By Cassandra Day The Middletown Press, Conn.
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) After realizing that there was little diversity in the comedy they were seeing, Tricia D'Onofrio and Aviel Stern say they became thoughtful about their lineups and intentionally gave opportunities to women.
Two comediennes on the local scene have made it their mission to foster a kinder , gentler approach to making light of the world.
City native Tricia D'Onofrio, 26, who attended St. John School, graduated from Middletown High School in 2011. The school teacher launched her comedy career just over a year ago.
Aviel Stern, 30, a geologist originally from California, lives in East Hampton, Mass.
The Tasty Chicks, a duo that quickly evolved into an easy partnership and friendship, met in November 2017 at an open mic event in Northampton, Mass. The women were immediately drawn to one another.
Stern enjoyed D'Onofrio's friendliness and positive attitude.
"She's a real go-getter. She's just been going hard," she said.
Together, these comics-turned-producers abide by six core values: creativity, adventure, challenge, curiosity, respect and reliability.
They most recently performed at Perkatory Coffee Roasters on Main Street in Middletown, where they've enjoyed a reoccurring gig.
Their logo, a purple frosted cupcake with green lettering, and their website's vibrant photos and color schemes complete with party balloons, aligns with the birthday vibe the duo aims for at shows.
The logo has "fun, positive energy," Stern said. Accordingly, the shows they headline or produce are insult-free zones. The women curate comics whose material they like, and make sure their acts don't put down members of the audience or specific groups of people, they said.
"'Punching down' is saying racial slurs or things that are offensive about groups who are already vulnerable in society," D'Onofrio said.
The Tasty Chicks style is to tackle an issue by putting an uplifting spin on it.
"Our goal is not to make any audience member feel rotten about their life," she added.
Anything racist, sexist, homophobic or transphobic is off-limits. Instead, they practice inclusive comedy.
"We make sure whoever is in the audience, no matter who's in the room, will be having a good time," D'Onofrio said.
Most people listen to comedy as a means of escapism or entertainment, Stern explained.
"They want to forget about their problems, leave them aside so they can have a fun night out, and be able to relax. That's our goal for the evening: We don't want to bring any more stresses," she said.
Their banter is mostly off the cuff. "It helps to relax the audience, and (allows them to) get to know who we are and the atmosphere. It creates a unique experience for a comedy show," D'Onofrio said. "Your job is to warm them up, get them excited. You are the first point of contact for them, so you need to make sure they are having a lot of fun and ready for a nice evening."
She is careful not to let experiences at work bleed into her jokes. "I don't want to blur the lines. I want to keep them very separate, compartmentalized. It makes it really fun, because I have to look for other things to write jokes about," she said.
When the Tasty Chicks consider booking a performer, they'll tell the comic about their non-offensive style and energy of their shows. The bulk of their material is observations about themselves and a unique take on situations -- and they're not afraid to self-deprecate, they said.
Stern and D'Onofrio decided last April to join forces and talents. "Normally, I would never say yes, but I trusted Tricia. I just knew it would work with us. What really stood out for me was when she said, 'Why wait for other people to give us opportunities? Why don't we give ourselves the opportunities?' That was just smart," Stern said.
Most stand-up comedy involves male performers, D'Onofrio said, something the duo seeks to change.
"They were not diverse -- hardly any women, hardly any queer folk, hardly any people of color. Maybe that can be our thing: make something that appeals to all those people," she told Stern.
That's when The Tasty Chicks became thoughtful about their lineups and intentionally gave opportunities to women. That's not to say they exclude male comics, who are also featured in the shows they produce. Stern and D'Onofrio also specialize in "pop-up" comedy in a "comfortable place," hosting shows at different locations in a spin on traditional performances, which take place at the same location on a regular basis. The Tasty Chicks will "pop up" at a bar, coffee shop, private house or other unexpected locations. The duo's style is like a conversation among friends, where the audience feels like it's part of that intimacy: "fairly genuine, mostly us goofing around, two friends just chatting: 'Oh, my God, I can't wait to tell you about this ...'" D'Onofrio said. She relates what one friend told her after a show, which she calls a "sign of a good night out." "'My face hurts. I was smiling and laughing all night. My face is killing me,'" the friend told her. Last week, they performed at Priam Vineyards in Colchester. Typically they'll book shows three nights during the week at clubs around the state, such as West Hartford, Hartford and Middletown, as well as Massachusetts. The duo also scouts and encourages comediennes who haven't headlined before. "We know that they're ready," Stern said. "We know that they're funny, it's just that they're not getting those opportunities." After she booked acts for one show, a female friend told her she would have loved to be included, "but you didn't ask," Stern said. "That's the difference a lot of times between women and men," she explained. The numbers bear that out: In Connecticut and western Massachusetts, men outnumber women in comedy 20 to 3. "The best part about Tasty Chicks is it's brought me a lot of confidence that I just did not have before in comedy and other places," Stern said. The Tasty Chicks' next show on Feb. 9 at 9 p.m. is free, to be held at Hampshire College in Amherst. The two will appear in Middletown March 30 at Perkatory Coffee Roasters at 6:30 p.m. for Comedy Night with Kathleen DeMarle. Tickets are $15 at the door or $10 with a donation of three canned goods. They return May 25 for Comedy Night with Katie Boyle. For information, visit tastychickscomedy.com, Tasty Chicks Comedy on Instagram or Tasty Chicks Comedy on Facebook. ___ (c)2019 The Middletown Press, Conn. Visit The Middletown Press, Conn. at www.middletownpress.com Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.