out to a lot of places with the very specific criteria I needed to be able to make this a success. I was calling a lot of restaurants and there was a lot of hemming and hawing and resistance from people. And sometimes logistics and set-ups didn’t work. And I emailed Petaluma, and the guy who runs it, Eric Wilhelm, emailed me back and said, “I used to be in the comedy world. I’m so into this. This is so great. I definitely want to meet you.” And I just thought it was kismet and had to do it there. I figured I would just try it and do my first one there. And it was a big hit. Some people say the space might be a little small, but for comedy you need that intimacy for laughter to feed off each other and for it to be successful.

Where do you go to open mics?

I go down a lot to Klimat. I go the Comedy Strip a lot. Broadway Comedy Club. Stand Up NY, I’ve done that a few times. I basically go onto the website, badslava. I have no idea why it’s called that, but it lists all the open mics in the United States and you register for them. They’re all over the city. If you ever want to feel really bad about yourself, sign up for an open mic. If you feel like you have too much self-esteem, go to one. They’re really tough.

Who are some female comedians you admire?

It’s funny because one of the things I’m working on is I want to be able to do a Joan Rivers’ impersonation, which is really difficult. I just think she was hysterical. She was obviously a pioneer and really opened up comedy for women in general. She was completely free and uninhibited and the humor just rolled off her tongue. And I love Ellen DeGeneres. Ali Wong has a Netflix special called “Baby Cobra.” She’s younger; she’s in her 30s probably. I always joke that I want to grow up to be like Ali Wong or Amy Schumer. The problem is they’re 20 years younger than me. I like Jerry Seinfeld. I like the clean-cut, good, basic humor. I’m not really into the vulgar or silly, slapstick humor.

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