A day after Falsettos

Ezra told me that I would cry during act two of Falsettos, but I don’t cry so much at musicals when I go in cold. You might get a sniffle from me, but unless I’ve listened to the music in advance (Hamilton) or I’m seeing it for the second time (Hamilton, Band’s Visit, Great Comet)… not so much. When I pick up the cast recording after a show, I’m undone. (Spoilers ahead)

And so I took my icy cold heart to Falsetto’s last night with the knowledge that there was a bar mitzvah, a gay dad, a doctor and that Ezra thought I would cry.

Act One is set in NYC in 1979 and in the second song we learn that Marvin has left his wife for his male lover, telling her on the way out to get tested for syphilis and hepatitis. That’s when the specter of AIDS entered the theater and settled into my bones.

I’m 42. AIDS and unplanned pregnancies were the existential threat of our teens and early 20s. Unprotected sex could kill you or derail everything you worked so hard for. I interned in San Francisco in 1996 when life-sustaining drug cocktails were getting approved by the FDA, but so many people had already died and were still at risk of dying. I did a fair amount of programming about HIV-testing as an RA in college and in 2015, worked with people over the age of 50 with HIV in London. I think the existential threat of AIDS and HIV for Gen X is what school shootings are for Millenials and children growing up today.

Something bad was happening. I was undone.

As someone who takes Judaism seriously, I was undone again by Jason’s relationship to his Bar Mitzvah, Judaism and ultimately God. Ultimately Jason prays for God’s intervention.

I was undone again.

I don’t believe that God intervenes in our lives, but I have prayed for God’s intervention.  I am comfortable in this uncomfortable, unknowing place.

I wondered about the set. For most of the show, the actors arrange and rearrange large foam blocks into furniture. The idea of an office. The idea of a kitchen. The idea of a bedroom.


For most of Act One, the only prop is a chess board. We get a few throw pillows and a shabbat candles when the mom moves in with her fiance and life finds a routine. But we don’t get real furniture until we are in the hospital.

One by one giant privacy curtains drop from the ceiling and I am undone. Every memory of every hospital visit piles up in my soul and spills out in sobs.

As we walked out of the theater, I tested my theory on my theater companion that the abstract blocks the vague memories of Jason’s traumatic childhood only coming together in vivid realism at the hospital. Later I wondered if the realistic props materialized as the family moved from trauma and depression to love.

In the hospital, we are with a non-traditional, chosen, loving family. Every person is interconnected and every prop is defined. When the family moves back into grief and depression, the blocks return to stage and we are transported to a cemetery.

What a group we four are
Four unlikely lovers
And we vow that we will
Buy the farm arm in arm
Four unlikely lovers
With heart
Let’s be scared together
Let’s pretend that nothing is awful

Let’s be scared together. Let’s pretend that nothing is awful.

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13 years (or more) of making challah

When I began to study for my conversion to Judaism, I was obsessed with baking challah. The braided egg bread that is served on Shabbat to remind of manna from heaven became a north star. If I could make challah from scratch, then I could become a Jew.

I’ve since learned that it’s not the cornerstone of cooking for all Jews like I was thought, but it is still one of the best dishes I’ve learned to make since I began this journey in 2004.

I documented the recipe I use on Flickr in 2007 and to this day, I google myself to find the photo album when it’s time to bake challah.


  • 2 packets of granulated yeast
  • 2 cups warm/hot water
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 7 cups of white flour
  • 2 teaspoons of salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/3 cup oil
  • ½ cup golden raisins (optional)
  • Poppy seeds (optional)

Step 1: Dissolve 2 packages granulated yeast in 2 cups warm/hot water. Add ½ cup sugar. Set aside.

Advice: The cookbook I got this from said tepid water—but I learned that tepid water won’t activate yeast. It’s important to use hot water (you can nuke it for a minute before you add the sugar and yeast), because you want to make sure that the yeast is still good. You do this by proofing it with sugar in hot water.  I’ve wasted so many ingredients when I was too impatient to proof the yeast.

Step 2: Mix together 7 cups of white flour and 2 teaspoons of salt.

Advice: This recipe is for white flour. For wheat bread recipe, go somewhere else. Another two loaves that I threw in the trash not knowing it couldn’t be a straight substitution.

Step 3: In a separate dish (I use a pyrex measuring cup) lightly beat two eggs and add to the flour mixture. Also add 1/3 cup of oil (I use olive oil) to the flour mixture.

Step 4. Stir it all up a bit to mix in the eggs.

Step 5. Add the proofed yeast, sugar, water mixture to the flour/egg/oil mixture.

