Comedy

Five Jerks Trying to Make You Laugh

Di Billick puts her life on stage

We hate sports here,” Di Billick said as we walked through Lakeview after this year’s Comedy Sketch Festival. In the last sketch that her group, Dandy Boy, performed at the festival, two sports fans became so excited in their celebrations that they stripped down to diapers and devolved into moaning babies sucking on their parents’ breasts.

Much of Billick’s comedy is based on her life. One sketch had Billick, a one-time Greenpeace canvasser, as a beleaguered activist soliciting signatures for her cause. Drawing on experiences with former classmates, she is writing a musical about a white cop from Mount Greenwood who gets stranded in Englewood, near where Billick grew up in Gage Park. The cop must then make his way back home, learning about institutional racism through song and dance on the way.

In Dandy Boy, Billick often plays the straight-laced woman to her group-mates’ ridiculous characters. In one scene she casually flips through a magazine as her child and husband wrestle over bedtime. In another, she is dutifully impressed by two pot-smoking mimes until she goes into labor and they are forced to deliver her baby.

Billick formed Dandy Boy in May 2014 with four friends. “We had an idea to start a sketch group that was perfectly balanced with tropes,” she said. They describe themselves as “five jerks trying to make you laugh.” The group writes their pieces collaboratively. “We don’t fall short because we have each other’s back,” she said. They performed at Laugh Battle at Stage 773 and won themselves a spot at the festival this year. They’re currently working on a pilot for the New York Television Festival.

Billick’s childhood is a story of gently pushing back against her Catholic upbringing. She tells stories of fishing for crawfish in a bizarre urban swamp and hiding beers in the air pockets of a large salt hill with a mix of excited nostalgia and embarrassment.

“You know how you’re just ridiculously stupid when you’re trying to rebel in school?” she stopped for a moment. “Oh god—I’m going to tell you this story,” she said sheepishly. “Because we hated our school so much, we took all of the garbages in the bathroom and we flushed all the feminine products that were used down the toilet to try and clog it up. We got in so much trouble.”

By the time she began high school, she moved with her mom to an Indiana suburb, where she spent the next eight years. She shifted from her Catholic middle school on the South Side to a suburban public school. “It was very different, everyone thought I was the greatest person to ever set foot anywhere,” she recalled, still surprised. “They all looked up to me and I was like, ‘Let’s go steal some cigarettes, guys.’ ”

Billick wrote constantly, from comedy to a fantasy novel she began two years ago on New Year’s Day. It wasn’t until 2012, though, that she started performing what she wrote. She began taking lessons at Second City, eventually earning a place in their selective conservatory program. From there she was picked by Brian Posen, the owner and artistic director of Stage 773, where the Comedy Sketch Festival was held, to form Unlikely Company, which became a house team at his theater. Last year they performed at the festival, where much of Dandy Boy met.

Billick’s Catholic family came to Dandy Boy’s show at the festival. “All of my sketches are the worst,” she said, her voice lowered in mock shame. “I’m a terrible person. I’m going to hell.” But even the most devout Catholic could enjoy her show—it’s satirical without being mean-spirited. Dandy Boy’s comedy is filled with the self-deprecation that mirrors Billick’s own—she’s no longer clogging the toilet with used pads for the sake of rebellion. The sketches range from goofy to biting, but the point of Dandy Boy’s comedy is to poke fun at themselves and the world around them.

“Someone once told me that as an actor or a creator or a writer, every single life experience that you ever had will come out in your comedy or in your acting,” she said. “Before the show today I was thinking, ‘Holy shit that person was right.’ Everything I have ever done has come back out in this world.”

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