By Devin Blake Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service Published Mar 18, 2023 at 5:01 PM

It is a piece of common wisdom that comedians who are most successful are those who have a universal appeal, with references often made to Charlie Chaplin or, more recently, to someone like Kevin Hart.

A sampling of that universal appeal can be found quite often in Milwaukee.

It was there at a show in a brewery in West Allis during a performance Thursday night by North Side native Chastity Washington.

As she sat at a small table after her set, Washington was approached by every type of person present at that show – old people, young people, Black people, white people, men and women. And, add to that, sober and drunk people.

Many simply thanked her for her performance or told her how much they enjoyed it. Someone offered to buy her a drink. One of the owners of the venue asked her to sign a poster. One woman asked if she could hug her.

“She is funny to everybody,” said Ton Johnson, a local comedian and 2022 winner of Madison’s Funniest Comic Competition. “Chastity … her energy is organic; it’s genuine. You can tell she’s really going out of her way to give the people the best show that she can every time she’s up there – be it an open mic or showcase or a club spot."

Greg Bach, local comedian and co-owner of the Milwaukee venue, The Laughing Tap, said, “She’s got a relatability and a confidence and charisma. And she connects with people. … And I never see her do poorly. Ever.”

Washington grew up in Sherman Park and lives and works as a teacher in Bronzeville. She began performing comedy in 1994 in Kenosha, where she attended college.

After graduating, she moved back to Milwaukee and has been performing ever since. She’s appeared on television, worked all over the country and alongside big marquee names.

After four comedians performed that night at the brewery, Washington got on stage and performed for about 30 minutes.

She talked about trying to socialize during the pandemic, drinking too much on her birthday and wanting her pharmacist to have more discretion, among other topics.

Much of her comedy is about her students.

She talked about teaching on Zoom, saying, “I was on the Zoom class – high school. My high school students. One of my students came on with no shirt on.”

He asked her: “What are we doing today, Ms. Washington?”

“I said, ‘We ain’t doing s—, Jarell. I can see your nipples! Turn your camera off, Jarell!’ ”

During her set, she also danced, did voices and sang throughout.

Her personal experiences, combined with this range of comedic tools, sharply honed for the past 30 or so years, are some of the ingredients of that universality Washington has, Johnson said.

“Most of us don’t teach kids for a living and that’s what she does. She’s so descriptive and emotive – you can see the kids she’s talking about in your head,” he said. 

Washington said her goal has always been to be as good as she can at every type and style of comedy – “whether it’s a one-liner, whether it’s an impression, if it’s storytelling, physical activity.”

She said “comedy found me … and it’s really just me getting out what is in me.”

And what people are connecting to, she said, is ultimately her “honesty and authenticity and humanity.”

Comedians “get to give people joy,” she said. “People need joy to be healed. People’s souls and hearts are aching in different ways. People are struggling mentally in different ways, and it’s a release. Laughter is good medicine for the body. It brings about healing. And we get to do that."

"Everybody is given talents and gifts,” she added. “But it’s not for you. Whitney Houston’s voice was not just for Whitney Houston.”

Although Washington faced some barriers earlier in her career, she said she believes progress has been made in Milwaukee’s comedy scene.

“I wouldn’t say it’s segregated – anymore. Now, there’s more opportunity for comics of color to be able to work in the mainstream venues,” she said.

Many of Washington’s peers attribute at least some of the progress to comedians like her.

“Chaz traverses every inch and every part of comedy in Milwaukee. … She’s a bridge to different parts of the scene,” said Ryan Mason, a Milwaukee comedian who often works with Washington.

When the audience member offered her a drink the night of the brewery show, Washington politely declined. When someone asked her for the hug, she immediately obliged.

Mason said he ultimately understands what Washington does in terms of empathy.

“She’s telling stories about being a teacher … she’s creating empathy for herself, but also for the people in the story. And she creates empathy for the audience,” Mason said. “When she’s talking about a school, in a part of the city I would be an outsider at, you can go with her when she talks about it. You learn. It helps bring everyone together.”

Johnson prefaced his view of Washington’s mentorship. “I don’t know how she will feel about this statement. But she is like the Auntie of the Milwaukee comedy scene. She really is. I’ve done it, I’ve seen countless comics do it, at all kinds of levels, come to her for advice. And she’ll give it.”

“She actually wants to help,” he added.

Washington said she does not have a formal agenda in this regard.

“That’s what’s on my heart to do,” she said. “I see folks, and I believe in them. And folks have believed in me. … It’s for comics – to always know it’s love. And it’s real love.”

For more information

Information about Washington’s upcoming shows can be found on her Instagram and Facebook pages.