Home » Arts and Culture » ‘Funny Ha-Ha’ brings writers together just for laughs
‘Funny Ha-Ha’ brings writers together just for laughs
Author Wendy McClure stood onstage, wearing a pink bonnet on her head, discussing her experiences attempting to churn butter and reading her tweets under the guise of Laura Ingalls Wilder from the “Little House on the Prairie” novels. Before that, two men—Chicago improv veterans Mark Hanner and Homer Marrs—played guitars and sang about Facebook, mocking dull status updates and vehemently denouncing obnoxious self-promoters. So what was going on there?
It’s called “Funny Ha-Ha,” and it’s an “approximately quarterly” reading series started, organized and hosted by local author, blogger, freelance writer and A.V. Club contributor Claire Zulkey. The show focuses on humorous writing and performances. The most recent “Funny Ha-Ha” was held on Sept. 28 at The Hideout, 1354 W. Wabansia Ave., and featured readings, musical performances and short film screenings from eight local writers and comedians.
Zulkey said she started the reading series with a friend of hers, young adult author John Green, to fill what she saw as a gap in the local literary scene.
“We realized we knew a lot of funny writers in Chicago, but there weren’t any readings that showcased humor writing specifically,” Zulkey said.
Because “Funny Ha-Ha” originated among a group of her friends, Zulkey said she often chooses readers she knows personally for the events.
“I like to have a mix of people who have read before with us, who know what the show is like and know the audience—and, of course, can be funny,” Zulkey said. “But I also like to bring in new people. I try to keep an eye out by going to readings and meeting other writers in the city. When I can, I try to get someone who’s a bit of a local celebrity, like a columnist or someone like that.”
While the events are free, Zulkey said she collects a suggested $5 donation at every reading to contribute to the Neighborhood Writing Alliance, a group that helps support community writing groups in Chicago and publishes a quarterly literary journal to showcase local work.
Megan Stielstra is a local author, literary director for the 2nd Story performance series and a fiction writing adjunct professor at Columbia. She is also a longtime “Funny Ha-Ha” reader. She said it was different from any other reading series she had encountered in the city.
“For one thing, this one is all humor-based, and it’s also a little more eclectic,” Stielstra said. “It’s not all writing—[Zulkey] does variety acts as well, along with film and music, so it’s more than just a reading series. It’s more of a variety show, I would say.”
Stielstra has been writing for 15 years, and she said much of her drive to keep writing comes from a strong belief in the power of storytelling.
“I’m in all of this because I love stories, whether it’s reading them on the page or sitting down with your friends and hearing the crazy things they’ve been to, or meeting new people and seeing how you connect over a story,” Stielstra said. “At their best, stories can bring people together. Stories can make connections where nothing else can.”
Johanna Stein, on the other hand, was a first-time “Funny Ha-Ha” reader on Sept. 28, but she said she would definitely do it again.
“There are a couple of people reading, there are people doing music, there are films, there are people reading poems they wrote in elementary school—that sort of scope is not something you see all the time,” Stein said. “And that all of them are entertaining and funny—that’s rare.”
Stielstra said the event had a therapeutic feel for her and expressed hopes that it would inspire some of its attendees to want to tell their own stories.
“We’re so busy and we run around all the time and life gets crazy,” Stielstra said. “To give yourself an hour to just sit and laugh—hopefully after you sit and laugh at other people’s stories—you’ll be able to sit and laugh at your own a little bit, and maybe we could all take life a little less seriously.”
The next “Funny Ha-Ha” will take place Nov. 30 from 7-8:30 p.m. at the Hideout, 1354 W. Wabansia Ave. For more information, visit Zulkey.com.