I knew Stacey Hallal was an awesome lady. We’d met several times while she was still living in Chicago. I always loved how driven she was, not to mention friendly and funny. Over the years I’ve kept up with her on Facebook. I congratulated her when she received rave reviews for her one-woman show, “The Humperdink Family Reunion” and wished her the best when she opened up Curious Comedy Theater in Portland. I encouraged other women to apply to the “All Jane No Dick” comedy festival she started and continued to “like” her hilarious statuses. It wasn’t until I had a chance to do a little more research and interview her and that I realized how prolific Stacey is. Knowing how to make people laugh is only half the battle, gaining respect and success takes hard work and that is something Stacey Hallal definitely knows how to do.
Serial Optimist: You do improv, sketch and standup. How did you start and how did one transition into another?
Stacey Hallal: I do all three – improv, sketch and stand up. I started with improv and sketch fourteen years ago. I started improvising because I wanted to write and direct films and read in a book that everyone who wants to write should try improv because it helps you become a better writer in so many ways. I had terrible stage fright the first two or so years. Stand up I didn’t start until about four years ago. It took a few starts and stops before I fell in love with it because it’s so much scarier to me since you’re all alone on stage – no scene partner to get your back. Now I love playing with the audience as if they are my scene partner.
SO: How do you describe your style of comedy?
Stacey: I like smart comedy with a touch of darkness.
SO: Who inspires you and who do people compare you to?
Stacey: Hmmm…so many people inspire me. For stand up – Dana Gould, Norm MacDonald, Louis CK, Paul F. Tomkins, Maria Bamford, Tig Notaro, Nick Vatterott are among my favorites. I don’t know who people compare me to…I guess I’ve heard Stephnie Weir on the improv side, which is the greatest of compliments because she, Bob Dassie, Rich Talarico, Jean Villepique and Craig Cackowski are my favorites. Joe Bill and Mark Sutton (of Bassprov) were major influences and mentors for me. I also love everything Rebecca Sohn does.
SO: You do a little bit of everything, both on the performance side as well as the production side. What is your ultimate goal as a comedian?
Stacey: More than anything, I want to create work that I love. I want to love the process and the product. As for running a theater, I love creating a community where other people can learn, grow, perform and feel proud of their work as well.
SO: When I first met you, it was in Chicago. What brought you to Portland?
Stacey: I moved to Portland in 1999. I fell in love with the city and felt at home here more than anywhere else I had ever been. When I went to Chicago in 2004, it was specifically to study comedy. I did all the training centers; the directing program at Second City, then assisted directed a Second City main stage show. It was like Comedy College, grad school and an internship. After the main stage show, I felt ready to come back to the city I love to start my own theater. There was nothing like it in Portland.
SO: What’s the biggest difference between the Chicago comedy scene and the Portland scene?
Stacey: Oh boy. Maturity, I guess. Portland’s scene was nascent when I came back here. Our first flyers said, “Dare to laugh” on them. People here loved their local food, music, art and film but had no respect or taste for comedy. The Bridgetown Comedy Festival started in 2008, then we opened Curious Comedy shortly thereafter, then a great stand up club called Helium opened the following year. I think this was the trifecta that started the comedy boom we are experiencing in Portland now.
SO: You’re the artistic director of Curious Comedy Theater in Portland, how did that come about?
Stacey: I founded the theater in 2008 with the help of a small core group of people including my fiancé at the time, Bob Ladewig. Over time, I’ve been lucky enough to build a team of people who manage other parts of the theater. I kept the role of Artistic Director for myself because I love it.
SO: What’s been the biggest surprise both good and bad in running your own theater?
Stacey: The best part has been the community of amazing, talented, professional, generous and kind people at the theater. I can’t say enough about how much I am inspired by – and how much I love – the people who make Curious Comedy what it is. They have changed my life for the better by magnitudes. I also love the freedom to do what shows we want, when we want, how we want to. I love watching students learn, grow and transform. And I am humbled by the experience of using improv to improve the lives of Alzheimer’s patients and kids in underperforming schools. The “All Jane No Dick Festival,” which promotes women in comedy, is also awesome. There is a lot I love, I guess.
