Comedy Wham LIVE from 2023 Lysistrata Comedy Festival: Stephanie Rae and Maxi Witrak

April 9, 2023

Photo Credit

Stephanie Rae: Stephanie Rae

Maxi Witrak: Steph Girard Photography


Valerie Lopez


Richard Goodwin

2023 Lysistrata Comedy Festival

This week’s episode was record­ed live, which is always an adven­ture, and even more so when it hap­pens at a suc­cess­ful com­e­dy fes­ti­val like the recent Lysis­tra­ta Com­e­dy fes­ti­val in Austin. Adven­tures are always safer in num­bers, and, luck­i­ly, Valerie had along two women who are skilled ora­tors, as well as mak­ing their mark in the com­e­dy indus­try, Stephanie Rae and Maxi Witrak.

Rae is a George­town law school grad­u­ate and founder of the Black Improv Alliance, who cred­its the begin­ning of her com­e­dy jour­ney to improv class­es tak­en while get­ting her degree. (She also claims to have an Urkel impres­sion which, sad­ly, we did not get to expe­ri­ence.) When it turned out that prac­tic­ing law was almost, but not entire­ly, unlike Law and Order, she knew she need­ed a change.

Change came in the form of a heav­i­ly dis­count­ed improv class vouch­er (which is why you always at least try the low bid at silent auc­tions). The envi­ron­ment Rae walked into could hard­ly have been more of a con­trast from her day job. After days of read­ing hun­dreds of pages of case law, I go to this room and be like, we’re teenage cats,” she jokes, con­firm­ing: It was just a real­ly won­der­ful shift of ener­gy, and I fell in love with it.”

“It was just a really wonderful shift of energy, and I fell in love with it
Stephanie Rae

Witrak rode a slight­ly dif­fer­ent path, as an accom­plished eques­tri­an, and received her Mas­ter of Fine Arts (MFA) degree in act­ing. Valerie apt­ly notes a poten­tial con­nec­tion between dres­sage (yes, that is the first time that word has been used on our pod­cast) and per­form­ing com­e­dy, and Witrak agrees. You’re being judged and you’re putting on a show for the peo­ple,” she con­sid­ers, and “ I already knew that I real­ly loved the pres­sure of hav­ing all eyes on me…and just get my adren­a­line going.”

In a bit of a par­al­lel, Witrak also came to find com­e­dy inter­sect­ing her world while pur­su­ing her under­grad­u­ate at John Hop­kins. She fell in with a sketch com­e­dy group, and found an out­let she didn’t even know had been miss­ing. That was my first time get­ting to do any­thing zany and be a the­ater kid,” Witrak recalls, vs the but­toned up” life full of dis­ci­pline required to bal­ance school­work and train­ing horses.

I just want to experience everything in my lifetime, and I just don't have the time
Maxi Witrak

Whether it’s the ener­gy, or high-stakes pres­sure, both women are quick to admit to com­e­dy as the addic­tive pro­fes­sion so many find it to be. With Rae, that dri­ve has led her to not only per­form but also teach improv class­es. A bit of that lawyer mind­set comes through when she talks about what com­pelled her to teach: I felt real­ly called to teach, to be a black woman in those spaces, cre­at­ing the spaces that I want­ed to be in.” It’s the kind of shap­ing the world in small but mean­ing­ful ways that she hoped the law pro­fes­sion might be (but thank­ful­ly for com­e­dy fans, wasn’t).

For Witrak, the sto­ry recent­ly has been about doing less to do more. I just want to expe­ri­ence every­thing in my life­time, and I just don’t have the time,” she real­ized, and that has led to tough deci­sions like tak­ing a break from the band she’s a mem­ber of, Max and Miki. Some­times the hard­est deci­sion in a project is to decide to do noth­ing, but it can quite often be the best as well. It’s bet­ter for my mind if I active­ly take a break from the band ‚” Witrak says, rather than doing a lit­tle here and there and still feel­ing that lit­tle hint of low lev­el stress all along because of it.” She’s also done her share of teach­ing, in the form of a stand-up com­e­dy class at her local club.

The episode is packed with more tales of com­e­dy evo­lu­tion, and advice from the per­form­ers; I urge you to give it a lis­ten to get the full expe­ri­ence. It’s always a fun episode when Valerie’s anx­i­ety is through the roof, mak­ing live pod­casts like these per­haps her own equiv­a­lent of an adren­a­line-fueled stage time. With Stephanie Rae and Maxi Witrak on board, it’s a wild ride, and, indeed, there was plen­ty of cheer­ing from the stands.

Eyewitness Account

One of our new writers, Cristy Salinas, attended the live podcast and shared her thoughts about what she learned from Stephanie and Maxi:

  • Both had really interesting backgrounds. Stephanie became a lawyer because she wanted to make a difference, but the kind of law she wanted to pursue didn’t pay well. And now she’s making a difference through comedy which, even though it’s not taken seriously, can really make an impact and create a cultural impact.
  • Maxi’s pivot from horse girl to actor to comic is interesting, but I was most impressed by her honesty, especially when sharing those cringe moments of her early days in standup. She knew she made mistakes in the past and has grown since then.

Thank you Cristy!!

Fol­low Stephanie

Stephanie can be seen and heard:

    • Fea­tur­ing Dou­glas Widick, RJ Williams, Ralf Jean-Pierre, Mel Rubin, Luke Miller, Bil­ly Soco, Stephanie Rae, Syd­ney Duncan
    • 21A Clin­ton Street, Man­hat­tan, 10002

Fol­low Maxi

Maxi can be seen and heard:

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Maxi Witrak
Stephanie Rae