Kate Nichols is a woman who had been dealt one of the most tragic of incidents a person could go through: loss of a mother. But with that part of her life, she’s determined, more than ever, to be stronger and self-sufficient for the long journey of life ahead.
We’d first met Kate at HAGS Comedy Show @ The Saint located in Asbury Park, New Jersey. There she was part of a line of very talented comics, with vast array of different backgrounds and experiences.
We’d wrote: “On a Rainy night in good ol’ Asbury Park, the stage again was set for another HAGS Comedy show, which is produced by the duo of comedians, Joe McAndrew and JC Hendricks. Every couple of times a month, they host a Music and Comedy live entertainment show. The expectations is always high from the two producers, and rightly so. The ticketed event ($5 per entry) has been consistent in the kinds of local interest and the consistency of attendance has been noted. The magically interesting characteristics even seeps into the booking process of talented comics, McAndrew and Hendricks, stamps into each show.”
“This night, the ‘outrageously-action-packed’ evening was featuring some of the area’s most interesting and popular comics. Comics included: Justin Flanagan, Kate Nichols, Jacob Vernick, Jay Hernanez, Luke Touma, Gordon Baker Bone, Sean McDonough, and Matt Jenkins. And the crowd successfully managed to get one more of those ‘Crow’s Feet’ wrinkles this night. As well, the crowd became ‘perfect bit fodder’, as many of the comics targeted and prodded many of the attending audience members.”
The twenty-seven year old comic, that night set herself on stage and she was off to the races. Our review of her performance that night (as one can tell) was ‘very positive’. It was well deserved, for her style of delivery was just right in our wheelhouse. And that meant we enjoyed every bit she threw at the audience.
“[Kate]… was just ‘ON’ this night and most enjoyable to listen to. She ‘clicked’ with us. Her jokes hit the right chords. She is a quick witted comic with sharp comebacks, and fast-to-grasp-opportunities performer. Like a Boss. Like a Lioness. Her deliberate delivery style and jokes with definitive ‘hand-of-stone’ (and satisfactory) punch-lines. But Her very ‘affectionate’, and ‘relatable’ anecdotes of human fallibilities and ‘quirks’ made the crowd laugh hard and fast. The glamorously chic lady of yucks took the stage and won many fans. Including CHF.”
We were very impressed with her work on stage. Her presence and her neatly packaged presentation, drove us be very interested in getting to know her a bit better.
Right after the night, and a short introduction with her, we coordinated with Kate for a face-to-face sit-down interview.
We were expecting quite a talented person, but as the interview went on, we found out more about her soft, but iron-hard will to survive and be happy with her life – not materially, but emotionally, and balanced. Her resolve pleasantly surprised us, and at the end of the session, we’d become an even bigger fan – of her talents, but now of who she was and wanted to become.
FUN AS A KID.
Kate first started in the craft of comedy very early on.
“I’d gotten my first full time job out of college…with a non-profit, working with young adults. I liked what I was doing…but wasn’t fully motivated or fulfilled by it. I’d go to work…meet up with my friend, get a couple of drinks and do it all over again.”
“And I’d read somewhere…that you should look at what kind of things you did for fun as a kid…and leverage that towards a job.”
She had a gut feeling that ‘this’ cannot be ‘it’, in regards to what her job and professional life would be. And from that thought exercise, she had found her calling: COMEDY.
So, at the age of 23, she had realized that she had to incorporate her love of comedy and the process of comedy into her life. This was that ‘thing’ that she did as a kid, which thoroughly enjoyed. That was her a-ha (not the band) moment.
“I always loved making my friends laugh. I grew up with lots of kids from the neighborhood…and I would write & re-write popular songs from the radio, in a funny way. And I also grew up in a church where we did a lot of sketches. I’d write in front of the computer and write these songs…do whatever to make others laugh.”
But life isn’t linear and direct that way, so for several years as a teen went through much of high-school and the college years without much thought further into the profession of improv & comedy (or entertainment, in general for that matter).
“I stopped…when I was coming out of high-school going into college…I never pursued theater or comedy then, because I was in a place in my life…had to be more realistic and pragmatic.”
Certainly comedy, wasn’t offering her the right confidence where a steady income could be made. And she was right in assessing that direction. However, as many artist and people of passion and expression, often do – they RETURNED inevitably to that ‘Thing’ that was missing.
She started working in her chosen field (social work) out of college but now that niggling feeling began to set in her mind. She was at the right age and of mind to, again, seek out ‘HOW’ to pursue comedy again. And as pragmatic a person Kate seems to be, she said let’s take small steps, and restart that comedy engine with some good comic education.
