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From Boise

Meet Sophie Hughes

Published 22 days ago • 7 min read

Local comedian Sophie Hughes is filming a live comedy special this Saturday, June 1, at Neurolux. It’s her first time filming a special – and it's long overdue.

“I've been doing comedy for over 20 years now,” she said. “I started when I was 16. I just always knew it was something I wanted to do.”

Sophie recalls a home video of her kindergarten graduation. In the video, all the kids in her class stand up and say their name and what they want to be when they grow up. In the video, Sophie stands up and declares, “My name is Sophie K Hughes and I’m gonna be a stand up comedian.”

When Sophie was 16, she went down to The Funny Bone – a former comedy club in downtown Boise – and begged them for a job. It was the only way she could get stage time, since she was underage and technically not allowed to be in the bar unless she was working. After pestering them for a job, they created a box office gig and allowed Sophie to work the box office before the show, clock out and watch the show, and then clean the room at the end of the night. She’d go home at three o’clock in the morning, then get up and go to high school the next day.

“Watching comics from night to night was my favorite part. I had a very different vision of [comedy] in my head than what the craft actually was. But I learned about it and I realized how much of it is in the moment and how much of it is sort of planned. I was just figuring it out, you know,” said Sophie.

She started introducing herself to comics and asking for guest spots. If they liked her, they would let her have 5 or 10 minutes before their set. It was a huge opportunity because back then, there weren't any opportunities for a young person to practice comedy for an audience. In fact, there was only one open mic in the entire state of Idaho.

“It was once a month open mic at The Comedy Club and it was on a Wednesday. You had to audition at like two o'clock in the afternoon for the manager, who’s name was Lisa Young. She was just like your classic tough-as-nails comedy manager," remembered Sophie. "She’d sit in the very back row and you'd have to do your whole set to nobody and in the daylight. And she would never laugh at anything, even great comedians. Then if she liked you, you could do the open mic once a month.”

Around this time, Sophie made a really good friend who was also into comedy. They started hitting up local bars together, begging for a corner to do a set in. From there they started comedy open mics at random bars across the valley.

“We started them and lost them – that's kind of what open mics do. They're real hot for like a four or five month period, and then they go away. That was an adventure for us though because we were only like 17 or 18," said Sophie. "We shouldn't have been in any of those bars, but I guess we looked mature. And we also kind of went after the bars that needed the business and were happy to sell like, 8 more PBR’s that night.”

Looking back, Sophie realizes that she was not really that great of a comedian at this time. But she was putting in the reps to get there and that was what paid off.

“At the time, of course, I thought I was good. You kind of have to, to keep going. I don't think you can go on if you don't think you're good. But I know now with experience that I was not.”

After about five or six years of practice, Sophie had noticeably improved. She became the manager of Liquid Lounge comedy club, which took the place of The Funny Bone. (Liquid Lounge closed in 2020 with the pandemic and never reopened.) Sophie would spend half her year in Boise working at Liquid Lounge and spent the other half of the year as a touring comedian. She met comedians on the road and would book them at Liquid, and in return they would book her at their clubs.

“I spent a lot of time touring around the Midwest. I made a really good friend in Toledo, Ohio, which just happens to be about two hours away from a lot of different cities. So we would just live at his house and drive wherever we needed to be and be gone for four or five months at a time. That's when that's when things really took shape, really started to coalesce and become something fantastic,” said Sophie.

SPONSORED BY TAVOLÁTA BOISE

I love a good reward system. It’s like present me is setting up a little surprise for future me. One of my favorite rewards programs is at Tavoláta Boise.

Tavoláta offers a rewards program that, put simply, rewards you for eating pasta. Yep, you read that right. Savory carbs and sweet prizes in one glorious package.

Whether you’re an occasional guest or a loyal and consistent pasta eater, their rewards program is built to benefit you. You can earn free appetizers and wine (!!), save on your meals, and even get invitations to exclusive events or private dinners. More perks include early access to new restaurants and cooking classes or happy hours with the chef himself!

This isn’t just any other rewards program, and it’s worth indulging in just as much as the dishes themselves.

The other thing that has shaped Sophie's comedy career was transitioning.

“I really think it helped me as a comedian because it's authentic," said Sophie. "Transitioning has helped just about every other aspect of my life, like my mental well being of course, but also as a performer. I'm just being me now. And it's good… it’s really good”

Sophie’s comedy material involves many aspects of her life. She does a lot of storytelling, so her experience as a trans woman obviously shows up in her sets. Sometimes she feels guilty talking or joking about it so much. But much of Sophie's life is colored through that lens, and it wouldn't be genuine to not talk about it.

“I think it can be very relatable if people give it the time. Because I think everyone can understand feeling out of place and feeling uncomfortable in your skin," said Sophie. "Frankly, sometimes I can do much better with a super conservative room. If they give me the first 10 minutes, I can bring them around. That's something I've been very proud of.”

Back in 2016, Sophie did a show at an Elks Lodge in Chillicothe, Ohio. It’s a small town about 45 miles south of Columbus with a population of less than 22,000. “It was one of the scariest feeling shows I’ve ever done.”

I’m sure you can picture it. Wood-paneled walls with taxidermy animals everywhere, carpet on the barroom floor, sports on every tv, old-timers sitting around drinking whiskey and Coors light.

“It was very, very conservative. Also this was in 2016 in like late October, so you know, things were really politically charged. Lots of red hats and cowboy hats in the crowd. It was like an old west movie, like the piano stopped when I came in there,” said Sophie. “I’m supposed to do an hour and the first four minutes are very uncomfortable. So I just broke away from the routine and started talking to people. Then I started getting my first few laughs and then I went back into the routine and just really brought it around.”

There was a moment after the show that Sophie thinks about often: An older guy, wearing a MAGA hat, and his wife came up to Sophie after the show. They shook her hand and told her that they enjoyed her show, then the wife leans in and whispers, “We have a son who’s gay." The dad, completely straight-faced, follows it up with, “you wanna meet him?”

“They got it kinda wrong, I mean, I don’t think he’s gonna be into me,” Sophie laughed. “But I love that I made some kind of impact. I didn’t like, educate them necessarily, but maybe I opened their hearts and minds a little bit.”

Sophie has been successful at connecting with crowds across a variety of backgrounds, but she’s had her share of negative encounters too. She’s been physically assaulted twice here in Boise. The second assault was really bad, and happened four days before Boise went into lock down in 2020. She became very depressed and completely withdrew from friends and family. It was a very dark time for Sophie that lasted for two years.

As you can imagine, getting back into comedy after that was really hard. “During that period I sort of grieved [comedy], I let it go. I thought that that part of my life was over,” said Sophie. “I just didn’t feel funny, you know, nothing really felt funny to me. Everything felt very serious.”

Therapy and her family and friends got her back on her feet, and back to the stage. Comedy has been therapeutic for her in a way.

“Comedy itself is really just the creation of tension, and then its release. You sort of build up these powerful moments and then and then let them go,” said Sophie.

Initially, for her upcoming special, Sophie wanted to record an hour set that she had ready before the pandemic. But when it came down to it, Sophie just isn’t that person anymore. Material from the set she had prepared will show up in her upcoming special, but there’s new material to be heard as well. Sophie feels like it’s a collection of the best work she’s ever done.

“It just feels really good to get it out there and to be able to be a comedian again,” she said. “It's where I belong.”

You can get tickets to Sophie's comedy special here.

Thanks for reading!

With love from Boise,

Marissa

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From Boise

by Marissa Lovell

A weekly newsletter & podcast about what's going on in Boise, Idaho. Every week we share stories about people, places, history, and happenings in Boise.

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