Now recovered from her kidney transplant, Mara Wiles is teaming up with fellow comedian Kristin Rand in a new sketch comedy group, Moxie!, which debuts Saturday at the Voodoo Comedy Playhouse. Although both Wiles and Rand are solo standup performers, they've also worked together before in the female sketch-comedy group Lady Face, which disbanded last year due to Wiles's serious illness. We recently sat down with the two comedians to chat about Denver comedy, their labor of love and why it's exhausting to be labeled a "female comedian."
See also: - Nerdist's Erotic Fan Fiction leaves Denver filthy with laughter - Mara Wiles on her return to comedy following a kidney transplant - Arguments and Grievances second-anniversary edition at Vine Street Pub
Westword: With Lady Face gaining such a reputation as a comedic force in Denver, why split up and form Moxie with just the two of you? Mara Wiles: There were a few things in the course of last year that contributed to the end of Lady Face. First, I was really ill. At the end of last year we'd done a full-length play and a big show -- while I was so sick I shouldn't have been out of the house. After that, I told the girls I needed to focus on my health, because at that time I wasn't sure when I was going to get my transplant, and I was feeling really sick, very tired.
Kristin Rand: Yeah, and at the end of the day it's hard to coordinate five different schedules. They had other shows they were in, or were in bands. And this is what I want to do with my life, my career. So I want to put all of my energy into something I can get 100 percent behind. And I really wanted to work with Mara, so we disbanded Lady Face and I waited for her to get better.
Wiles: I knew she would wait for me, like a sailor at sea.
Rand: Crying every night.
While there are no shortage of standup comedy shows in Denver, are there very many opportunities for sketch comedy? Rand: Yeah, I think the opportunities are there so long as you have something to put on. You just have to find a venue. Wiles: Yeah, I feel like the standup comics just found spaces to do it. Deer Pile has been great for that. And when we started there wasn't much of a sketch scene, but the interest was something we created for ourselves. It was just "Let's do a show!" So I think the opportunity is there, so long as it's done well.
What about in terms of an audience? Is there a demand for sketch comedy like there is for standup?
Rand: I think we found with Lady Face that there are a lot of people interested in sketch comedy -- we did a ton of sold-out shows. So there's clearly a market there.
Wiles: I think it piqued a lot of interest. People were interested because it wasn't like standup shows like Arguments and Grievances or Fine Gents. We developed a really solid following of people who were at every show and brought friends. The fact that it is different than standup gives us a huge advantage.
I've seen you two do standup and sketch together on stage, and you have such an organic chemistry together. Have you two been lifelong friends?
Wiles: No, not exactly. She moved here two years ago from Oklahoma, and I'd been doing standup for a few years before she came to town. We met at Beauty Bar doing the Ladies Laugh-In show in 2011. So, Kristin, you started performing comedy right when you got to town?
Rand: I'd been doing comedy for about two years in Oklahoma, and then came to the Squire about eleven days after moving here and started performing. It was a great time, a great scene.
Wiles: I thought she was so funny. She had such a great energy. We became really fast friends. At that time I was just getting Lady Face off the ground, and I went to the other girls in the group and I was like, "There's this new comic, and I really like her style, her gutso." And so Lady Face helped us see how well we get along, and how well we work off each other. I have total trust in her on stage and I think she feels the same about me.
You mean like with improvising?
Rand: Well, I trust that she knows her lines and she knows where she's supposed to be. We work really well off of each other. Whenever she pitches a new idea for a sketch or a character, it's so easy for my mind to go to that place and bring that to life. And I know I can pitch an idea to her and she'll pick up on it. It can be really hard for people to get behind someone else's creative vision, but we can easily support each other.
Wiles: It's real fun when you can easily write characters for someone. It's easy for me to imagine her in different scenarios. It was very natural.
With Lady Face, you were seen as "the all-female sketch comedy group." Was that a conscious choice? Will that be the case with Moxie?
Rand: We kind of got branded with that.
Wiles: I don't mind it. I'm all in favor of female empowerment: Girls, go get it! But I'm not a separatist in that way. Funny is funny. And there are so many funny guys out there. When we put together Lady Face, the people who were interested in putting themselves out there happened to be all women. So we got an "all female" brand. But no one calls the Fine Gents or the Grawlix "all male comedy!" Rand: I get asked questions all the time about being a female comic. Is that exhausting?
Rand: It's played out! I'm not doing this because I have a vendetta against men. I'm doing it because I'm a performer and it's what I want to do with my life.
It really is the hackiest thing for a comedy journalist to bring up the Jerry Lewis/Christopher Hitchens "are women funny?" debate. But then at the same time, when you have an all-female comedy group named Lady Face, in an industry dominated by men, that is something you're forced to acknowledge.
Wiles: I don't deny that it was all females in that group. But it wasn't all female-centric comedy. We played male characters. It was our own version of Kids in the Hall -- not to say we're comparing ourselves to them. We had sketches about male and female characters.
But I'll take being known as an all-female comedy group.
Rand: What was weird was the press we were getting was like: "Denver's all-female sketch comedy group." But we were Denver's only sketch comedy group period. The all-female thing was just a side note.
Wiles: The thing about sketch, is it takes a lot of preparation and memorization. It's a big production. So maybe people shy away from sketch because it takes a lot of extra time. It's more collaborative. You know, Kristin has a show every night; I have regular shows. So it's hard to get together.
Rand: Thankfully we're both hella unemployed. Seriously, if any of your readers want to send me money, I'll get a kickstarter together.
MOXIE! Presents: The Kristin and Mara Show begins at 6:30 p.m. Saturday, June 29 at Voodoo Comedy Playhouse, 1260 22nd Street. Tickets are $10. For more information, visit the event Facebook page.
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For more comedy commentary, follow me on Twitter at @JosiahMHesse.