“I was working and I [told myself]…’well if I don’t try it now what am I ever going to try it'”.
With that she began her search to train.
“I always wanted to take improv classes at UCB (Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre, New York City), but they were kind of expensive, and it’s in the city (Manhattan, NYC).”
She ultimately found out that there were improv classes available to her, just 20 minutes away. From an open-house (which was the coming Saturday), she made up her mind to ‘check it out’.
From there it was ‘history’, as they say.
“I began taking the improv classes and I fell in love with it right away.”
“I remember feeling very nervous and a lot of the groundwork…[they teach you to] jump out there and you don’t think you can do it but no matter how silly or stupid it might look you just do whatever comes to your head…follow that feeling… you can’t worry about what anybody else thinks of you.”
“You have those thought of it being so stupid. But you [are pushed] to get up there! I don’t know how to do this, I don’t know these people, I didn’t know they’ll laugh!”
“And it’s exhilarating when you do because you’re like ‘oh I didn’t die and I’m still here; I’m still alive and no one kick me out of the room. That felt really exhilarating and if you have to be to actively about and that felt really good I have to be extremely mindful.”
She attributes that ‘exhilaration’ as being ‘present’ and ‘meditative’, where ‘you cannot be thinking too actively’ about things [on stage].
“Trusting whatever the first thing that comes [in your mind].”
And in contrast versus her day job: she says that she has to measure her activities and think about how to take care of her patients and people under her care.
“…it’s about listening to other people…and responding in a way [where] it takes a lot of work and it’s a different kind of [discipline].”
“It’s like working different muscles, I think. So, there is the social work that I do…which is much about listening and conveying empathy, even in the smallest ways, establishing these tiny relationships with people to get them to trust you and to work together collaboratively to figure out how to help.”
“Then there is comedy, which is…very different [kind of job]…but you can’t do comedy in a vacuum, by yourself. Well, you could, to entertain yourself (like how baby’s do with themselves), but if you want to do it in front of other people, you got to find a way to relate to people.”
“I think some of the best comedy.. is when it makes you laugh. If you can find a way to share [magic] with other people; done in a certain way where people can relate… you have to always trust [in the material]. If it makes you laugh, and it’s comedy you want to see, then that’s what you should be doing.”
But how about when the comedy material doesn’t work? What if that ‘relate-ability’ just doesn’t ‘connect’ with the audience?
“I think that’s what I’m talking about; trusting yourself to survive the failure. I think you [have] to get real comfortable with making mistakes and failing to do comedy. Because it takes a while to work it out. What might be a solid joke now…can start from somewhere else and it’s messy and sloppy…and yea, there are times when people don’t care for it…trusting yourself, even if you do ‘bomb’…trusting that you still deserve to be doing this; trusting that you can get better; trusting that you won’t suck every time, always and forever.”
Does the second career get in the way of growing your comedy skills, the way you want?
“I work pretty regular day-time hours…and comedy’s at night, so it isn’t a problem. [Of course] I wish I could be doing more, 8-10 hours of comedy, but ‘I got to eat’.”
“Hopefully one day [though]…and one day…[with hard work] maybe can scale back on the day-job hours” for accommodating more into comedy.
But she confesses that she feels like she has “two full time jobs”.
“I put a lot of time into [comedy], if I’m not on a show, I’m going to open mikes or seeing a show, or in an improv practice, or a sketch practice. Always something.”
Within a lifetime, there is one safe rule to bet on. And that is that life isn’t easy. It’s a Universe of hardships, mentally and physically. But there are small respites in that lifetime: like the smile of your own child, the happiness your spouse brings you, etc. But there’s one other thing that makes things more livable to any one individual. And that is ‘passion’ for a craft.
“It’s everything. It’s extremely important to me.”
“I started improv in January of 2015. And then I went through a lot of ‘tough stuff’ [in life], and comedy was the thing that I loved, but dedicating myself to getting better at it became an ‘escape’…I think in a healthy way. It was a huge help for me to cope..in dedicating so much energy into creating something new; gaining new skills.”
“Comedy is a lot about rep[etition]; getting your reps in.. put in your ten thousand hours…”
In addition to the ‘everything’ of comedy, her related passion is in writing sketches and writing for other performers. She has currently aggressively taken upon herself to learn that particular craft, so to expand her portfolio.
FROM TRAGEDY, LEARNING, GROWING.
