For Mother’s Day weekend, the Chicago Defender shares stories of dynamic Black women thriving in their careers and providing loving guidance for their families.
Correy Bell is organized chaos.
It’s the sum and substance of who she is. It’s the energy she comes with when she ascends upon a stage. It may also represent the Chicago comedy landscape, where the rooms differ racially, depending on what side of town you’re on, but it’s a scene she has mastered, by the way.
“What I did was record an old school comedy album, like vinyl, like Red Foxx, like Richard Pryor. And it was what it was; it was organized chaos,” she said. “It was about the pandemic; it was about my children. It was about me being an adult, me being a grandmother. It’s about a little bit of everything that everybody can relate to.”
Correy Bell’s brand of organized chaos is also being dressed to the nines to perform and remaining as real and damn funny as your big sister or favorite aunt without even trying.
In a recent interview, Bell talked about growing up on the South Side near 95th and Vincennes, that one time she performed at a Harold’s Chicken, and why Chicago has the best comedy scene in the country.
We also discussed how she and Mo’Nique remain “thick as thieves.”
Chicago Defender: So I read an article somewhere where you said that you got into comedy about nine years ago, right?
Correy Bell: November will be my ninth year, what we call a comedy-versary. And I literally started comedy on a dare from a good friend of mine. I just met her at the legendary “Jokes and Notes” comedy club. And she was telling me about a room. I was like, “Oh, I love comedy.” And one day, she was like, “Listen, if you come next week, I’m putting you on stage.” And I was like, “Girl, no, you are not putting me on stage, no you will not.” I kept saying, “Well, I’m funny. One day, I’m gonna try it.” And she basically was like, “I dare you.”
So the next week I came, the comics went up. And she went up there and called my name. And I was like, “the nerve of her.”
But at this point it’s like sink or swim. And I went up there. I told one of the worst jokes that I could have ever created when I think about it, and a couple of people laughed. And I was like, let me try it one more time. Something else really silly. And people laughed.
And literally, from that moment, I had been bit by the bug.
CD: Do you remember the joke? The one that made you say, “I’ve got this.”
Correy Bell: Yes. As a matter of fact, I recently found a clip of it, way dusted in the archives, and I posted it on Instagram. It was basically about my friends trying to be uppity and they didn’t know how. And we were in a restaurant. And they told the waiter that they only drank bottled water, but then asked for a glass of ice. And I’m like, “what you think the ice come from?”
Like you’re trying to be bougie you don’t even know how to do it. But it worked then and it worked because it was relatable. Because there’s so many people in there. Like, “I don’t drink faucet water.”
We grew up on faucet water, the outside hose water. That’s what we grew up on. That’s why our immune system is so strong.
“You’ve got to be fearless before you’re funny in Chicago.”
CD: [Chuckles] That’s right, we can survive anything after that. So when people get into comedy, there’s like this inkling, right? “I’m funny. My friends think I’m funny.” Did you have any inkling of that as you were growing up?
Correy Bell: So I’ve always been funny to everyone else. I never considered myself funny. I just thought that I said what people were thinking, but too politically correct to say out of their mouth. Like they were not risk takers. Me on the other hand, it was like a vending machine and to go in my head, it’s going to come out my mouth.
My sister would always say stuff like, “You’ve missed your calling. You are supposed to be on stage. You are a clown and you missed your calling.” And it really was my oldest sister Kim, who basically was like, “You’ve got to get on stage.”
And then the cards just aligned. You know, I’m funny. Everybody tells me I’m funny. And I’m like, “I’m not funny, I’m just real. And you guys are just scared to be who you are. So let me be your representative.”
And that’s kind of how that happened.
CD: You from Chicago? Correct?
Correy Bell: Southside baby, born and raised!
CD: What streets?
Correy Bell: Listen, I am from 93rd in Ada. I’m right off 95th and Vincennes. Right before Beverly.
CD: Okay. Talk about growing up in that area. What was that like for you?
Correy Bell: Oh, my God, growing up on the Southside of Chicago. I look at my children now. And I look at them and I’m like, “y’all don’t know what real kid fun is.” Like these kids are so into their phones.
We didn’t have phones. I grew up in the village that raised the children. So, the people on my block knew the people next door on the other block, and knew the people behind us. So, when we went outside, it was safe, because everybody watched out for everybody. So, when we played ding-dong-ditch, if you got caught, they knew where you lived. So you cannot be the slow one. You got to be able to run.
We had the community. We had the village. I could walk from my house to Evergreen Plaza and see the movies or go to Montgomery Wards. We did that at 87th Street, where we would go to the carnival, or the drive-in or go kart racing out on Halsted. My growing up years is where we developed real friendships. It was like if you had two people and one pair of skates, then we each had one skate. It’s ten people and eight bikes is ten people on the bikes, because you rode with your friends.
