Jessica Kay is changing comedy in Wichita
Within 10 minutes of her first solo Kirby's "Jesscapades" comedy show last month, Jessica Kay showed me (and 50 plus other onlookers) her butt.
The intention was to show off her tattoo — part of a punch line — but the moment gave the applauding, laughter-filled audience much more than that. It established, right off the bat, how fearless Kay is on stage.
This fearlessness and comedic bravado is part of why Kay has suddenly become omnipresent on the Wichita comedy scene. (Yes, it is a scene.) Well, fearlessness and a delightfully dirty sense of humor.
Kay, whose proper name is Jessica Wasson, uses her middle name as a stage persona. When she first started doing comedy in Wichita, Kay partnered with Patrick Calville, a writer friend, and performed under the character of "Celeste."
"I thought of [Celeste] and all she says is 'Am I right or am I right,' but she's totally wrong about everything," Kay said. Celeste was raunchy and older, a foul-mouthed lady from the 1980s, according to Kay.
At the time, the Looney Bin was closed, but Kay and Calville decided to debut Celeste at John Barleycorns' open mic night. Celeste performed three times in late 2013, but by January 2014, Kay wanted to break away from the character.
"I [told myself]: 'Fuck it, I need to be myself, I need to be me and be comfortable with it," Kay said. For Kay, the main appeal of Celeste was because "she said nasty things and I didn't want to say those things," but now "when I go on stage, it's part-time Jessica Wasson and part-time Jessica Kay — who doesn't give a shit about anything." The switch allows her to be herself and then some, instead of relying on a completely different persona.
At the moment, Kay's preparing for another solo "Jesscapades" comedy show at Kirby's this Saturday, which she describes as "more intimidating."
"I want to do 'New, Used, and Improved,' but mostly new stuff which I think is really unique because a lot of people around here do the same set over and over and over again."
Kay's first Kirby's set ran for about 45 minutes and it's easy to understand why she's intimidated — it's not a simple task to develop almost an hour of new-ish material in less than a month's time.
"So, round two, I have to make everyone understand you're gonna get a — hopefully — completely different show," Kay said. Humble throughout the interview, Kay made a point to credit Calville and another writer, Gray Brand, who help her develop material and refine punch lines.
This collaborative mentality is part of what makes Kay's work in the comedy scene stand out.
On Feb. 11th, Kay was featured on KWCH's Brett & Sierra show for her creation of wichitacomedy.com. The website highlights events and local comic acts, and came about after Kay was interviewed by KMUW's Jedd Beaudoin last October.
Kay said people began to contact her about event information after Jedd's interview. "And I was like, um, 'I'm working on a website right now!' Which I wasn't so then I had to which is just like the beginning of comedy — I told a bunch of people I was going to do stand-up which meant I [needed] to follow through with it."
Kay credits her work and education as a graphic designer for her ability to throw together the website. And her training shows in her promotional work as well — her posters are eye-catching and, occasionally, provocative.
Kay's show on Saturday is sure to be an enjoyable experience, filled with long-form storytelling and punch lines, awkward moments and crowd play.
"Get there early," Kay said. The show's free, but bring cash for Kirby's ever-important tip bucket.
When asked to sell Wichita comedy to a skeptical resident, Kay said: "We're the biggest city in the state of Kansas. There is no reason why we should not have a popping comedy scene and, I think, I don't want to say anyone's lazy, but I think it's easy to get lazy and to think that there's not a whole lot of talent here, but there sure the fuck is."
Kay's passion for comedy is evident. She supports and promotes comedy in Wichita. She tries new venues and mediums, including: a show at the Elbow Room and in-process "Jesscapades" webseries (with the help of Kirby's owner Alex Thomas).
"Everything's just going really fast right now," Kay said (mere hours before she drove down to Austin to perform for Mortified). And things are clearly going really fast for Kay, but she and her comedy comrades are working hard for it.
"We're trying to make this our L.A., that's what we say, that's our fucking motto. This is our L.A., make it pop! We have a lot of passion, I hope it doesn't fade."
Wichita should hope it doesn't either.