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‘My Life Is a Joke’ follows 5 Chicago women in comedy

JessicJoy  'My Life Is Joke' OWN.

Jessica Joy on "My Life Is a Joke" on OWN.

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Updated: February 7, 2013 6:21AM

How do you become a comedian?

It’s a question stand-up comic and TV producer Page Hurwitz has been asked many times — and one she tries to answer in the new show “My Life Is a Joke,” debuting Sunday on Oprah Winfrey’s cable net, OWN.

It focuses on five female comics in Chicago trying to make a living by making people laugh. Cameras roll as the women grapple with parenthood, day jobs and relationships — personal struggles that often end up as fodder for their comedy routines.

“It’s an unfiltered look at what it’s like to be a comedienne both on and off stage,” Hurwitz said. The former producer of “Last Comic Standing” opted to keep the cast estrogen-only because “it’s a fairly male-dominated profession, and there’s an added challenge for women starting out in comedy that makes it a little more interesting.”

Hurwitz also liked the idea of producing a reality TV show about a group of women who didn’t behave like bullies in Manolo Blahniks.

“These women are very supportive of each other,” Hurwitz said. “It’s a nice antidote to a lot of the images of women we see in reality television where they’re at each other’s throats, ripping each other’s hair out.”

A native New Yorker, Hurwitz moved to Chicago in 2011 to be executive producer of Rosie O’Donnell’s short-lived talk show. When that gig ended, she scoured Chicago’s comedy circuit — “the best in the country” — in her search for funny females. The cast includes:

† Jessica Joy, cancer survivor and sketch comedienne who had a bit part as a bunny on NBC’s quickly canceled “The Playboy Club.”

† Lisa Laureta, former Coloradoan who came to Chicago to cut her comedic teeth at iO, the Second City and the Annoyance.

† Kellye Howard, stand-up comedienne who recently lost her daughter.

† Natalie Jose, iO-trained comic and singer in three bands — the Sweats, Meatbute and Weepin’ Willows — whose passion is musical comedy.

† Patti Vasquez, bread-winning mother of two and the most seasoned performer of the bunch. A frequent headliner at Zanies, she’s often on the road performing stand-up routines and solo shows.

Vasquez lives in Jefferson Park with a stay-at-home-dad — “sounds so much better than ‘unemployed husband’ ” — and two young sons, one of whom has special needs. They share a two-flat with her outspoken mother, Dora, who “is going to steal the show,” Vasquez said.

If ratings are strong for the hourlong premiere, “My Life Is a Joke” could become a series. It’s blessed with a strong lead-in, following Oprah’s interview with David Letterman, who opens up to the Queen of Talk about his public sex scandal, his battle with depression and his rival Jay Leno.

“It would work incredibly well as a series because you’d get to see how these women progress not only in their personal and work lives but on stage,” Hurwitz said.

This isn’t the first time Vasquez thought about letting cameras into her home.

“I’d been approached three years ago about doing a reality show about my family,” said Vasquez, who wasn’t comfortable having a series built solely around her life. “Having four other women in the show, that takes some of the pressure off.”

Vasquez views “My Life Is a Joke” as an extension of an all-female show she hosts the third Monday of the month at Zanies on Wells.

“People think of female comedy as being this one-note thing — women being dirty or male-bashing — when it’s not,” she said.

Added Hurwitz: “What I love about this group of women is they each have a different style, but they’re all bound together by the same dream.”

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