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COMEDY : Women of Wit : Ethnic comedians take the stage Monday nights for 'Funny Ladies of Color' at an Encino club.

February 12, 1993|JULIO MORAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

What do you get when you combine four African-Americans, two Latinas, a black Puerto Rican, a Chicana Jew, an Armenian, a Filipina and a South Korean?

About 90 minutes of comedy from some very funny women in a show called "Funny Ladies of Color."

The show, Monday nights at the L. A. Cabaret Comedy Club in Encino, was conceived by comedians Lydia Nicole and Cha Cha Sandoval-Epstein out of frustration at being unable to get regular work at comedy clubs because they are ethnic women.

"I'm still having to audition, and I'm still being told my material is too ethnic," said Nicole, who is half black, half Puerto Rican and was featured in the movie "Stand and Deliver."

Their desire to work is such that they all perform for free.

"We're artists; we want to work and this man gave us a room in which to work," Nicole said.

The man is club owner Ray Bishop, who said he has been pleased with the early response to the show.

"People like it," Bishop said. "People are looking for something different in comedy, and this is something different."

The show began Jan. 4 in the club's smaller, 50-seat room, but after nearly filling the place during the first two weeks, it was moved to the club's larger, 200-seat room.

There is no admission fee, but there is a two-drink minimum, with the cheapest drink, including nonalcoholic drinks, costing $4.

Nicole said a usual lineup consists of between 10 and 12 comics, each performing for about seven minutes. She said she has a roster of more than 20 women comics who alternate weekly.

On a recent Monday, the room was about three-quarters full, but the comedians were fully charged.

Each comic has her own distinctive brand of humor, although many talk about their particular ethnic background and about such subjects as petite blondes in tight short skirts, sex, men and working out.

Karen Haber, who is Jewish, focuses her routine on sex and men:

"I would like to open a whorehouse for women so we can get it the way we really want it. We pay our money and guys pretend they really like talking to us and care about our lives.

"And then they have to hold us and say, 'You're so thin.' Even if they've never seen us before, they have to say, 'Have you lost weight?' And right before the ultimate moment, they have to shout, 'I can't believe how great your shoes match your dress.' "

Dyana Ortelli, a Latina who has starred in television series and was in the movie "American Me," quips about the difficulty in getting roles that are not stereotypical.

"When I first came to Hollywood to be an actress, my name was Rosita Gomez, but I got tired of playing Mexican maids and prostitutes. So I changed my name to Dyana Ortelli. Now I play Italian maids and prostitutes. But it's much better because now I don't have to clean my own dressing room."

Perhaps the most distinctive comedian is Alexis Rhee, who is South Korean and performs with a violin reminiscent of Jack Benny. She plays a few notes on the violin and then out come the one-liners:

"Why do hummingbirds hum? Because they don't have a voice."

She played a few notes of Madonna's song, "Like a Virgin," stopped and deadpanned, "You know, Madonna and I have something in common. Neither one of us is . . . Chinese."

Sandoval-Epstein, the co-producer of the show, jokes about her mixed parentage. Her father is Jewish and her mother Latina.

"I'm proud of being a Jewchana," she said. "That means my jewelry is fake, but my orgasms are real."

Carlease, an African-American who uses only her first name, joked about her frustrations shopping along Ventura Boulevard: "It's so hard to find good black hair products in Encino."

Laurie Kaye, who is Armenian, joked about her child: "This child does not look like me. I think my husband was cheating on me."

The show has created a camaraderie among the women that is evident by the screams and hollers from those waiting to get on while another is on stage.

Still, some of the obstacles they face were evident at a recent show when the male emcee, in introducing Christy L. Medrano, who is Filipina, said: "I can't believe she does comedy as pretty as she is." That was greeted with a chorus of boos by the other female comics and some women in the audience.

The women say they expect the show to become popular enough that they can expand to other venues. They are already scheduled to perform at a West Hollywood club called Sweet Art Cafe on March 16 and 23.

"We are good. Bottom line, we are good," Sandoval-Epstein said.

Where and When What: "Funny Ladies of Color." Location: L. A. Cabaret Comedy Club, 17271 Ventura Blvd., Encino. Hours: 7:30 p.m. Mondays. Price: No admission fee, but there is a two-drink minimum. Call: (818) 501-3737.

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