God bless mothers. These wonderful women do it all. Besides the minor duty of birthing our tiny little bodies into the great big world, they also nourish us, teach us, support us and eventually cheer from the sidelines as we go off to create our own lives. But no matter how much we love and adore these women, no matter how tight our bond, there are some things that mothers should just never, ever know about our lives.
That’s exactly how Nikki Levy, a graduate of Northwestern’s RTVF program and former FOX executive, drew inspiration for her now wildly successful comedy show, appropriately titled, “Don’t Tell My Mother.”
The show features up-and-coming comedians telling stories that they would never want their mothers to hear. For Levy, many of these stories describe her experiences as gay and Jewish, two categories that Levy says she doesn’t neatly fit into.
“Growing up is not very easy, It’s usually pretty difficult.” Levy said. “The greatest part about comedy is that it often comes from that raw pain. That’s what I love about this medium. We make it into something great and funny.”
Levy’s connection to Northwestern University runs deep. In fact, she describes it simply as the “single greatest decision I ever made.” So, when Levy decided to bring the show to Chicago, getting a Northwestern student involved seemed like an obvious next step.
That’s where Alex Heller came in. Heller arrived at Northwestern without so much as a minute of stand-up experience. She dove into the comedy community, starting with improv and moving into sketch writing and stand-up. As the current director of Sit and Spin, Northwestern’s largest comedy show, Heller has come a long way. But Heller insists her success wasn’t immediate, especially when it came to stand-up.
“I tried to learn from people at Northwestern and emulate them,” Heller said. “The jokes and everything, that just wasn’t my thing. I wondered if I could try stand up but in a much different way.”
Heller eventually returned to what brought her to comedy in the first place: making her friends and family laugh. She recorded stories that made her friends double over, picking the most compelling moments out and weaving them into an act. After changing her stand-up approach, Heller also had a change of heart.
“I felt like it was just so much easier,” Heller said. “I wasn’t trying to do a character and do jokes. I was just being my honest self.”
So when she heard Nikki Levy had opened up a spot in her show, Heller jumped at the chance. She recorded a short story on her webcam, emailed it in and waited for a reply.
Carly Kleinbart, an associate producer for the show and a current RTVF sophomore, helped Heller get that reply. She reviewed more than 40 submissions for the role along with Levy, until they chose Heller as their Northwestern performer.
“I had a blast watching all the video submissions and I’m so happy I was able to see so many talented Northwestern students,” Kleinbart said.
For students interested in pursuing a career in comedy, Levy warns that the environment can be brutal. Her advice is refreshing. It’s to the point. It’s not “just network!” or “do you have a LinkedIn account?” Instead, she cuts to the chase.
“If you want to be on the development side of comedy, get to Los Angeles. Like, just get your butt here,” Levy said. For students looking to perform, she proposes a different route.
“If you want to be a comic, I say stay in Chicago first. Or go to New York or Boston and really work out your stuff because L.A. is brutal. It’s not a good place to start out.”
“Don’t Tell My Mother” shows at the Laugh Factory this Monday. In Levy’s typical pro-student fashion, she is offering student tickets for $10 with the code “mommy.” General admission is $30 and VIP tickets are $50. The show will benefit IMPACT LGBT Health and Development Program.