For many students at the University of Rhode Island, just getting up in front a classroom full of peers can be nerve-wracking, nevermind attempting to be funny in a room full of strangers.
Viki Panteleakis, a junior who double majors in writing & rhetoric and communication studies at the University of Rhode Island, recalled her first time ever doing stand-up. She was a performer at a competition during her sophomore year, which she claimed deterred her from comedy entirely.
“I was awful!” Panteleakis said. “I stopped doing stand-up because I felt I wasn’t that good. Then, during junior year, my friends kept telling me to try it again. I was hesitant, but I decided to give it another go. I ended up winning the competition!”
After a couple of Panteleakis’s cousins, who work in the comedy industry, gave her advice on how to get a good footing, she called multiple people looking to perform. Soon after, John Perrotta, a comic who organizes shows in Rhode Island, told Panteleakis that he would book her.
“I typically perform at a place called The Comedy Connection located in East Providence.” Panteleakis said, and laughed as she recounted some of her experiences as a comedian, demonstrating that a true passion for comedy has developed within her.
“So when I started off, I immediately used inappropriate jokes,” Panteleakis said, when asked about what type of stand-up she does. “But after giving it some thought, it began to feel like cheap humor. I now joke sarcastically and talk about politics, being in college, as well as being a woman.”
Most of the clubs that she has performed at have widely male audiences, which can propose challenges for a female comedian. Panteleakis said that while she never has necessarily felt placed at a disadvantage for being a female performer, some people have set different expectations for her because of it.
“A host once introduced me as ‘the girl’ rather than anything pertaining to my comedy,” Panteleakis said. “Another time, a guy in the audience once asked me if I was funny. Did he ask that to anyone else in the room? Anyway, he told me that I was funny after performing and then proceeded to hit on me.”
After discussing some of the clubs that she performs at, she described the atmosphere of The Comedy Connection. A sizeable amount of the audience is generally composed of regulars that already know Panteleakis, which she said was comforting. There is a small comedy industry within Rhode Island, so at venues like The Comedy Connection it is only a matter of time before everyone becomes familiar with each other. Â
According to Panteleakis, many people should try stand-up. “A lot of people have it on their bucket-list,” she said. “Even though it is terrifying and you feel like you’re naked, it definitely builds your character. I think that young people should all try it at some point, especially writers and people with such big ideas that could be performed.”
The name Viki “Pants” is quickly spreading, and she is on the way to becoming a well-established comedian. Her next show, the biggest to date, will be with five other comedians at the New England Comic Showcase in New York on March 5.
“What I’m scared for in the future is being in a place where nobody knows me. But I also want that,” Panteleakis said. “I want to perform in a big city where no one has any expectations for me and nobody knows my name.”