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From Student Union to the stage, alumna tackles the business of being funny

Adrianna Chalepah

You never know when, or where, you'll find your life path.

“My first experience with stand-up comedy was at an open mic night on campus,” says comedian Adrianne Chalepah (English, '09). “A friend encouraged me, and I got hooked. The students laughed and were so supportive. So I give that night credit for giving me the courage to pursue it as a career.”

Today, Chalepah averages three stand-up shows per month at venues ranging from casinos to powwows to college campuses to conferences (she's a motivational speaker, too). She spoke before Michelle Obama when the First Lady appeared at FLC in 2012. She also is part of the comedy troupe 49 Laughs, which in addition to live performances has also released an audio CD and full-length DVD.

That's not all. Chalepah and her husband – whom she met in an FLC class -- also own and staff the film production company that created the comedy group's DVD. The company films promotional and performance videos for other performers. Chalepah also does her own booking management, and often helps other performers book performances.

Oh, and in her spare time, she is writing a screen play.

That's the reality of making it as a performer: the business of being a professional funny person is far more than just the funny parts. So even though it was outside of her English classes that she found her calling on the stage, she credits the classroom with setting the stage for that success.

“The open mic night was my first taste of stand-up comedy, but the coursework definitely prepared me for what was to come,” Chalepah says. “It was just one of those things that I didn’t know at the time. I thought it would be this little side project. I didn’t know that I was going to take it seriously as a career.”

Even beyond the practical and technical skills acquired in classes such as film and radio production, newspaper reporting, and creative writing, Chalepah says the close attention from her professors helped her grow the skills to present herself professionally.
 

“Everything that I learned at Fort Lewis helped me with my career and with everything in my life," Chalepah continues. "Being an English major helped me tremendously because I could understand how powerful mass communication is, what it means to be an audience, and what it means to have an audience.”

That audience is largely Native for Chelapah, a member of the Kiowa and Apache tribes of Oklahoma. Her topics often target life and cultural attitudes in Native communities and families. But, of course, that's not all she jokes about -- and all that humor strikes universal chords that people of all backgrounds get, anyway.

"Performing standup comedy for Native audiences allows me to very be specific, talking about things that most non-Native people have not experienced, like the healthcare system for Natives, Indian Health Services, boarding schools, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, tribal councils, and so on," she explains. "It allows me to discuss things that all Native Americans have had to deal with on some level or another, and that is where we find our camaraderie."

"On the other hand, performing for non-Native American crowds is equally as fun because I can free myself from a label and just be Adrianne, a human being with human experiences," she adds. "What is universal for all people, though, is laughter itself. We need it to be human. It is the flawed human inside all of us that allows us to not take life so seriously."

And helping people not take life so seriously is serious work. For Chalepah, it's a calling she didn't expect -- but one she is thankful she stumbled upon in the Student Union several years ago.

“I never really thought I’d be a comedian. I just thought it would be this little extra-curricular activity I’d be doing,” she says. “But it’s the perfect job, if you think about it. I get to make people laugh and make people happy, and I get paid for it!”

Visit the English Department.

Learn more about Adrianne Chalepah.

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