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by Sarah-Beth White

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Veteran comedian Jill Shely is used to working tough crowds, but today’s audience presents an unusual challenge. As she introduces the ComedySportz team for the premiere performance of “Mom’s Cracking Up!” at the Sol Goldman 14th Street YM-YWHA , she is greeted with a strident buzz of noise and activity. Infants toddle on the padded blue mat stretched in front of the stage. The cacophony of sounds range from gentle cooing to whimpering cries as this fresh comic twist on the standard mommy-and-me formula unfolds. The frantic commotion leaves Shely unfazed, for she has recently become one of those super beings called “Moms” — biologically programmed to filter out clamor and to multi-task. It’s on with the show! “This event is by moms, for moms and about moms,” announces Margo Bloom, director of the Y. She assures parents that they are free to nurse, change diapers or walk around during the performance. ComedySportz unleashes a mix of quick-thinking, fast-talking improv based on audience suggestions. Today the Diaper Changers compete with the Spitter Uppers to create raucous hysteria. Spontaneous songs, like the ever lyrical, “I gave birth…don’t mess with me!” entertain, while chants of “Where are my toes…haven’t seen them in a while,” are recited in the “Pregnancy Emotional Symphony”. This, of course, raises the eternal question: Is fat really an emotion? Motherhood has become a laughing matter for Shely, creator of “Mom’s Cracking Up”, who boasts a 15-year career as a professional comedian. “Becoming a mother is so incredibly overwhelming…and scary…and great!” says Shely. “There’s nothing better than humor to help adjust to a new lifestyle and deal with these diverse feelings.” Coincidentally, her business partner, Lynn Marie Hulsman, who also performs in ComedySportz and is the artistic director and co-producer of the sketch comedy group, “Hits Like a Girl”, became pregnant at the same time as Shely. “You can just imagine how easy it is to do business with two babies!” says Shely. When the stroll-in at the Sol Goldman Y became the highlight of her week, she concocted a plan to fuse her two greatest passions — motherhood and comedy. Each month will feature a different one-hour comedy act showcasing a pool of talented comedians. August highlights sketch and musical comedy, and September’s line-up will present comic plays and one-person shows. The series will focus on a wide span of comic material including sketch, standup, music, comic reading and improvisation. “For us at the Y, this really fits in with the kind of institution we’d like to be,” says Bloom. “We want our programs to reflect the sensibility of our East Village neighborhood. A comedy program for new moms and their babies really fits the bill.” Kate Garros from Queens jostles her 6-month-old twins on her lap. “I am so thrilled to be out of the house!” she confesses as she looks forward to the start of the show. Manhattan mom Cheryl Feinstein has come with her toddler, 2 1/2 -year-old Hayley. “It’s important for us the have these kinds of outings together,” she says. “Even though the humor in this show is geared to adults, the laughter becomes infectious. When I laugh, Hayley will giggle as well.” “Being a new mom can be very isolating and we want to get new moms out there, laughing with their babies and having fun with other moms,” explains Shely. And yes, dads are welcome, too. Starting out with a Monday schedule, she hopes to eventually get a weekend slot to attract working moms and encourage all parents to join the fun. As the festivities wind down, the cast of comedians slips into silliness with a zany game of peek-a-boo. “It’s great to find a baby-friendly place where I don’t need to worry about crying,” says Debbie Brand as she bounces her 5-month old daughter, Elle, on her knee. “The shows present a unique situation,” says Shely. “There are a lot of mom performers out there with comic material geared towards new moms, and a lot of new moms who need an outlet. We have the luxury of a great audience and a great pool of performers.”

Info: Where: Sol Goldman YM-YWHA, 344 East 14th Street When: Call for schedule How much: Tickets $12 for Y members, $15 non-members; babies free! For more info: (212) 780-0800; www.edalliance.org

 

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