Kate on a month to month basis hosts and manages her own comedy showcase show named Blue Plate Comedy Show. It takes place at the South Orange, New Jersey Elk’s Lodge, on Prospect Street. There she curates some of the area’s more active comedians, including some of the ones who attended the HAGS Comedy show in Asbury Park. There she and her peers entertain to give some fun times for the attending fans of comedy. The show has been running and managed by her since 2016.
But why ‘Blue Plate’?
Just when she’d made up her mind about comedy and its meaning within her life, tragically in 2015, her mother, Laura Grace. In a freak line of events and through a severe head injury, Kate’s mother passed. Without warning and without a proper goodbye.
Laura Grace had then, a catering and restaurant business named ‘Blue Plate Special’ (on Irvington Avenue in South Orange) and “…it was a restaurant and a small breakfast lunch place where it would do special dinners.” And Kate Nichols books these ‘Blue Plate’ Comedy shows, in part to honor and remember her mother’s life and in “celebrating good times, and bringing people together”.
“Her whole life was to celebrate and bringing others together, and her restaurant was very much a place where” her mother would encourage patrons to hang out ‘long as you want’ and to include many who frequented her place of business.
“During hurricane Sandy, [Blue Plate Special restaurant] was one of the few places that had electricity and put out a message” to let others know to come and use the power that was available.
“And I try to continue that… that way of being [and existing]… in a positive way, with Blue Plate Comedy Show.”
THIS IS SO STUPID!
When Kate’s mom died “the world turned upside down”. Timing, as it always is, was horrible. At the time, Kate had just started her training at the improv, then tragedy struck with her mother dying suddenly. Things were going from bad to worse for Kate.
And for her comedic career, it was at a small fork in the road: continue with the improv classes and stick through this tragedy; or become frozen in the un-lucky predicament that was dealt her and ‘quit’.
“Do I go or should I stop going [to improv]?”
“I decided to go. This was something that felt so good [improv]. And my mom would WANT me to go, and keep doing this.”
“And yea, it’s going to be really hard, because I don’t feel good [because of her mom’s death]…it’s tough…when you’re drowning in grief, but I went.”
“I didn’t tell anybody what happened [at the improv classes], because [to me, the classes] were a ‘safe place’ or ‘escape’ for me, at least for a little while.”
She eventually made more comedy friend through the classes, which lead to going to more and more comedy line up shows. “Then within a year, the improv theatre offered a stand-up workshop and I said ‘hell-yea’.”
In 2016, she officially started on a new journey into stand-up comedy, honing her skills through specified classes at UCB. There she conducts classes, heads improv, indie improv and musical improv teams.
But it wasn’t all a ‘fairy tale’ like journey to ’emotional sanity’.
“For a long time, one of my longest and strongest feelings about [her mom’s death] was that ‘This Was So Dumb’; ‘This Is So Stupid’. How do you go from a whole mom, to none…this is so stupid.”
“I do still have some [of the residual feelings]. But the world is so unpredictable, and now I know that in a way, that is much embodied in me…anything can happen, at any time.”
“It could paralyze you…but might as well take those risks and chances.”
“Maybe this comedy thing won’t work out for me and take me nowhere, but I’ll let it ruin me [first]…I’ll give it everything I have.”
“My mom cared so much about me, and my brothers and [I know] it would hurt her in so much in pain, if she knew she couldn’t do anything about it…so I decided [to make sure] I had to do everything to be happy, so she didn’t have to look down on me, from whatever realm she exists now, and have to feel that.”
“My life isn’t sunshine and rainbows, but if this is what’s going to make me happy..make me feel like I’m living a full life…I have to give it everything.”
From Kate’s own words to her long passed mother, Lauren:
“You made that cake in front of you. I remember that phase. You were making all of these gorgeous cakes that you would decorate with real flowers and chocolate butterflies and hand crafted frosting flowers. I miss those too. You were so good at cultivating beauty in ordinary places. I love flowers because they all remind me of you. Every spring on April 3rd I look at the flowers who’ve made it out early. They’re the brave ones who’ve decided it’s time to start growing even though the weather remains uncertain. The tulips, the daffodils, the cherry blossoms. These flowers push out and push forward while their more trepidatious counterparts wait for more secure and predictable conditions. But not your flowers, no. Laura Grace’s flowers are the wild ones who dare to believe spring is around the corner even when it’s still snowing 3 times a week. Because they know that winter can’t last forever. Spring always comes and it always will and with it the reminders of you and your wild, beautiful spirit.”
Kudos, Kate. Kudos.
We’ve become big fans of yours – as a professional, and as a human being. We’re cheering you on.
Can’t wait to see where you go from here!