Step 6: Stir it together with a big spoon and get it sticky enough that you can put it on the counter to knead the dough.

Step 7: Knead the dough on your counter. It’ll be sticky, but just get some flour on your hands. As Lotte Schaalman of blessed memory taught us – knead the dough until it feels like a woman’s breast.

Rise One: Place in a well oiled bowl, cover and allow to rise in a warm, draft free place until double in size. About two hours. Need a warm place? Turn on the oven for a minute and then turn it off. Pop the bowl in the oven covered with a towel for a couple hours.

Rise Two: Punch it down and let it rise for another hour

Shaping and third rise: Separate the dough in half and then into thirds and roll until you get long strands. I learned that dough needs to be stretched, then rested, then stretched again and then rest again… on and on until it’s a long enough strand to braid. Gluten is a tricky molecute and needs to be coaxed into stretching. If I need to manage time, I’ll put the braided dough into the fridge overnight and bake the following morning.

Divide dough and braid into 2 loaves. Traditionally you make two loaves, but this recipe is massive. It makes three loaves easy. I make 2-3 loaves and keep one, give away the rest. Place on a greased cookie sheet and allow to rise for two hours.

To braid, divide the dough into three parts. Roll each into a long snake of even thickness. Then pinch together the ends and braid as you do hair. As an alternative, overlap braids in the other and braid toward the end. What? I suggest going online to find some visuals for this one. That was what I did, it is actually very easy to do.

Baking: Brush with egg wash (1 part egg, 1 part water, well whisked) and sprinkle with seeds. Bake in oven at 350 degrees for 25 minutes. Knock on it to see if it sounds hallow – then you’ll know you have a good bake.

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Walking out on Women



When I did comedy before, it probably took me a year or more before I called out The Baker’s Dozen for walking out of my set and the sets of other women comics. I remember calling them out from the stage at that weird Italian place connected to the Cubby Bear – I don’t remember what I said or how they reacted in the moment, just that they stopped walking out of my set.

Last night after Open Mic #5, the two hosts said hello at the crosswalk and one asked me if I had come to support another comic. “No, I performed tonight, but you walked out and missed my set.”

To be fair, he had a reasonable excuse for taking a phone call during the show he runs, but I also have fewer fucks to give. I told him he got to use that excuse once and that he’d used it up.

Then we chatted a bit about coming back to comedy and when I said that I’d performed with the trio of dudes in Hollywood that I used to perform with, he said, “Oh, so you saw how famous they got and…”


I think that that #MeToo movement was making comedy a safer experience for women. I think that at 41, I have more to say than I did at 26. I think there are more paths to being successful in comedy in 2018 than in 2002. I think we live in a hellscape and making jokes might be my way to survive this administration.

I think Tig Notaro is showing me that a premise can last 10-20 minutes. I thinkHannah Gadsby is showing me comedy doesn’t have to be self-deprecating to be funny and the tension can last longer than 3 seconds. I think Jackie Kashian and Laurie Kilmartin are giving me an education on what hasn’t changed for women in comedy since I quit. I think Nicole Byer is showing me that I can take up space and date. I think June Diane Raphael is showing me that audiences in Chicago will cheer when politics interrupt comedy.

So, no. I’m not back on stage just to drop the names of the three dudes I knew in comedy once upon a time. It’s just easier to talk about them in casual conversation than to bring up the serious side of comedy.

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Like Riding a Bike

I went up again tonight – this time in a well lit Second City classroom. Things started at 9 and I expected to go up at 10:30, but didn’t go until 11:15 or so. Then I stayed to the bitter end (just another 30 minutes) to make sure the last five comics had someone to perform to.

As much as I keep hoping for a Mrs. Maisel beginners luck set that kills, I’m learning that returning to stand-up after 14 years is like riding a bike… That was sitting on the back porch for all those years without any maintenance.

I honestly don’t remember how to get better in 4-minute increments other than to keep showing up.

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Uphill Both Ways In the Snow

I’ve only been to one open mic, but I’m signed up for one on Saturday night to try again. I had a long call with a friend who did comedy with me back in the day and regaled him with all of the things that are different after 14 years away.

Screenshot 2018-06-08 12.52.16

I don’t want to spend any of my limited minutes on stage talking about how I used to walk to school, uphill, both ways in the snow about doing comedy in 02/04… so here are a few things that have (and haven’t) changed in the last 14 years.