I miss that community feel, that village feel. Our children miss that. I’m like, “y’all don’t know fun.”
You don’t know about sleepovers and making mud pies in the backyard. Like, I’m that old. I’m mud pie old. Don’t make this face fool you here, baby. I am mud pie in the backyard, ding-dong-ditch, running bases old. So I missed that for our children. But my childhood was dope.
“I knew that if I wanted to be world renowned…I had to be able to play to the North Side and the South Side.”
CD: What do you think sets you apart from everybody else in the comedy landscape?
Correy Bell: One of the things that sets me apart, is when I step on stage, other comedians would consider it being over the top. I consider it wearing what’s comfortable for me. It would give like [the comedian] Sommore. And Sommore would come out, and baby, she is dressed.
It’s like when I put my stuff on, I feel good. I talk about my family. I talk about my experiences. I don’t necessarily have to do a stock joke. That’s why my album Organized Chaos is what it is, because it’s who I am, what I’ve lived.
Because my house alone — let me tell you something — my house by itself is a complete comedy set every day. There’s a joke every single day. What sets me apart is that nobody can tell my story like me. And it’s unique, it’s relatable. Even though it’s my story, you got mothers and friends and cousins, and people out there that’s going, “Listen, I’m over 40 and I understand why we got to take a nap.”
You know, I tried to stray away from what they already expect for black female comedians to talk about. I don’t really talk about dating. They expect dating, sex, weight loss or weight gain and kids. That’s normally what they expect. And even though I talk about those things, there’s a whole world outside of that that I choose to talk about. So that you’re not getting what you expect that you thought you’d get. I’m gonna give you all of it.
CD: What was life like before comedy? You used to work at Groupon, is that right?
Correy Bell: Listen, I was the queen of customer service, okay. I’ve done all of the jobs, all of the customer service jobs. I did a lot of HR. Groupon was the last job that I worked before I became a full-time comic. And when I say it was by far one of the most fun jobs I’ve ever had, like, it was the most entertaining. We literally got paid to play because the CEO was only 28 at the time when he opened the company. So, he was the kid, and so were we.
And even in having what I would have considered, one of the most fun or one of the best jobs, when I started doing comedy, I strayed away from it. It was almost like I was serving two masters.
CD: So you were working rooms while you were working at Groupon?
Correy Bell: I was doing open mics and stuff like that. So if I’m out doing two or three rooms. Because, let me tell you, Chicago comedy has the best comedy scene in the country. I’m okay with arguing that with people from other places, but the monsters come from Chicago.
We do comedy in places that people don’t want comedy. We are in the bars. We are in the lounges. We done snuck up in libraries. I did comedy in a Harold’s chicken restaurant.
CD: Which one?
Correy Bell: 14th and Wabash. Black owned. Yeah, I did comedy in the Harold’s chicken, okay. So you have to build your character, and you got to get the tiger stripes. You’ve got to be fearless before you’re funny in Chicago. That’s why, when we go to New York and we go to LA and we go to Atlanta, stepping on the stage we are fearless. And then we slap you around with a little bit of funny. So because I had to go and fight in these rooms, when I would get up in the morning to go to Groupon, I liked it a little bit less every time because I was growing the love for what was happening over here.
And one day, December 1, I got a message that I no longer was an employee of Groupon. Quit, got fired, don’t matter. I didn’t work anymore. And I sat down and I talked to my husband and my husband said, “Listen, I want you to take six months, and I want you to do nothing but comedy. I got the bills, I have everything. And if in six months, it’s working, you keep going. But if, in six months, it don’t work. Baby girl, you work.”
So it just so happens, I was about a year in, and I landed my first TV gig with [producer] Bob Sumner and truTV. Flown out to LA within the first 14 months of me doing comedy.
CD: Was that Laff Tracks?
Correy Bell: Yes, Laff Mobb’s Laff Tracks. So I love Groupon for everything that it gave me, but it was time to go.
CD: I did read somewhere where you talked about the difference between a South Side room and a North Side room and having the ability to navigate those rooms? Can you talk a little bit about that?
Correy Bell: Absolutely. There’s a big difference between the North Side and the South Side. We already know that Chicago — I didn’t really learn this until I went to New York and other places — how segregated Chicago is. So when we do comedy, if you are on the South Side, the majority of those rooms are black. Anything north of 22nd Street, when you go North Side, those are the majority of white rooms.
And when I say rooms, I mean the clubs, the open mics, wherever they decide to do it. And what I tell people all the time is you will go to the South Side for the money. That’s where the money was. The North Side, you went for opportunity. And I say that because we don’t have any black comedy clubs in Chicago. “Jokes and Notes” is what we had, and we don’t have it anymore. So, we don’t have a place to call home. So when the Just for Laughs, ABC or NBC, any of the bigger names, they’re coming to Chicago in order to search for opportunity or whatever, they’re going to the North Side.
