Stand-up Brandi Denise performs at Chicago's What a Joke festival. Credit: Dewayne Perkins

On November 10, 2016, just two days after the election, local comedy producer Liz Maupin got a call from New York stand-up Jenn Welch. After taking a day to process the reality of a world with president-elect Donald Trump, Welch and fellow New Yorker Emily Winter reached out to connections across the country to see what they as performers could do to combat the incoming administration’s potential threat to human rights. The answer was to join forces and keep doing what they do best: comedy.

The What a Joke festival features more than 500 comics performing in more than 30 cities across the nation throughout inauguration weekend, with all ticket sales benefitting the ACLU. Maupin (Late Late Breakfast) and Meredith Kachel (Chicago Underground Comedy) organized Chicago’s outpost featuring stand-ups Matty Ryan, Brandi Denise, Kristen Toomey, and more, plus a raffle and auction to raise even more funds.

“I feel it’s my duty to help comedians speak out, to put on more shows, to raise money for causes that can help fight against this battle we’re about to face,” Maupin says. “Late last year I was actually feeling like the comedy-boom bubble was about to burst, but now I think the exact opposite is about to happen. I think we’re entering a revolution.”

That doesn’t mean all comedy needs to be political. According to Maupin, a significant component of the festival (and other benefit shows) is for comedians to use their talents and existing material in any way they can to support a large cause. But for those who do have something to say about the incoming administration, now is the time they can take advantage of their platform.

“I firmly believe that none of us should normalize anything that’s about to happen,” Maupin says. “If you’re a comedian and you have these views and these thoughts, it’s so important to speak out. Somebody has to.”

What a Joke: A National Comedy Festival Fri 1/20, 9 PM, Hideout, 1354 W. Wabansia,, $20.