Laughing Stock: Tickling the Surly Wench

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“First off, I love comedy,” says Surly Wench Pub founder and owner Stephanie Johnston. “I host a lot of burlesque shows, and making people laugh their asses off is the best feeling.”

So when Roxy Merrari, long-time good Wench customer, and her pal Mo Urban approached Johnston about hosting Tucson’s only female-run open mic, she jumped right on board. “They’ve since broadened it to two nights,” Johnston says, “because it went over so well. Everyone seems to have a great time, and the staff likes it, too!”

A regular on Tucson’s stand-up comedy scene, Merrari wanted to be able to do her favorite thing at her favorite club. The idea got legs over a friendly breakfast with fellow comic Urban. “We were talking about how all of our guy friends (in stand-up) were doing comedy around town, but we noticed there just weren't many women,” Merrari says. “We said, ‘We need some more women! We can't wait around for other people to invite us to their shows. Let's just start one!’”

Urban says, “Initially in 2012 (when she started doing stand-up) I had a bad experience. I didn't feel comfortable just because I didn't have a lot of women to connect with. I didn’t feel safe having a voice, and I didn't come back for a few years.”

Now, she says, “I've seen a huge shift. I think it's a very supportive scene, but I also recognize that I can have a voice now, and I feel safe having a voice, whereas I did not before.” Urban points to the recent Tucson Women’s Comedy Festival, hosted by Tucson Improv Movement, as an example of Tucson’s growing appreciation of women’s comedy.

“Once we got the idea to do the show,” Merrari says, “Every time a woman came to Laff's (Comedy Caffe) open mic we pounced on them!” Urban says, “We started asking ourselves, ‘Are we just coming off weird?’" But the encouragement is working, and several new female comics are now learning the ropes at local open mics.

Comedy at the Wench is a show-up-to-go-up open mic at 8:30 p.m., the second Tuesday of every month, and a hosted mic for invited comedians on the fourth Tuesday. Donations are $5, but no one is turned away.

March 28 guests are Dana Whissen of the Torch Theatre Company in Phoenix; the masked comedian Dick Strangler; Southern California comedy scene transplant Marilyn Lopez, aka M Lo; Lilliya Souslova whose riffs often recall her Russian homeland and Arizona’s Funniest Comedian finalist, Conor Dorney.

The Surly Wench is at 424 N. 4th Avenue. “Like” Comedy at the Wench on Facebook to receive reminders and information about upcoming shows.

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