The hardest part is making ends meet in a low profit margin business. We are always doing so much with so little it can be exhausting for all of us.
SO: Are you ever treated differently in the business world because you’re a woman or is Portland really as cool as it seems on “Portlandia?”
Stacey: Ha! Portland is truly extremely progressive. Our comics and audiences are awesome. I’ve had the chance to work with some nationally recognized names and experienced a bit of the old school attitude toward women. But being a woman seems to me to be as much of an advantage as it is a disadvantage.
SO: So tell us about “All Jane No Dick,” both the comedy duo and the comedy festival.
Stacey: “All Jane No Dick” started briefly as a trio but quickly became a duo improv team of Deanna Moffitt and myself when we lived in Portland. We did something like 20 festivals in two years, from 2001-2003. I learned so much from playing with Deanna and playing all around North America. We both moved to Chicago and got busy with other projects. So we stopped performing as a duo. Deanna was kind enough to let us use the name for the all women’s comedy festival at Curious Comedy that debuted in the fall of 2012. The goal of the festival is to discover, encourage and promote women in comedy. Women are sorely under-represented in the comedy industry and at high profile national comedy festivals. People in charge claim they can’t find enough talented women to even their numbers, so we started the festival to say, “Hey! Here they are!” Plus, the event is awesome fun and promotes community among women comedians who don’t get to work together very often.
SO: With all the comedy you see, what makes you laugh? Who makes you laugh?
Stacey: The people who I mentioned in the inspiration section are all people who make me laugh. Also, the people at Curious Comedy make me laugh hard every single day. Even when we are doing our administrative work, we are always laughing. I guess they are also smart and funny and a little bit dark, so they make me laugh a lot.
SO: You seem pretty fearless in going after what you want. Anything you haven’t tried yet, but hope to?
Stacey: Hmmmm…this year I’ve been performing outside of Portland again. It’s been almost five years since opening the theater so I haven’t had much opportunity to perform out of town. It’s easy to get comfortable in my own theater and at Helium and forget that other places feel different, have different audiences, etc. So, I’d like to tour more. Also, my annual one-person shows give me an opportunity to try different things. This year, my show, Ruby Rocket is a mix of written material and improvising with three audience members. That’s scary and fun. I want to do that more here and elsewhere, develop a solid hour of stand up and tour. I’d love to create TV shows and write movies, too.
SO: You have an extensive teaching and directing background, what kind of advice would you give newbies in the biz?
Stacey: I think I’m starting to give the same advice over and over – work hard, stay humble so you always learn and grow, be fun to work with and realize no one owes you anything. You may, and probably will, need to find your own path and make it happen for yourself. Oh, and, enjoy the journey because you never know where it will, or won’t, take you. This is a tough business. If you aren’t having fun – why do it?
SO: You appeared in the Bridgetown Comedy Festival this year. Was it your first time? Any thoughts on the festival, the shows you did or what you hoped to accomplish at the fest?
Stacey: This was my fifth Bridgetown Comedy Festival. I’ve performed stand up there once and improv with Curious Comedy five times. This year, I had three standup shows and two improv shows. It was exciting to be on the David Huntsberger CD release show. He’s funny, smart and inspires me, too. We had two “All Jane No Dick” showcases with the same goals as our own festival – to raise the profile of talented women in comedy. Personally, my goal is to always have fun, build more of an audience and meet comics from all over the country. Sometimes there are industry connections made at Bridgetown, and that’s awesome, but mostly, it’s about celebrating comedy and Portland – two of my most favorite things!
SO NOTE: If you’re curious about her theater, go to Curious Comedy Theater to learn about upcoming shows. For more information on Stacey, check out staceyhallal.com or follow Stacey on Twitter at @staceyhallal.
*Photos by Andy Batt