Abi Sanchez is a local stand-up comedian making his mark in the city and beyond. Read how being born in Puerto Rico influences his comedy, his experiences writing for television, what performing at the largest comedy festival meant to him, and more. Make sure to follow him on social and go see his special “This is A.B.I. (A Bad Idea)” February 17.
Hi, my name is Abi Sanchez and I am a stand-up comedian.
What was the epiphany moment that made you decide to start comedy?
I started it as a full-time job because I couldn’t handle answering the phone anymore. I was working at a call center and every time the phone rang it sounded like one of those heavy police knocks that you hear in movies. I couldn’t do it anymore. The only real option was to quit and pursue comedy full time.
Originally, there was a producer in Chicago named Mikey O and he would bring in out of town talent and give them the chance to teach a comedy workshop for some extra money. I received the email for one of them and it said things like “Are you the class clown? Are you always making your friends laugh?” The email just hit every check mark for me. I enrolled and at first, I realized I was terrible at writing jokes and had no idea what I was doing there. But I kept taking more workshops and eventually Mikey O put me on one of his stand up shows.
You are proudly Puerto Rican born and Chicago raised. How do those two identities help shape your comedy?
In Chicago, you are in the middle of everything which allows you to get exposure to it all. Puerto Rico has influence mainly from New York and the East Coast so it is a lot more limited and has really formed its own culture completely. I personally can fit into both worlds. I am like a chameleon where I can blend in and out and I am not stuck in a certain perspective. I try to write from all my influences. I want people to relate to everything I say but my Puerto Rican background adds a little Latino flair to my jokes.
As a stand-up comedian, you have performed in venues all over Chicago. What makes Chicago venues and audiences so special?
There is no pretense to it. They brave the cold to come out to shows and aren’t uptight or take themselves too seriously. For the most part, everyone in Chicago comes out to laugh and comedians don’t have to dumb anything down, but also they appreciate if you don’t talk down to them. People come from all over too. Chicago is the midwestern New York City. Comedians learn how to adapt to city-based audiences and rural-based audiences because of the mix of audience members.
However, you have taken your comedy outside of Chicago. This past year you went to the Montreal comedy festival, “Just for Laughs.” How did it feel performing for the largest comedy festival in the world?
That was the highlight of my comedy career so far. It was great to learn that I can go to a different country with the same jokes I do here and have them hit. French is the first language there so you worry about the language barrier and even the social and cultural references you aren’t sure they will fully understand, but luckily they did. It made me realize that you can really take comedy anywhere. Comedy can be universal. That motivated me.
While there you also filmed for Kevin Hart and his Laugh Out Loud network. What did you exactly do for that project?
They filmed four episodes of content for the show. There were 25 comics total and we each got to do an 8-minute set. It was the real deal.
Back in October, you were featured on Chicago’s “Comedians You Should Know.” When you receive that kind of recognition does it solidify why you do what you do?
That show is the independent show to get on in Chicago so it definitely helps you gauge where you stand in the local scene and it moves you to a different tier. The comedy scene in Chicago is very segregated. You have the open micers that are huddled in their bubble, the comics that work the clubs, and then the stand-ups that do the independent shows. If you can do all three and are respected in all three then that is the way to do it.
Was there ever a moment when working your way through those tiers that you thought you were done with comedy?
Absolutely not. The three-year gap in my resume would be too hard to explain. I would have to tell an employer I was in prison because that would be more understandable than explaining my life as a stand-up comedian,
You also recently helped write for an episode of “Man of the People” hosted by Pat Tomasulo on WGN. How did that opportunity present itself and what was the biggest lesson you learned about writing for TV?
Adam Burke, another Chicago comic, is one of the head writers on the show and he approached me about doing a guest writing spot. I definitely wanted to get that experiences of being in a writers room because that can be another avenue for stand up comedians to go down. You may not always be able to make it on the road, but if you know you can sit down at a table and create jokes for a show, it helps.
I saw jokes I wrote come to life on TV, which is bittersweet because it sucks seeing your joke come out of someone else’s mouth. You have to write in that other person’s voice and it can be very hard because no matter how well you know someone you can’t be in their head. As a comic, you can be selfish because it’s hard to hear someone else say what you wrote and not be able to use that joke for yourself. The same thing can be said about saying other people’s lines and jokes. It is hard to recite someone else’s words. It doesn’t feel natural half the time and you can’t realistically picture saying it or even thinking it.
Beyond writing for TV, you have also been on Chicago Med as an FBI agent. What was that experience like for you?
This is part of the Chicago stand up comedian hustle. Taking mini jobs on Chicago TV shows, They dress you up and sit you in a room for eight hours until they need you for fifteen minutes. I sit there and try to watch what the actors and actresses are doing to hit their marks so that I can use it as a learning tool.
When I need to make rent and they are willing to pay me $80 dollars to shave my face and dress as an FBI agent, I’ll take it.
You are known for promoting “Hoop Life” all over your social media. What is “Hoop Life” and how does one achieve it?
Hoop life is just doing something different that everyone is going to question you on. It is a little touch that makes you stand out.
It all started because one day I put a hoop earring in just to see if my ears were still pierced. I kept it in and everyone was so confused as to why I was wearing it. I loved it though and it encouraged other comedians to start doing things out of the ordinary. When people question it you just tell them “Hoop Life” and it settles everything.
On February 17th of next year, you have your own comedy special coming to Chicago called, “This is A.B.I. (A Bad Idea)” What can we expect from this feature?
It will be my entire stand up comedy career. That’s why it is “A Bad Idea” because I am using everything that I have been building up over the last three years and taking it to one stage. My comedy is going to be on display and the headliner spot is where every comic wants to be because now I have the chance to do 55 minutes of jokes. It will be a big test.
Written by: Colleen Kennedy
Header photo by: Ashley Lane