Laughing for a good cause: Comedy students pair with Visible Faces to help the homeless

By Kamy Smelser, Staff Reporter

Josh Thomas makes his appearance on stage for the final act of the Visible Faces comedy show. K’Von Jackson

A lineup of 12 comedic acts stood behind the curtain of Columbia’s Getz Theatre waiting for the spotlight to shine on them during a special event organized to help the homeless.

The stand-up comedy special, held Feb. 25 in partnership with the homeless care project Visible Faces, was promoted as the first mainstage stand-up event at the Getz Theatre Center, 72 E. 11th St.

While the show was free to attend, attendees were encouraged to bring donations for Visible Faces to hand out to the homeless. Jackets, toothpaste and lunch boxes began to pile up as attendees showed up for the special. By the end of the night, Josh Thomas, a junior film and television and comedy writing and performance major and founder of Visible Faces, said nearly 12 bags of clothes and $300 were given in donations.

Audience members and students pack into the lobby of the Getz Theatre, 72 E. 11th St. K’Von Jackson

Olivia Maalouf, a junior comedy writing and performance major who acted as host of the show, said after seeing many of Thomas’ social media posts about helping individuals facing homelessness in Chicago, Visible Faces was something she also became passionate about.

“[Visible Faces is] a very direct way to help the homeless,” Maalouf said. “I feel like you can give to charities and stuff, but this is just a bunch of college kids trying to help people in the area.”

The comedy show was co-produced by Columbia students Lucy McReynolds and Jess McDermott in coordination with Thomas and Visible Faces.

Comedian Nicole Kedzy snaps a photo of fellow comedian Sam Rocha backstage before their stand-up set. K’Von Jackson

The idea of starting Visible Faces sparked when Thomas was asked for a loaf of bread by a man named Ishmael Winfrey Jr. while on his way to the grocery store on a freezing day in February 2021. After posting an interview with Winfrey on social media and asking viewers to send donations through Venmo, Thomas collected $400. It was enough to buy Winfrey two nights at a hotel, a few bags of groceries and a set of new clothes.

A city of Chicago survey report on homelessness in 2021 identified 3,023 sheltered homeless individuals and an estimated range of 702 to 1,454 individuals living on the streets or “other locations not meant for human habitation.”

Pairing Visible Faces with stand-up comedy is bringing together the two things Thomas loves. He said stand-up comedy is a profession he has pursued since he was nine years old when he took his dad’s credit card to rent 45 chairs for a makeshift comedy show in his living room.

Comedians mingle and prepare for their comedy set behind the mainstage. K’Von Jackson

“[Stand-up] has been my passion along with helping people,” Thomas said. “There’s no better feeling in the world than knowing that your day contributed to someone else’s.”

Thomas said now that he is a familiar face within the homeless community, he has recognized the joy behind simply striking up a conversation with someone who is experiencing homelessness.

“If you don’t have anything to give, there’s no way you don’t have two minutes to say ‘hi,’” Thomas said.