01 Apr Funny Woman
Let’s be honest: A good laugh can fix most anything. Luckily, Bend is home to a host of funny women who help us chuckle and see the world in a fresh light. They are the daughters and granddaughters of Lucille Ball and Lily Tomlin, and their jokes have evolved far beyond stereotypical female tropes. Rather than mocking their lazy husbands or calling attention to their aging bodies, these comics are shining the spotlight on hot and relevant topics. They’ve found fertile soil in which to invent or reinvent themselves right here in Bend, but the entire world is their oyster—and their material. Best of all, local female comedians know and respect one another: If you will, it’s a sisterhood of silliness.
While we would have loved to include all the funny women in the neighborhood, what follows are profiles of five of the area’s best-known—and wildly-loved—ladies of laughter.
Once when Sam Albert was doing a remote broadcast, a man recognized her voice from her KLRR 101.7 radio gig, came up to her and said, “Man, you’ve got some issues,” and walked away. “Geez,” recalls Albert, “the least he could have done is stay and talk to me about my issues.”
Albert does have issues—and they are her material. “Truly, my only extracurricular activity is fear.” She’s found her place, or rather, her out-of-place place, in Bend. “I might be the only person in Deschutes County without a Subaru or a golden lab,” admits Albert.
While she now writes essays and hosts the morning show on 101.7, Albert has a rich performance past. After majoring in theater and doing improv in college, she joined Second City in Chicago, where she trained, taught and performed sketch comedy for 10 years. Then it was off to Los Angeles, where she performed in commercials, TV and film. “None of my characters had names,” she chuckles. “I was ‘customer,’ ‘nurse,’ ‘receptionist.’ I wanted to be the next Meryl Streep, but I was always cast as the crazy neighbor.” One day, “when I couldn’t see another face lift or hear another conversation about scripts,” she exited LA and came to Bend. Her mother—an occasional (and hilarious) guest on her show—retired here, and Albert wanted to join her. “Now I can’t imagine living anywhere else,” Albert declares.
Albert says she wanted to be on stage from the age of six when her brother put her in one of his high school shows. She admits to reading Erma Bombeck when she was about 10. “‘Unusual’ was a kind word used to describe me as a child,” she admits. She loved Bombeck because she made everyday life funny and interesting. “She gave voice to a lot of women who didn’t have a voice.”
“What I love about women in comedy is you are required to have a point of view and express it,” she adds. “You can’t be funny without having an opinion. That is so powerful for women.”
Albert names Judge Judy, the TV judge, as an inspiration. “Anyone who wears a black robe with a doily on the collar has to be funny,” she muses. She also names a local talent as inspiration: “Chelsea Woodmansee is brilliant; I can’t believe someone hasn’t scooped her up. She’s Bend’s little secret.”
But not for long.
Recently, Sam Albert called Chelsea Woodmansee on her cell, commanding her to listen to Albert’s radio show that day. Woodmansee recalls, “Sam came on the radio and gave me very personal directions: ‘Chelsea Woodmansee, go out into the world. I want to see you on Saturday Night Live in five years.’”
“I guess I heard her,” says the local stand-up comedian, whose playful, dark wit is dizzying in its speed and irreverence. Woodmansee will head to Chicago soon to seek her fame and fortune.
Woodmansee comes by her funny bone genetically. Her brother, Jake Woodmansee, is one of the area’s best-known comics, and her father was “the funniest man I ever knew…we called him ‘The Legend in the Living Room.’ He was my comedy coach.” She first performed stand-up in 2011, and her debut performance won Bend’s Last Comedian Standing. Central Oregonians may know Woodmansee from her regular stand-up gig at The Capitol restaurant in Bend or from what she calls her “hearty day job” for the Les Schwab Amphitheater and the Old Mill District. “I introduce the performers and also emcee the Summer Sundays, which have to be PG in content, which is difficult for me.”
Woodmansee’s approach to comedy is gritty and fearless; she’ll take on audience members during her routine and make ruthless fun of herself. “There’s nothing I won’t share,” she declares. “I talk about farts and bad sex, and I see the looks from the audience: She shouldn’t be talking about this.” She believes that stand-up is harder for women. “It takes brass labia to get up there,” she laughs. “If I were a guy, I could tell a gross story and men and women would laugh. As a woman, I have to convince the men that I’m funny.”
Woodmansee has watched the Bend comedy scene evolve over the last 20 years. As a kid, she sat in the front row, eager to grab the mic. Then she came of age and wondered, where are the female comedians? Many have found their footing in Bend now. “You can see comedy nearly every night in this town now,” she says. “And there are more women every year.”
For a number of years, Woodmansee also worked closely with Shanan Kelley at Tin Pan Theater, a woman she calls “an invaluable community member…someone who is so classy in her self-deprecation.”
Producer, Variety Show Host
Shanan Kelley is impish, impetuous, glamorous and utterly irresistible as a performer.
“The Night Light Show with Shanan Kelley & Magnificent Guests” at the tiny Tin Pan Theater is a wacky medley of guests, musical performances, films and even giveaways from local companies. A recent show focused on wellness and featured music by the group Hey Pal, interviews with two hunky physical therapists (with whom Kelley flirted shamelessly), a crystal healing therapist and a colon hydrotherapist. She interviewed each guest with genuine interest and, like Johnny Carson, focused the audience’s attention on the guest rather than herself and got a barrel of laughs without insulting a soul. For the colon-cleaning giveaway, she vamped, “We’ve got a 20% discount here for anyone willing to take the plunge, so to speak.”
