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On Stage

Memories of Mary

The ladies of laughter

Attend

What: Ladies of Laughter

When: 7 pm Sat., Mar. 18

Where: Mount Baker Theatre, 104 N. Commercial St.

Cost: $20-$40

Info: 734-6080 or http://www.mountbakertheatre.com

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Some words of warning: The “Ladies of Laughter” show taking place Sat., March 18 at the Mount Baker Theatre might bring some audience members to tears.

While I’ll talk more about the trio of award-winning comedians who will be featured onstage during the standup soiree soon, the reason to reach for the Kleenex requires a bit of backstory.

In 1990, Mary Jo Wobker was a comedian and comedy booker living and working in New York City. In clubs, restaurants and at special events in the big city, the “Mary Jo Comedy Show” became a place where many women involved in the funny business on the east coast got their first paid gigs.

Mary Jo made it her mission to find opportunities for new comics by both creating and producing shows. She got the satisfaction of helping funny females find their footing, and the women used the shows as a way to hone and develop their material.

In 1992, when Mary Jo discovered she had terminal cancer, she handed the baton to her friend Peggy Boyce, also a former comic. When Mary Jo died, Boyce made sure she wasn’t forgotten. She continued to book women making their way in the world of comedy, and also created an annual tribute to her friend. The “Mary Jo Comedy Award” brought recognition and more publicity to comediennes who stood out, and also provided cash awards.

In 1998, Boyce upped the ante by making the tribute a live event. Amateur and professional comedians from the region signed up to ply their trade in front of standing-room-only crowds. By 1999, corporate sponsorship brought the “Ladies of Laughter” competition into comedy clubs and casinos and, years later, Madison Square Garden.

More than a quarter-century after Mary Jo’s death, “Ladies of Laughter” sees women from around the world—from England to Australia,  Canada, the United States, and beyond—applying to be part of the show. Winners get paid bookings as part of “Funny & Fabulous” tours, find themselves on television and often see their comedy careers soar to new heights.

When Last Comic Standing comedian Dana Eagle and former “Ladies of Laughter” winners Stephanie Blum and Alycia Cooper make their way onstage for the March 18 performance in Bellingham, it’ll be during the week of the 25th anniversary of Mary Jo’s death.

To mark the special occasion, Boyce will fly in from New York City for the show, and members of Mary Jo’s extended family—who happen to reside in locales throughout Washington state—will join the “Ladies of Laughter” founder and producer to experience firsthand what Mary Jo first inspired all those years ago.

While Eagle, Blum, and Cooper will no doubt bring the audience to the verge of tears via the inherent hilarity of their comedic commentary, there will also likely be a moment during the show when the performers, and Boyce, will pay homage to Mary Jo Wobker—the woman who first paved the way for them to share their talents.

That’s when the need to reach for the tissues will assert itself, and when the tears of laughter might change into something a little more heartfelt.

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