UA professor leads all-female comedy troupe for ‘Estrogen Hour’
A former lawyer, a journalism professor and a stand-up comedian walk into a comedy club …
That is not the set up for a joke but rather what Nancy Stanley, who is all three of those things, does regularly.
Stanley works as an assistant dean in the James E. Rogers College of Law and teaches journalism law at the University of Arizona.
On Feb. 25, 2011, she said she had a revelation while watching a Lewis Black comedy show and thought, “I want to do that!”
Stanley was 56 at the time and took her teenage son to see the comedian perform as a way to connect with him.
“We started bonding over comedy,” Stanley said. “One of the ways you relate to a teenage boy is through his interests, right?”
Stanley and her son were originally to sit several rows from the stage, but for an unknown reason, they were given front row tickets. Witnessing the comedian perform up close struck Stanley in a way she did not expect.
“When Lewis Black walked out, it knocked me out. It was a visceral response,” Stanley said. “When I left, I wanted to be a comic.”
Nine months later, she did her first live performance during a workshop on the Lewis Black Comedy Cruise.
“I loved it. And I was pretty decent. Well, I was horrible … but their first time doing stand-up, everyone is horrible,” Stanley said.
Stanley said she saw comedy as an opportunity to re-invent herself during a rough time in her life. She was separating from her husband, and her growing children were getting ready to move out of the house.
“Overcoming the fears of doing comedy was a metaphor for overcoming the fears of being alone and having my kids fly the nest,” Stanley said. “If I could get through that, I could get through my life.”
Since then, Stanley has helped start Estrogen Hour, a group of mainly older female comedians that perform at Laffs Comedy Caffé in Tucson.
“That is a market I went out to deliberately create for myself,” Stanley said. “I knew my comedy would be best accepted by people who are middle-aged or older.”
Estrogen Hour also regularly features a male performer, who they deem their “guestosterone.”
Stanley and her longtime friend-turned-coworker Mary Steed have turned the show into a fundraiser that supports the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.
Proceeds from Estrogen Hour help Steed run half marathons for LLS, a society dedicated to fighting blood cancer. Steed’s family has been affected by the disease, and the comedy shows have helped her raise almost $37,000 for LLS over the past several years, according to Stanley.
Steed, who works just feet away from Stanley in the College of Law, focuses on organizing Estrogen Hour and leaves the stand-up comedy to Stanley and the other comics.
“I just do stand-up five days a week at my desk. Well, I guess it’s also sit-down,” Steed said.
Steed said she was shocked when Stanley first told her she wanted to try stand-up later in life but has supported her the whole way, from Stanley’s first open mic night at Laffs.
“She’s always been a great writer,” Steed said. “But I didn’t know she wanted to perform. It was a little surprising.”
Stanley said doing comedy at this stage in her life has had its challenges, especially when it comes to relating to younger audiences.
“Sometimes when I go to open mics, I get weird looks, because people think ‘What do you have in common with these drunken 21-year-olds?’” Stanley said. “And the answer is, nothing.”
Stanley said she likes performing more in comedy clubs like Laff’s, because the audience is not like the typical young bar scene. She doesn’t want college students watching her perform to “visualize their mom having a mid-life crisis on stage.”
But once Stanley warms the audience up and gets past her occasional dose of performance anxiety, she says the feeling of making people laugh is like no other.
“You just fall in love with it. It becomes like an addiction,” Stanley said. “When I haven’t done a set in a while, it’s like, ‘I need a fix!’”
Stanley is able to share that craving for comedy with first-timers through Estrogen Hour. Most of their shows feature a stand-up “virgin” who wants to give comedy a shot.
Amy Selegue, a law student and program coordinator for the UA Cancer Center Clinical Trials Office, was able to do stand-up for the first time at the Estrogen Hour’s holiday-themed show last December.
“I’d never done stand-up before and was more than a little nervous,” Selegue said. “Everyone seemed very receptive, and I received some very nice comments after the show. It was a big boost to my confidence!”
Selegue performs with the Tucson Improv Movement and had always wanted to try stand-up, but it wasn’t until she found out about Estrogen Hour that she felt comfortable doing it.
“It’s a super supportive environment, all the experienced comics were very helpful to us newbies,” Selegue said. “Both Nancy and Mary are amazing women to work with.”
The next Estrogen Hour is April 7 at Laffs Comedy Caffé, and more information can be found on the Estrogen Hour Facebook page.
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