As improvisationally funny as she is, Kelley can play it straight. When a nonprofit art therapy group took the stage, she was deadly earnest—until it got to the product giveaway. “Who will sing a campfire song for this?” she said, holding up the product. “I’m a little scrappy and will get out there and beat it out of you. Don’t let the jeans fool you.” A single audience member started singing “Kumbaya,” and before you knew it, Kelley had the entire audience singing along.
Kelley fell in love with performing while in college and did a brief stint in Los Angeles before moving to Seattle and, eventually, to Bend. Her show, now three years old, sells out each time, and she may take it on the road soon. She works a day job but also participates in TedX, emcees and hosts events around town and, most recently, participated in a staged reading of a play. Dreams of being famous don’t haunt her. “If I wanted to be famous, I would be. Instead, I go wherever I can be of service.” And the local comedy scene is so much richer because of Shanan Kelley.
Kelley has an affinity for other Bend performers who see comedy, as she does, as a kind of community outreach. She’s a huge fan of
local improv artist and teacher Rhonda Ealy. “She’s wants everyone to be a part of the improv world, and she has such an attractive approach to bringing people into a scene.”
IMPROV PLAYER, TEACHER
Rhonda Ealy found her way to improv through—of all unlikely things—coffee.
As co-owner of Strictly Organic Coffee, one day long ago she was delivering coffee to an
Alzheimer’s group that was doing improv. “‘Well,’ I thought, ‘that’s one way to hang onto your brain—do improv.’” Rather than breathing coffee 24 hours a day, Ealy began working with the then-leader of Bend’s improv scene, from whom she took the reins of Triage Improv (bendimprov.com) in 2003. Now, she offers classes for the novice and joins in performances with her fellow players whenever she can.
Ealy has been at it for nearly 20 years and proclaims, “I couldn’t live without improv.” When a serious illness brought her down, her improv classes and troupe brought her to life. “There’s something so freeing about improv. I love the magic of creating something with others, people who have your back.”
Improv is its own animal, different from sketch comedy and stand-up. “Comedy is really secondary with improv,” says Ealy. “Creating characters that have a connection is primary.” Listening is also critical; so is trusting your team. “We are striving for a group mind to see what our chemistry creates.” Improv is appealing to women, Ealy asserts, partly because of its inherently collaborative nature.
Like most people, Ealy’s ideas about what is funny and what isn’t are a matter of personal taste. “I love it when players buy into a ludicrous premise and become super serious about something like being plumbers on Mars. They treat the
scenario like it’s a sacred truth, a new reality.” What she’s not so fond of is “playing any scene in which I have to pretend to be in a coffee shop,” she laughs. “It’s much better for me if the setup has absolutely nothing to do with my real life.”
Ealy’s gifts as a teacher are many: patience, generosity and what she calls “accelerating an idea.” There is an improv theory that assigns three roles to players: ninja, pirate or robot. By her own admission, Ealy is a ninja, jumping into a scene and giving it the espresso it needs to go over the top.
Ealy loves to look out into the audience and see another local funny woman in the crowd, Patricia West-Del Ruth. “She’s a face you love to see in the audience. She is always supportive and has something warm to say.” But West-Del Ruth’s talent isn’t all behind the scenes. Says Ealy of West-Del Ruth, “I belly-laughed when I saw her perform at Cascade Theater. Her
timing as an actor is perfect.”
PATRICIA WEST-DEL RUTH
PLAYWRIGHT, ACTRESS, DIRECTOR
Patricia West-Del Ruth’s timing is indeed awfully good. After a lifetime of acting and promoting creative endeavors, she has settled into her favorite form of expression: writing. She has recently finished a new play that brings together her fascination with psychology and humor. She explains, “If Rod Serling (Twilight Zone) and Quentin Tarentino (Pulp Fiction) had a baby, this play would be it.”
Her newest creation, FADE IN: A Twisted Tinseltown Thriller, is an original play premiering at 2nd Street Theater and runs there March 31 to April 15. “What I write is black or dark comedy,” she says. “I get a kick out of creating conflict and tension and making people uncomfortable. Being uncomfortable is where lots of humor comes from. The audience is laughing because they are relieved not to be in a similar situation.”
The play’s plot involves two sisters coming to terms with sibling rivalry, a horrific past and a shared love for a deranged childhood sweetheart. West-Del Ruth promises a few surprises in the play. “I can’t do a car crash on stage, and so the suspense and humor come in the dialogue.”
Bend has jumpstarted this chapter of West-Del Ruth’s career. “I’ve been very lucky to reenter the world of theater here. It’s such a rich place to write, direct and perform,” she says. West-Del Ruth began her career in Southern California where she had roles in TV shows and feature films. When she started taking classes in scriptwriting at UCLA, she fell in love with the form. After seeing Oregon with her cinematographer husband (Tom Del Ruth, who filmed Stand By Me), the Del Ruth family decided they needed to live here, and in 2005 they made the move.
West-Del Ruth’s inspirations include Norman Lear, the great producer of such shows as All in the Family and Sanford and Son. “Lear tackled everything in his scripts, Vietnam, racism, everything that was of that time period,” she reflects. “It’s what I’m trying to do—explore the darker side of our current dilemmas in a way that makes people laugh.”
As a director, last year West-Del Ruth made audiences roar with her direction of Young Frankenstein: The Musical, and she made audiences gasp with her direction of Venus in Furs. She is quick to praise those she directs: “I am so inspired by my actors.”
Both behind the scenes and on stage, those who know West-Del Ruth’s work are expecting both a belly laugh and a great performance.