  1. There are so many rooms. I wonder if I have a copy of The Reader from a typical week in 2003 to see how many open mics we used to have. I don’t remember there being more than two a night and most people only went to one. Now there are upwards of 10 every night of the week – even on weekends?!?!?
  2. YouTube didn’t exist when I did stand-up comedy. Or Twitter. Or Facebook. We had Friendster, Hotmail and plenty of us went to Kinko’s to write and print in the middle of the night.
  3. There might have been one comic who took their notes up on stage on a Palm Pilot in the early aughts, but rooms were all about paper notes. Last night about half of the comics took their notes up on their phone, which means they are spending time waking their phones up between jokes.
  4. Dudes in their 20s still tell rape jokes. Find a different starting point, gents.
  5. The room was a lot more diverse. There were only two women, but there were 5-6 Asian comics. In 02/04 a room was diverse if 3 of the 50 comics were black and 4 were women. In a list of only 15 comics, to have 1/3 be people of color – that was remarkable!
  6. Drink specials and kind bartenders (at least at Spyner’s) are still part of the scene. There were $2.50 beers last night.
  7. People have a lot to learn (and I have a lot to remember) about using mics – that’s the same as it always was. But as Jerry Seinfeld taught us in 2002, all you’ve got to do is get the mic out clean.

I’m going up again tomorrow night. I’m going to keep working this jokes and trying different rooms. We’ll see what happens.

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Let the record show

I went to Spyners on Western tonight and did four minutes at an open mic. It wasn’t the worst I’ve ever done, but it was far from the best.

But I dug up a tiny notebook, jotted down a few headlines and got on stage.

Huge thanks to Dee from the HDTGM fan group I’m in for joining me at the open mic to offer her support while I try to do this stand-up comedy thing again.

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Thinking Seriously about Comedy

This weekend I watched six hours of live comedy, something I haven’t done since I quit doing stand-up comedy sometime in 2004/05. All six hours were live shows for the podcast How Did This Get Made as part of the Onion Comedy Festival in Chicago – Paul Scheer, June Diane Raphael, and Jason Mantzoukas (let’s be honest, swoon) turning fun-bad movies into comedy gold.


The next day, I let my mind wander without a podcast in my ears or a screen in my face and tried to figure out – what is it about this trio that has me so excited about comedy again? Why have I spent so much time and money to be in the same room with these lovable goofballs, when they come to my phone for free every week? Why do I seek out podcasts where they are each featured guests?

And why do I want to get back on stage after quitting comedy over 10 years ago?


I moved to Chicago to try my hand at being a stand-up comic based on winning the Snowdown Joke Down in Durango, Colorado in January 2002. In a town of 14,000 people where I managed the local rape crisis hotline, I put my future in the hands of three judges during the “locals only” winter festival. snowdownparade

Snowdown is basically if the fine folks of Stars Hollow let the fraternity brothers from Neighbors plan a winter festival. Lots of drinking, lots of costumes and full buy-in from all locals.

When I lived in Durango, I realized that I could really get my friends laughing at poker night and made the immediate leap in my brain that jokes at a dinner table could turn into a stand-up comedy routine that would have me traveling the country within two years.

I won the stand-up portion of the Joke Down, planned my move to Chicago and hosted a going away party in the Ska Brewing warehouse that doubled as a fundraiser for the Rape Intervention Team. When I was on the local radio station doing a promo for the event, the DJ self-disclosed that he was a survivor of childhood sexual assault. Two weeks later we shared a stage and made a friendly room roar with laughter. Then I packed up my truck and moved to Chicago.


Sunday – Tequila Roadhouse (RIP). Monday – Lyon’s Den (RIP). Tuesday – Cubby Bear. Wednesday – Frankie J’s (RIP). Thursday – Second City Conservatory shows.

Practically every night of the week I was at an open mic learning to be a stand-up comic or at Second City cheering on my friends in their conservatory shows. I went up in rooms where the list was 50 comics long and regularly shared the stage with people who now have movies (Kumail Nanjiani), TV shows (Pete Holmes) and multiple specials and albums (Kyle Kinane).

When I tell the story of why I quit comedy, I always say, “and then I auditioned for the first season of Last Comic Standing. I stood in an alley for 6 hours in January with my peers and realized, in the light of day, that these weren’t my people.”

The line included a guy who told the same child-rape joke every week. The guy who offered women rides home from open mics, but then solicited blow jobs for stage time. The group of men I privately called The Bakers Dozen, because about 12-13 would always walk out of my set (or that of another woman) to smoke up in the alley.

When I fact-checked myself, the audition for Last Comic Standing was in my first 6 months in Chicago, but I did comedy for 2 years before I quit and switched to writing, blogging, occasional storytelling, converting to Judaism and ultimately climbing the corporate ladder.

But my overwhelming memory of quitting comedy was that I didn’t find my tribe in the rooms I visited every night.  I didn’t do drugs,  I didn’t date in comedy circles and I didn’t work blue. I didn’t fit in, so I eventually called it quits.


