While their father, Lil Rel Howery, is a veteran of the stage, Brittni and Judah Howery will be making their stand-up comedy debut Saturday at the Laugh Factory. And unlike their father, they’re beginning their live comedy careers at ages 10 and 9, respectively.
Brittni and Judah are slated to host “Kenan Thompson’s Ultimate Comedy Experience,” an annual stand-up competition for kids, making its Chicago debut this year. A complementing adult showcase takes place the next night.
‘Kenan Thompson’s Ultimate Comedy Experience’ When: 4-5 p.m. March 16 Where: Laugh Factory, 3175 N. Broadway Tickets: $10-$20 Info: http://www.roadtonyc.eventbrite.com
Thompson, the longest-running “Saturday Night Live” cast member, teamed up with producer Cherie Chiles-Buchanan in 2010 to launch a showcase for younger talent who may not have access to the showbiz coasts. Each year the pop-up showcase travels to major cities and invite kids ages 8-18 to perform. The winners are awarded a trip to New York and a visit to an “SNL” taping.
And, exposure. One former performer, Chicagoan Lucien Cambric, boasts an IMDB resume that reads like a map of the city’s TV projects: “Shameless,” “The Chi” and “Chicago P.D.”
Chiles-Buchanan, who grew up at 87th and Stony Island, had the idea to find child comedians to host the upcoming showcase — the first ever in Chicago — and felt that Brittni and Judah’s film and TV work would lend some comfort under the spotlight, as well as their pedigree. “They’re so comfortable around comedy because that’s how they were raised,” she says.
Their father has been grinding away at comedy for almost two decades. Lil Rel kicked off his stand-up career in the late ‘90s at All Jokes Aside, the renowned South Side comedy club whose co-owner, Mary Lindsey, later opened Jokes and Notes in Bronzeville. Lil Rel followed her there, and in the mid-2000s hosted the club’s Wednesday open mike night. Unlike most open mikes, this one drew a sizable crowd of non-comics each week, and Lil Rel garnered acclaim for his welcoming, sharp-wit style.
These days he’s working steadily in movies, including two recent phenomenons. In “Get Out,” he played the protagonist’s boisterous, scene-stealing best friend Rodney. Then in “Bird Box” he was one of a handful of survivors holed up in a house to escape an unnamed nefarious entity that induces people to commit suicide. Needless to say he flexes his dramatic side, too.
When they’re performing on camera, the kids can often be seen by their father’s side. In 2016 they appeared on their dad’s Netflix comedy special “Kevin Hart Presents Lil Rel: RELevant,” to perform a bit. Judah joined his father again on “The Carmichael Show,” then played, fittingly, the younger Lil Rel in the self-titled sitcom “Rel.” Brittni has appeared on “MasterChef Junior” and in “Acting Out,” a show hosted by Lil Rel in which comedians act out stand-up bits.
Neither has ever performed stand-up, hosting or otherwise. Brittni expresses optimism. “It’s something new to try. In the future, when we get older, we can probably try it again,” she says. “I prefer planning. I don’t want to go on stage and don’t remember anything, freeze up on stage. It would be embarrassing.”
As a host, Judah is most looking forward to seeing “other people trying to do their stuff,” he says.
The performances at “Ultimate Comedy Experience” kids’ showcases range between stand-up, improv and re-enacting favorite scenes from movies — with the mandate that all three are comedic. “It’s amazing how much content they come up with,” Chiles-Buchanan says. “They talk about school, families, pop culture — content very relatable to other kids.”
While Lil Rel’s material isn’t quite relevant to his children (yet), when they’re allowed to see parts of his act, they favor the absurd portions. Their favorite line concerns their grandfather, who is so frail he “has to put his glasses on to hear,” goes the bit.
They will host as a pair and have thrown down the gauntlet against each other. Brittni doesn’t think Judah’s funny unless “he’s not trying to be funny.”
And of his sister, Judah says, “She is not funny. There’s something holding her back. I don’t know what it is!”
He shares more constructive advice with the performers. “Be energetic, have fun with it, go with the flow,” he says, sticking his arms out and waving them around.