Comedian Maria Acosta works to get more women and people of color on stand-up stages in Milwaukee
Stand-up comedy tends to be dominated by white men. In Milwaukee, 25-year-old comedian Maria Acosta is trying to get more women and people of color on stage.
Acosta was born in Mexico and moved to Milwaukee as a child, growing up on the city’s south side. She started doing stand-up comedy in 2021, right after she graduated from college with a degree in applied physics.
In addition to doing stand-up, Acosta organizes shows through her production company, La Maria Comedy. Her next show, which features a lineup of Hispanic comics is happening at Zocalo Food Park on Oct. 7.
As part of our Hispanic Heritage Month coverage, WUWM’s Emily Files talked to Acosta about her unexpected path to comedy, and what it’s like to bridge two cultures in her work.
The following are excerpts from that interview, some portions edited, paraphrased or consolidated for clarity.
On how she got into comedy
Growing up I was really shy, so when [people] find out I do comedy now, they're like, "Are you serious?"
Trauma is what got me doing comedy. I was dating a guy — we weren't together — but he passed away. That was the first time I experienced death and I didn't know how to deal with it. One of the things I ended up searching up was comedy open mics. Bremen Cafe — that was the first time I went.
It was a coping mechanism of trying to get through [my grief] mentally and not going crazy from it.
On being a Mexican woman in standup comedy
I grew up speaking Spanish in school with my classmates. I didn't really start speaking English all the time until I got to college.
And it's hard because I don't really get a lot of the references. I did a roast battle in Madison, and it's so hard because a lot of American references that people just know, I don't. So if they come to me with a comeback referencing a TV show or something, I don't know what to say back because I've never heard of it.
Part of it is crowd work, like I'm talking to the audience and I try to make a joke off of what they said. Sometimes what the audience needs, it's for you to talk to them, and then it's a great show.
On producing all-female and all-Hispanic standup shows through her production company, La Maria Comedy
What I want to do is showcase all these funny women. People are kind of afraid to do all-female lineups and have female headliners.
This year, I had Rachel Mac, she's a teacher, she's been on TV, and she was pregnant. So, it was a show produced by women, all-women lineup and the headliner was pregnant — it was a beautiful show. So I try to do stuff like that.
It's very difficult to try and get a male-dominated industry to be like, hey, look at women. There's this perception that women aren't funny. But there's a lot of not-funny men.