I spent the last 12 years aggressively climbing the corporate ladder in public relations. Two agencies, five or six promotions, countless new business meetings, and a Master’s from Northwestern.

My brief (and now distant) stint in stand-up comedy served me well. No CEO is scarier than a drunk crowd at the Cubby Bear. No reporter is going to dismiss me as harshly as an audience member who once said to me, “Lady, we’re trying to have fun here, can you just put down the microphone?” I was pretty much bullet-proof in a board room thanks to those open mics, but I never stopped being a stick in the mud.


In 2012, I finally watched The West Wing and fell in love with it. A few years later, the podcast The West Wing Weekly launched and I finally got into podcasts. Then the Gilmore Girls Reboot was announced, so I caught up on Gilmore Girls and added the podcast Gilmore Guys to my list.

pete holmes jason

Then there was this guest who really caught my ear. He was talking about rape culture and taking feminism very seriously. Huh… who was that? Jason Mantzoukas. Shrug. I had no idea who he was at the time, but he plugged his podcast called How Did This Get Made and I added it to my queue. I had some good laughs over bad movies and dug up all sorts of older interviews of Jason on other podcasts.

Eventually I found Jason on Pete Holmes’ podcast You Made It Weird. Pete is one of the guys I have fond memories of from The Lyon’s Den, even though I am jealous of his success in a way that is not attractive… in a regret-laden-road-not-traveled way. Then I listened to other interviews Pete did with people I knew back in the day.

Then Kumail Nanjiani and Emily Gordon released their movie – The Big Sick. Screenshot 2018-06-05 14.58.28A Romantic Comedy set in Chicago’s comedy scene. Kumail telling jokes that I’d heard him tell at open mics. A movie that plunged me deep into nostalgia for the Lyon’s Den and doing stand-up comedy.

I saw The Big Sick three times in the theater. I posted about it so much that Kumail  asked me how crowds were reacting. My friends went at my urging and also loved it.

A RomCom that centers on a group of comics who have each other’s backs. A small tribe of supportive friends. A RomCom that took place in the fictionalized bar I went to every week for two years.


Then #MeToo happened.

I start thinking about my clients from the Rape Intervention Team. I do the math and add the 16 years since I left the job to the 13-year-old age of my last client. She’s almost 30 if she’s still alive. Was she able to heal and become a survivor?

I start thinking about the rape jokes and sexual harassment in the comedy scene when I was in it. I talk to some of those guys I knew from open mics who are trying to support #metoo now, but didn’t do anything to help the women they came up with.


And then this weekend, I went to see six hours of live comedy. Before every show, Paul Scheer tells the audience that during the Q&A it is unacceptable to make racist, sexist or homophobic jokes.

In the middle of the show about Striptease, June Diane Raphael gave an extemporaneous talk about the dangers of the movie. About workers rights, women’s rights, legalization of sex work and ending the mother/whore dichotomy.

And what did her two male cohosts do? They listened.

And what did the rowdy crowd do? A crowd there to laugh about a greased up Burt Reynolds and a woman who dances with a python named Monty?

They listened and cheered. An audience at a comedy show in Chicago, cheering during and after a speech about women’s and worker’s rights – things have changed.


Through How Did This Get Made, I found three comics and countless guests who I think  would be my tribe if I’d stayed in comedy. It didn’t happen overnight, but it seems to be that comedy is now a place where women can be political and funny and safe. Where men (not all men, unfortunately) are trying to be funny without being misogynist. Where even Jason Mantzoukas, who is known for playing outrageous, sex-obsessed maniacs, is someone I count on in interviews to be thoughtful about sexism and rape culture.


This winter, I MCed a talent show at a Jewish retreat and a friend who has known me in Jewish conference circles for a decade said, “Leah, why didn’t I know that you’re funny? You’re really funny. You aren’t funny online, but I laughed so much tonight.”

I told him that it’s not my role in Jewish conferences. We usually have real stand-up comics in the mix – like Benji Lovitt or Michelle Collins. No need for a failed stand-up comic to be funny when there are professionals in the room.

But maybe it’s time.

I’m no longer aggressively climbing the corporate ladder. I started my own business to plan retreats and facilitate meetings, but I have more time to think and more flexibility for open mics. (And more mornings when I can sleep off open mics)

But maybe it’s time.

There are open mics that are women-only spaces now. There are social clubs for women in comedy. There are role models other than Ellen and Roseanne Barr.

Maybe it’s time.


Thank you to Paul, June Diane and Jason for showing me that my people are in the comedy world today. I think it’s time to try again.



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