Ingrid Kalchthaler wasn’t planning to do standup comedy, but after attending a talent show in Etna two years ago, where about half the performers were adults, she couldn’t shake the idea.
She took a shot in the talent show this year, and while she didn’t win, the experience helped build her courage. After a little urging from her friend Linda Duty, a comedian and cancer survivor, she decided to try out for a spot in Gilda's Club of Western Pennsylvania’s third annual "Great Comic Search."
Tom Musial of Sewickley Hills also tried out for a spot. He and Kalchthaler will perform Thursday night in the final show.
Gilda’s Club in the Strip District, was created in honor of comedian Gilda Radner, who died of ovarian cancer at age 43. The non-profit group offers free social and emotional support and lectures and workshops to anyone touched by cancer. The comedy night is the culminating event of the Gilda’s Club annual fundraising campaign “Laugh in the Face of Cancer.”
Gilda’s put on three shows in June, July and August, each with about a dozen comedians vying for a place in the final show. Only the top three or four acts moved on.
Musial, who is in his 40s, has tried out every year and has made it to the finals each time. Last year, the audience voted. This year, a judges panel did. He said the show is always spectacular.
“It’s a lot of fun,” he said. “They always have a lot of good audiences, especially going into the finals. It’s just a good show to be a part of."
Musial, who has been doing standup for five years, had the support of his wife and children when he performed in front of a younger audience in July at Club Café.
Kalchthaler was there the same night with the support of her mother and several library co-worker friends. She was shocked to be chosen for the finals.
“I was just in awe by the level of talent, Tom especially,” Kalchthaler said.
Musial said Kalchthaler did well, too.
“She did a tremendous job for somebody starting out,” he said. “Whether they’re just starting out, good or bad, anyone willing to take that risk, you’ve got to give them a lot of credit.”
Kalchthaler doesn’t consider herself to be a particularly funny person.
“I’ll say I’m funny-looking,” she joked.
She was a shy child growing up but said stand-up is like telling stories, and as an ordained minister who has filled in for funerals, performed more than 100 weddings the past five years and was a pastor for eight years, she’s used to putting humor in her messages.
“And being a librarian, I’m used to telling stories,” she said.
Kalchthaler’s best friend died of cancer in 2005, and she said she’s proud to support Gilda’s Club.
“What this group does is provide so many services and support for families that are faced with this potentially devastating disease. To get up and make a fool of yourself, which I do anyways, can potentially help someone,” she said. “I think the most wonderful thing about this is it goes for such a good cause.”
This will be only the third time Kalchthaler has been on stage, but she’ll have her supporters again. A crowd of people from work and her parents are planning to be there. She said if she bombs she’ll have to roll with the punches.
“You have to have the ego of a giant sperm whale. You have to keep rolling. If it dies, you have to go on, or people will kill you,” she said.
Musial, who grew up in Wilkins Township, near Monroeville, performs in Pittsburgh and other parts of western Pennsylvania but also has performed in Johnstown, Altoona, Moundsville and West Virginia. He tries to hit an open mike night about once a week and stays busy with weekend gigs.
“Most of my jokes fall into three or four categories: Pittsburgh, family life and getting older, and everything else is sort of miscellaneous,” he said.
By day, Musial might not seem like a funny man. He works in information technology and software and tends to reserve humor for outside the workplace.
“I’m not too funny in my day to day life. I keep it under wraps,” he said. “Then they come to see me, and I know a few jokes.”
Musial doesn’t know what the prizes are for the top comedian but said he doesn’t expect to win.
“I’m just happy to be there. There are a lot of good comedians in Pittsburgh. To be the top standing in a contest like this its pretty impressive, so I’m just happy to be there.”
If you go:
When: 8 p.m. Thursday
Place: Pittsburgh Improv (at the Waterfront), 166 E. Bridge St., Homestead.
Cost: Tickets are $30 in advance and can be purchased by contacting the Pittsburgh Improv 412-462-5233 or online at www.improv.com/ComedyClun/Pittsburgh. Tickets will be $35 at the door.