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Chicago with the women who shaped me

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Photo by Lindsey Anderson
Photo by Lindsey Anderson

My mom introduced me to Saturday Night Live when I was a kid. While my peers ran around the playground making fart jokes, I perfected bits about the Tiger Woods affair and the Obama administration. While watching reruns of old episodes together, I studied the cadence and style of each joke that sent my mom into a laughing fit.

One night, we watched an old episode with two women sitting at the Weekend Update desk.

"That's Tina Fey. She's one of the funniest writers ever," my mom said. Watching Tina and Amy crack jokes about the news changed my life that night. I fell in love with them, and my life would never be the same.

I memorized Amy Poehler's Sarah Palin rap (and to this day can still perform it flawlessly), I wrote my own SNL sketches with my little sister, and when I got to college, I set my mind on becoming a writer, just like Tina Fey.

After I graduated college, I moved to Seattle and got a real writing job (depending on who you ask) at the best newspaper in the city (depending on who you ask). I also started doing stand-up comedy. In a year, I went from writing entire sets out word for word at small LGBTQ+ open-mic nights to performing as a rotating comedian at Club Comedy Seattle. I met some of the funniest people I've ever known and learned more about honing the craft I fell in love with so long ago.

Throughout it all, my mom has been my biggest supporter. She posts on her Facebook page about the shows I do, even though the WASPS in her bunco group don't care. She still tells me I can be like Tina and Amy someday, even when it feels impossible. She also warns me to never joke about that one incident at the Hot Pot in Bellevue.

Getting lost in Chicago
Once again, my mom put me on the path toward Tina and Amy when she discovered that they'd be going on tour. This would be my Eras tour. We got tickets for the closest show: Chicago.

The Restless Leg Tour was only hitting cities with significance to Tina and Amy: New York, where they worked together on SNL; Boston, where Amy was born and raised; and Chicago, where Tina grew up and the two started their comedy careers.

The trip was just a couple weeks after my birthday, so it functioned as my 24th birthday present... and my 25th, and my 26th.

We flew out from Sea-Tac and landed in O'Hare around dinnertime. We figured we could save a little money and walk to our hotel from the airport instead of calling an Uber. Suitcases in tow, we headed down the street. After 15 minutes of walking in circles, we realized we were lost. Not only were we lugging bags under a bridge in one of the most dangerous cities in the US, but we also shared the same far-off look Mitch McConnell has become known for.

A security guard clocked us as tourists in a millisecond and helped us get our bearings. We'd walked half a mile in the wrong direction. He politely helped us call a cab. It was not cheaper than an Uber.

We checked in at the historic Palmer House Hotel. The lobby boasted glamorous decor from the 1920s. Walking through the spinning doors felt like taking a trip back to an era when Chicago was full of outlaws, gangsters, and women in flapper skirts. (The Palmer House also claims to have invented the brownie, which we just had to sample.)

We found dinner just a quick walk down the street at Exchequer Restaurant, a location famous for Chicago-style pizza and ribs. We made it to the restaurant after the rush, but at the time our stomachs (which were still working on Pacific time) started grumbling. The food was exquisite. I instantly regretted ever bad-mouthing deep-dish pizza. The pepperonis hid under the cheese, making every bite a savory surprise!

Photo by Rachelle Anderson  

We spent the next day as full-blown tourists. As we rode the elevator to the top of the Willis Tower (formerly known as the Sears Tower), a video compared it to other well-known tall buildings. My stomach dropped when I realized we had risen over double the height of the Space Needle!

At the top, we stood above the whole city, with just a bit of plexiglass separating our feet from a 1,451-foot drop to the concrete below. We could see forever. I looked out over the flat Illinois landscape. It struck me that this was the first time I had seen the sky meet the earth on the horizon with no mountains or bodies of water to break it up. Though lacking in the greenery and nature Seattle is so known for, Chicago still charms with its flat beauty.

We continued our tourist adventure by walking to the Bean. The public art in Millennium Park is just a big silver bean. It doesn't do much. I flicked it, and we continued on with our afternoon.

We grabbed some hot dogs for lunch and explored the retail areas. Our hotel was in Sox territory, a hat salesman informed my mom, and so buying any Cubs merch would be sacrilegious. She decided on Sox socks as a souvenir.

