Kyle Scanlan, Alex Kumin, Kevin Lobkovich, Stephanie Weber, Sarah Sherman, Ricky Gonzalez, Derek Smith, and Deanna Ortiz Credit: Elizabeth McQuern Bowden

The Lincoln Lodge boasts a hallowed reputation as one of the first (and longest-running) alt-comedy showcases in town, the place where comics like Hannibal Buress, Cameron Esposito, T.J. Miller, and Kumail Nanjiani cut their teeth before hitting it big. There’s a consistent cast every week who aren’t just performing individual stand-up sets onstage but are also leaving the Subterranean (the show’s current home) to live stream man-on-the-street interviews or conducting weekly variety acts like sketches, game shows, and whatever else they can come up with.

This year the Lincoln Lodge has its own milestone to celebrate: when the new season starts on Friday, September 2, at 8 PM, it will be the first cast in the history of the program who are an even split of male and female performers, which the company hopes will be a precedent for stand-up shows across the city. We got to know the guys and gals who make up this historic lineup for the Lincoln Lodge’s 17th season.

Ricky Gonzalez, 30
Seven years in comedy a
Six years with the Lincoln Lodge

Gonzalez is one of the longest-standing Lincoln Lodge cast members, and refers to himself as “pretty much the one who’s in charge.” He knows the ins and outs of the show, including the struggle to churn out new material for the same audience from week to week.

“If you’re a fan of a musician, you want to hear them do the hits,” Gonzalez says. “But with comedy if you repeat one joke they’ve heard before, they get mad about it.”

Lucky for him, his day job as a preschool teacher offers him a never-ending supply of crazy stories. His strategy for keeping things fresh onstage? Simply talk about his day.

Alex Kumin, 29
Three years in comedy a
Two years with the Lincoln Lodge

Kumin is a product of the Lincoln Lodge’s Stand-Up Seminary, a five-week course on the basics of putting together a set and figuring out your point of view onstage. Her first time doing stand-up was three years ago during the graduation performance, and since then she’s been gigging across the city almost every single night.

All that time onstage has helped her find her voice as a comic. “I lean toward self-deprecating humor as well as topics that raise social consciousness—rape culture, sexual health, et cetera,” Kumin says. “You know, the light stuff.”

She’s now training the next group of performers as a teacher for Feminine Comique, a stand-up class for female performers. And she’s also an instructor for the very same program that gave her her start.

Kevin Lobkovich, 22
Seven years in comedy a
Two years with the Lincoln Lodge

When Lobkovich started doing his one-liners for crowds in the suburbs at the age of 15, he killed. He thought of himself at the time as “the king of Naperville comedy,” he says. But when he came to Chicago to pursue stand-up, things were a little different.

“I thought I would be the new king of Chicago, and I bombed for a month straight,” he says. “I thought, ‘I might not be funny.'” After working some open mikes and honing his style—exploring weightier subject like anxiety and depression, and talking more about his personal experiences—he became one of the Lincoln Lodge’s youngest cast members at age 20.

During his first man-on-the-street interview for the Lodge he got on a stranger’s shoulders and talked about the view on Milwaukee Avenue from up there. It’s one of his favorite things he’s done on the show, and every week he tries to top it.

Deanna Ortiz, 23
Six years in comedy a
First year with the Lincoln Lodge

Ortiz was just 17 years old when she performed her first stand-up set in front of a room of suburban adults. She quickly realized that her teenage observations on the similarities between dogs and babies weren’t going over well—she needed to get more personal. “The more life experiences I get, the more it really helps my comedy,” she says.

Even one of her worst onstage experiences has helped her grow as a comic. “I was catcalled right before my hand even touched the microphone,” she says. “It was such a horrible way to start my set.”

Ortiz knew she couldn’t let that moment get her down and started perfecting her crowd work. Now she prides herself on being able to turn catcalling and heckling into something that makes everyone laugh.

Kyle Scanlan, 30
Seven years in comedy a
Four years with the Lincoln Lodge

The first time Scanlan’s parents saw him perform comedy also happened to be one of the worst shows of his life. He was opening for an 80s cover band at an outdoor gig near the interstate, and an already bad set was ruined when a semi drove by and honked its horn during the final punch line. But he stuck with it, and his parents have seen enough of his successes onstage to block out his highway set.

The experience taught Scanlan an important lesson: “Losing that fear of failure is really important I think, or at least learning how to cope with it,” he says. “Quitting isn’t an option.”

Sarah Sherman, 23
Six years in comedy a
First year with the Lincoln Lodge

Sherman first tried her hand at comedy in New York at the age of 17. After her set, the host of the show made jokes about the bow tie she was wearing and her high-pitched voice; she was so discouraged she traded in stand-up for improv. Last November, however, Sherman performed solo once again, this time with thicker skin, more life experience, and a very distinct onstage voice.

“All of my jokes are basically long, convoluted rants in the high-volume voice of a truly bizarre character who’s usually losing their damn mind,” Sherman says. “If I’m not obsessively talking about my dad or my pubes, I’m usually just a demented character who’s spiraling out of control.”

Derek Smith, 33
Ten years in comedy a
Six years with the Lincoln Lodge

When Smith was 23 years old and studying to take the MCATs, he went to see his first comedy show with a friend. The next day he dropped out of school and decided to pursue a career as a comedian—he knew from that one night that it was what he wanted to do forever.

The first time Smith went onstage he simply talked about what was going on in his life. Not much about his approach has changed since then except for his confidence level and a more focused perspective. “I want to share how I experience the world and try to break it down so that it’s something universal for everybody—I want to find those things that all connect people,” he says. “That sounds so high-minded for fart jokes.”

Stephanie Weber, 27
Nine years in comedy a
First year with the Lincoln Lodge

Weber started in Chicago as an improviser and member of the sketch team Warm Milk, and when she briefly lived in New York she started attending open mikes hoping to find someone to write sketches with her. What she discovered instead was a desire to break out of a group and try this comedy thing on her own. “I loved that I didn’t even need other people for this,” Weber says. “It really helped me be confident in my own ideas and realize that I know what’s funny.”

And it’s her experience with sketch comedy that sets her apart onstage. Weber often does character work, and when she tells personal stories she becomes an affected, satirical version of herself, whether it’s discussing her ex-boyfriend’s vampire novel or her thoughts on abortion.  v