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Simmer Brown comedy troupe diversifies the spotlight

South Asian comedy collective Simmer Brown's monthly showcase features a diverse range of improv groups, musicians and stand-up comedians. | Photo credit: Forestt Strong LaFave

“This is the North Side of Chicago?” comedian Felonious Munk asked, surveying the theater packed with black, white and brown faces. “Did they bus some of you in?”

Last month the South Asian comedy collective Simmer Brown continued its 14-month streak of sold-out monthly showcases at Bughouse Theater, staying true to its tradition of featuring diverse talent with unique perspectives on everything from politics to romance to race.

Founded by Sameena Mustafa and Prateek Srivastava in 2015, Simmer Brown is made up of comedians and artists seen on Comedy Central, HBO, Just for Laughs, “Last Comic Standing” and “America’s Got Talent.” The July 30 show featured Matt Damon Improv, a troupe consisting of all women of color and one white man, and comedy-rock trio Lola Balatro, which performed songs called “I Got 2 Black Friends” and “Name That Panda” to a crowd roaring with laughter. The next is scheduled for Saturday.

“Prateek and I met at an open mike in Chicago,” Mustafa explained. “We essentially felt like, ‘You’re Indian, I’m Indian, we have that in common, we have a lot of other things in common, and there’s something we see missing in the comedy scene — both locally and in general.’”

SIMMER BROWN

When: 8 p.m. Saturday

Where: Bughouse Theater, 1910 W. Irving Park

Tickets: $15

Info: simmerbrowncomedy.brownpapertickets.com

Mustafa explained that comedy shows are often homogeneous, featuring performers and audience members of one ethnicity. But Simmer Brown is aiming to mix it up — literally.

“We thought, ‘Let’s create a show that isn’t just a niche show for brown comedians, but one that is going to bring people together of different cultures who don’t normally come together,’ ” Mustafa said.

“I’ve been in the comedy scene for a little over two years and Prateek has been doing it for about six years. So we’ve seen a lot of comedy. We’re constantly looking for people who will fit our brand, which is not just targeting one type of audience, but people who can bridge multiple cultures and races.”

Simmer Brown blends veteran headliners like Srivastava and “Nightly Show” performer Felonious Munk with up-and-coming comedians who perform eight-minute guest spots throughout the show to practice their material.

Sameena Mustafa, co-founder of Simmer Brown, hosted the groups’ July showcase and introduced each act throughout the night. | Photo credit: Forestt Strong LaFave
Sameena Mustafa, co-founder of Simmer Brown, hosted the groups’ July showcase and introduced each act throughout the night. | Photo credit: Forestt Strong LaFave

At the July showcase, new member Jerry Tran, who has performed at the Laugh Factory Chicago and Comedy Club on State, described how his white neighbor mistakenly asked him to stop slipping Chinese take-out menus under her door. Anthony Bonazzo, an alumnus of Second City’s Conservatory program and a regular performer at Zanies Comedy Club, discussed the woes of dating apps and equated a Trump presidency to Y2K.

“It was great, the talent was really diverse,” said audience member David Rodriguez after the show. “I like when comedians tackle tough subjects like politics.”

Rodriguez, who lives in Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood, tries to attend a comedy show every couple of weeks, and originally learned about Simmer Brown through social media.

“This is my second time at the Simmer Brown show,” said Rodriguez, whose favorite act of the night was Matt Damon Improv. “It keeps getting better.”

Simmer Brown’s future plans include expanding to larger venues, continuing to produce episodes of its podcast and working with colleges to offer comedy workshops for students.

“Anyone who feels like an outsider, which is a lot of people, can identify with some of the perspectives we share,” Mustafa said. “I think stand-up comedy tends to attract people who are outsiders because they’re observers, they’re commentators on society.”