Photo by Rachelle Anderson  

My night as a major fangirl
When the evening came, we prepared for the show — the whole reason we'd flown into the city. Nerves consumed me as I changed my outfit time and time again. I settled on a long skirt and a button-up shirt. We walked to the theater and paused in front of the marquee. I had to blink a few times to ensure I wasn't dreaming when I read "Tina Fey and Amy Poehler."

The theater was gorgeous, an older building like the Moore. Ornate features and Greek symbolism decorated the walls. Clouds were painted on the ceiling. I took it all in as a straight couple argued behind me.

Then the lights dimmed, and an announcer introduced the opener: Molly Kearney. I couldn't believe my ears — were we about to see a set from the first and only Nonbinary SNL cast member! It was the Saturday that should have been SNL's season finale, but the writers' strike (which is still going on) had just started, and Kearney now had a big opening in their schedule.

Kearney was hilarious! Their humor and style evoked the essence of Chris Farley, Melissa McCarthy, and Kate McKinnon. They were loud, at times crass, and unapologetically Queer. Their set felt like listening to the stories of a cool new friend. They talked about their childhood, how they earned the nickname "Meatbrick," and coming out to their family.

Seeing an openly Queer comedian on stage in front of me, telling stories just like the ones I hear from my friends at Queer open mics week after week, gave me hope. For the first time, I was seeing someone Queer and Trans share the stage with the greatest comedians of my childhood. What's more, Kearney did not suppress their identities — they embraced them, and people laughed and related to them for it.

I could have left the theater satisfied after the opening act, but the show just kept getting better. When Kearney wrapped up, it was time for Tina and Amy to arrive. They did not disappoint. They walked on stage in awards show glam, as if they were hosting the Golden Globes again. They roasted celebrities like they were in the audience and made jokes about some of the biggest pop culture moments. They bantered with each other and even did some crowd work, then bounced off-stage for an outfit change. When they returned, they looked like twentysomething versions of themselves from the '90s, complete with hideous wigs.

Even the best start somewhere
Tina and Amy narrated their journeys into comedy, relating how they both started as confused kids fresh out of college but found a community in the comedy scenes in their cities. They described their early years doing improv and following the dream that someday people would pay them to do stupid skits on stage.

My eyes lit up. It was as if these two women had erased every Instagram post I'd seen in the last two years. Every whisper in my head that told me I was wasting my time taking improv classes and doing stand-up open mics while my high school peers were starting grad school and getting married vanished. At one point, these two women were exactly where I am now.

They also did several improv scenes for the room, who ate it up. I'd never seen a performance kill so well. Then they disappeared backstage yet again.

When the lights came back up, a replica of their SNL Weekend Update desk sat on stage. Tina and Amy walked out to their old SNL introduction in matching blazers. They did a 2023 version, discussing Trump, George Santos, and the writers' strike. Then they brought out their Weekend Update guest: Fred Armisen.

The SNL and Portlandia alum did a bit for the hometown crowd, impersonating different Chicago accents. While I didn't get the bit as much as the arguing straight couple behind me, I was still ecstatic to see yet another one of my comedy icons live and in person.

After their bit, Amy took the stage for solo stand-up. She prefaced her set by warning the crowd that she hadn't done stand-up in a very long time, but like riding a bike, she'd never forgotten it. Her jokes killed me. She tackled ideas of femininity and experiences at award shows.

Next, Tina came out to do her set about motherhood and the double standards of Mother's Day. Both ladies had the audience in stitches and gave me a secret hope that they could someday release a stand-up special on Netflix.

The final portion of the show featured one last outfit change. Tina and Amy returned to the stage in pajamas and answered audience questions about their careers, personal lives, and friendship. They didn't take the questions too seriously and often joked about secretly hating each other in the way only long-term best friends can.

When the house lights came up, my heroes took their final bow. I felt like I'd risen to the clouds painted on the rafters. It was the best show I'd ever seen. As we left the venue, my mom squeezed my hand.

"That can be you someday," she told me. While she may have a bit too much blind optimism in me, for just a moment, I imagined what it might be like to stand on a stage wearing a wig of the haircut I have now, telling some kids who haven't even been born yet about what the Queer Seattle comedy scene was like back in the '20s.