Using their Ladybrains: a UMN alumnae-founded comedy group breaks comedy norms

The women of Ladybrain Sketch Comedy will take the stage at Strike Theater this weekend.

Members of Ladybrain Sketch Comedy perform a sketch about the male gaze and the Free the Nipple movement while rehearsing at Strike Theater on Monday, June 4 in Northeast Minneapolis.

Image by Ellen Schmidt

Members of Ladybrain Sketch Comedy perform a sketch about the male gaze and the “Free the Nipple” movement while rehearsing at Strike Theater on Monday, June 4 in Northeast Minneapolis.

by Maddy Folstein

As women comedians in the Twin Cities, University of Minnesota alumnae Gabby VandenAvond and Amie Durenberger faced enough frustration working in male-dominated writer’s rooms. 

“I think women are put in weird positions, especially in improv,” VandenAvond said. “We’re often put in roles or situations where we’re the wife or the secretary or the girlfriend, and it happens so much that it gets a little tiring.” 

So, VandenAvond and Durenberger found a solution to the misogyny and exclusion they so frequently encountered. They created their own troupe, Ladybrain Sketch Comedy, named after one of their skits.

“I [also] use the term in kind of a mocking way — like, ‘Oh, I made a mistake. It must have been my Ladybrain — I’m on my period!’ [ … ] It’s all in a joking manner,” VandenAvond said. 

Ladybrain’s debut sketch comedy revue runs at Strike Theater this Friday and Saturday. The show will feature a variety of comedic forms.

“We’re ending our show with a musical number, which is very fun. And we’ve been making some fun props and costumes for that,” Durenberger said. 

Free from male-dominated writer’s rooms, the Ladybrain comedians unlearned many of their filters.

“Having a room of all-female writers, [we’re able to] openly share these really funny things about being a woman or having female experiences,” Durenberger said. “[We can have] everybody be like, ‘Yes, I understand that,’ instead of like, ‘What are tampons? How do they work?’” 

“Our whole show is not based on tampons … but it was nice to not have to filter any [jokes] to make it funny for the dudes in the room,” VandenAvond added. 

The founding duo grew Ladybrain into a team of six women from a variety of comedic backgrounds, and later added two more comedians for this weekend’s revue. 

“We picked and chose people from different groups in our life, so this group of women has never worked together before,” Durenberger said. 

Drawing talent from a variety of disciplines strengthened Ladybrain’s range. 

“It’s amazing that you can bring in women from such different places. One woman is a stand-up comedian, [ … ] another is an improviser. I’ve been happily surprised with how easily our Ladybrains have melded,” Durenberger said.

Adding two members late in the rehearsal process brought fresh eyes to Ladybrain’s work.

“One of the parts in one of my sketches felt really stale, and [one of the women] came in and said, ‘This character is supposed to have an accent, right?’ [ … ] She was like, ‘OK, I’m going to do it with an accent now,’” Durenberger said. 

“Yeah, they hadn’t been staring at it for five months,” VandenAvond said. 

While Ladybrain doesn’t have specific plans to continue after their premiere revue this weekend, VandenAvond and Durenberger would like to see the sketch group keep up their local presence and expand their focus to be even more inclusive. 

“The more voices we can include, the better,” VandenAvond said. 

What: Ladybrain: A Sketch Comedy Revue

When: 8 p.m., Friday and Saturday

Where: Strike Theater, 824 18th Ave. NE., Minneapolis

Cost: $10 ($11.34 with service fee)