So what I decided to do was, I worked the South Side because that’s why I built my stripes. That’s where I get the punches. Because I’m in a bar with somebody sitting and they trying to watch the game. They ain’t got no interest in comedy. They trying to buy the girl a drink at a bar, it’s somebody’s birthday, and they was drunk when we got there. And now I got to stop this party and get them to pay attention to me and to laugh. That’s what you get on the South Side.
So when you go to the North Side, because the clubs are there, which I love. I’m so grateful for all of them. When you go to Laugh Factory, Comedy Bar, Zanies, like all of these clubs on the North Side, they’re designed for comedy. So the audiences are structured.
I knew that if I wanted to be world renowned, if I wanted to make sure that my jokes translate and I can go anywhere. I had to do both sides. I had to be able to play to the North Side and the South Side. If you want to make it in Chicago, you’ve got to do both sides.
CD: Now, I saw that you had tweeted, Mo’Nique, and that’s how that relationship began. Is that right? And what made you get up the nerve to do that?
Correy Bell: Well, what ended up happening was I went to a Jill Scott concert. And after Jill Scott’s first song, we heard a big boom. The power goes out. They tried to fix it for about 30-40 minutes. They could not get it fixed. There’s no Jill Scott. On the way out, they had all of the posters of people who had performed there in the past. We were at the Horseshoe Casino. And there was a picture of Mo’Nique and I took a picture. And I was like, “You know what, one day I’ll have a picture right next to hers.” Because that’s who I looked up to.
And not too long after that, I saw that she was coming to Chicago. And something in me was like, you know, “try it.” So I sent out an Instagram message. And I said, “Hey, guys, I need all my friends to tag Mo’Nique and tell her to let me open up for her at the Chicago Improv.
And people started tagging her. And maybe about five minutes later, she responded. She said, like you always hear her say, “Hey, my sweet baby, you know, meet me at the Improv.” And I was like, “Nah, this can’t be real.”
And the crazy thing was, I never got an inbox or any of that. I inboxed her. There was no meet me at this time, on this day, ask for this person.
It was like, “How bad do you want it? You going to have to figure this out yourself.” And I had already seen in my mind, I’m like, yo, if I can’t get in…Do you remember the episode of Martin when he went on The Varnell Hill Show and showed up with K-Ci and JoJo? I was going to bum rush the stage because I am going.
Well, the morning of the first show on that Friday, she did an interview with WGCI. And the radio personality was basically saying, “Hey, you know, I see that Mo’Nique you’re here in Chicago, and you have Correy Bell opening up for you.” And she said, “Hey, I don’t know who this Correy Bell is, but the second that I responded to her Instagram, people were going crazy about it. So I’m excited to meet her.”
So at this point, now, it’s on because she knows and she remembered. Like, it is on. So I showed up and it was almost like we had never not known each other. We hugged and we talked and we embraced. And I said, “Is there anything that you don’t want me to talk about?” And she basically said, “You have seven minutes.”
Correy Bell: She said, “everybody out there bought a ticket to see me. I want you to go out there and make them want to come back and see you. So don’t keep nothing. Leave it all out on the stage and have a good time.” Cool! So that’s what I did. I’m at home. This is Chicago. So, I did what I do.
I went out, and I did my seven minutes and I came back in. And when I came into the back, she was crying. And I was like, “What did I do? What did I say?” Like, “how did I mess this up?”
And she said, “I’ve been looking for you. And I’ve been looking for somebody that I can pour my knowledge about comedy and this business into, and I know that that’s you. And we literally have been thick as thieves since then.
Right after that, I finished the weekend with her. I went out on the road with her. I did her Vegas residency, all nine months in Vegas with her. And then, she invited me to do Showtime’s Mo’Nique & Friends with her. It was amazing. And just recently, even with all the touring that we did, I opened for her Netflix special.
So, it has been a crazy, wild ride with her. I appreciate every second that we spend together — every conversation, every teachable moment, every interview that I’ve been able to sit in with her, every stage that we’ve shared. So to be able to sit with somebody who has more than 30 years into this business, and as fearless as she is, it’s an honor.
CD: What’s next for Correy Bell?
Correy Bell: Everything! I want all of it. You have people in comedy for different reasons. I am going for my yellow jacket. Like I’m, I’m going for it. So, I will always end up on that stage. Because that stage is where my superpowers lie.
But TV, movies, commercials, maybe a talk show. But touring is what I love because it’s something about that instant gratification that you get when people are really quiet because they’re paying attention or they’re falling out of their seat because they thought it was hilarious.
That, for me, is my comfort zone. It’s my safe place. When I get on stage, nothing else matters. So the stage, TV, anything. It’s limitless. The possibilities are open. I’m open to what’s for me, whatever that entails. But I’m gonna make sure that the people know my name.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.