Pittsfield comic Eryca Nolan finds humor in the everyday

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PITTSFIELD — Erica Shrader is a single mother of four, so she often has to get creative when it comes to practicing her Eryca Nolan comedy sets.

"Sometimes you'll catch me with a hair brush and wine at home," Nolan said during a Friday afternoon interview at Dottie's Coffee Lounge in Pittsfield.

Nolan's acts themselves have a domestic quality. Her children — 22-year-old Marcus, 21-year-old Dante, 16-year-old Nya and 10-year-old Nolan — aren't off limits during her performances.

"Between the kids and my life, I have more than enough comedy material," said Nolan, who will open for Andy Pitz at Berkshire Theatre Group's Comedy Garage on Thursday.

Naturally, her children aren't always amused by this subject matter, she said.

"My youngest wants to charge me," she said, joking about Nolan.

But the comedian has plenty of other topics to cover during her sets, including her youth in the Berkshires. Nolan, born Erika Patrick, grew up in Pittsfield, graduating from Taconic High School. Her local sets often begin with her early impressions of the city.

"I didn't realize it was so small until I woke up, went to kindergarten and realized that the reading teacher was my math teacher, was my gym teacher," she said.

After spending a couple of decades in the Washington, D.C., area, Nolan is now regularly reminded of Pittsfield's small-town vibe since moving back to the city.

"You can go to Big Y, and every visit to Big Y is a family reunion because every face you see is either someone you went to high school with, you dated or someone you're related to," she said.

Onstage, Nolan recounts such everyday happenings.

"People always meet you and say, 'Tell a joke.' I really don't have a joke. I have stories," she said.

During her Berkshire upbringing and college years at George Mason University in Virginia, Nolan was interested in public speaking jobs but not necessarily performance.

"I can't say it's like a 'following her dream' type thing because I never really thought about doing comedy," she said.

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A relationship led her to try standup. While living near the nation's capital, she began dating a comic, falling in love with his career in the process. For his birthday one year, she wanted to surprise him with a comedy roast. She took classes at DC Improv to prepare.

"They have this class where they don't teach you comedy, but you bring your jokes, and they help you get onstage and know how to hold the mic and things like that," she said.

The roast never happened.

"Two weeks before I was going to roast him, he broke up with me," she recalled.

That didn't stop Nolan from continuing to pursue her newfound passion. She began attending open mics around Washington, D.C., about four years ago, displaying her signature sarcasm along the way. Gigs in Hartford and New York City followed. Upon returning to the county, Nolan initially performed at Rumpy's Tavern in Lenox and Methuselah Bar and Lounge. She debuted at Rumpy's. About 20 of her friends and family members filled the venue's tight quarters.

"Rumpy's sticks out," Nolan said of her favorite show thus far in the county.

She has previously hosted and performed at the Comedy Garage.

Watching Ellen DeGeneres and Wanda Sykes has influenced her stage presence.

"They kind of just talk to you, and that's their personality. It isn't like they turn on or off. My material is not like theirs, but I tend to think my personality is," Nolan said.

As she gains more experience onstage, the Pittsfield native is feeling more comfortable about sharing her life with strangers, often riffing on the local dating scene.

"When I first started, if you didn't take the jokes just as I gave them, I was going downhill. If I didn't get laughs, I just went down with the ship, whereas now I maneuver more," Nolan said. "I can observe and apply that and redirect my set."

Nolan also produces comedy shows at J. Allen's Clubhouse Grille. She aims to book comics that represent a variety of different backgrounds and perspectives.

"While we do have a local comedy scene, it's not as diverse all the time," she said. "It kind of just shows one face. So, hopefully, I'm going to break those barriers."

Benjamin Cassidy can be reached at bcassidy@berkshireeagle.com, at @bybencassidy on Twitter and 413-496-6251.


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