THE SOAPBOX: a new series highlighting local or touring artists. We chat about things like art, inspiration, processes, and vision; and also some silly stuff like the latest dirt on Taylor and Kim and chronic dehydration.

Our second installment of The Soapbox spotlights Madeleine Russell, a Chicago-based comedian and Ames native who has found a unique way to combine her love of performing with philanthropy. Our Communications Intern, Anne Hilker, hops on the phone with Russell to talk about her upcoming comedy collaborative. On July 29th she will perform at the Social Club with six other women in “The Second Annual Comedy Tampon Show.” If that sounds like a joke, it’s not: All of the proceeds from the show go to purchase feminine products for Central Iowa Shelter & Services (CISS), which cares for the homeless.


DMSC: What are the first things people say to you when you talk to them about your upcoming Tampon show? 

RUSSELL: It’s interesting, it’s sort of two different [reactions]. People either laugh at use of the word tampon or they think it’s a really cool idea. Katherine [Bickel] of MIDWESTIX immediately said that it was a good idea and wanted to build some traction around [it]. But then you also have people who just laugh at the word tampon, which I think is just funny.

DMSC: So how did you get interested in this issue?

Des Moines Comedian Kate Bennett

RUSSELL: I started doing comedy in Des Moines. Me and my friend, Kate Bennett, who’s in the show, were sitting around talking about diva cups and she started talking about a lack of sanitary items for homeless women. The next second we were saying “you know what, we should do an all-female comedy show and the admission price should equal a box of tampons.” After that I did some digging and set up a meeting with Mary Gesiriech at CISS and they were just loving it. I was scared that they would just laugh me out of the building. I thought they were going to say they had bigger things to deal with, but they were totally on board! They loved the idea of something unique and that brings attention to this issue that impacts part of the population in Central Iowa. The great thing about CISS is that they are the only Central Iowa shelter that accepts single women. Homeless men outnumber homeless women by a 3:1 ratio. So they really have to prioritize their resources. How a lot of places do that is by only accepting women looking for shelter with children, but CISS accepts anyone.

DMSC: Have other organizations been donating?

RUSSELL: Absolutely. We have fourteen businesses lined up. Suzanne Van Englehoven-Wedeking from The Flying Mango; Louisa Dykstra from Norwex Independent Sales; Jodi Beavers from Metropolitan Properties; Leslie Gearhart from Homebase DSM; Threase Harms from Advocacy Strategies; Rachel Sivi from Vogue Vision; Hannah Inman from Hannah Inman Real Estate; Sarah Pritchard from Table 128; Dori Jansma from The Jansma Agency; Kathryn Dickel and Heather Hansen from MIDWESTIX; Lora Fraracci from Earth Made Clean; Connie Wimer from The Business Record; Katie (Stocking) Patterson from Happy Medium; and finally Janette Larkin from Lift Iowa.

DMSC: What can we expect from the show? Is this an all-ages-type event or for those with a more mature comedy palette?

RUSSELL: It is not an all-ages event but I am so excited about the line up that we have. What this is going to end up being is a great opportunity for Des Moines-ians to see [great] comedy talent. We have Gena Gephart and Sarah Sherman out of Chicago, and they’re just fantastic. It’s raw talent. All these are regional talents who are great and get better by the minute. And you’re now going to be able to see them at the Des Moines Social Club.

Ames native Madeline Russell

DMSC: How did you meet the other comedians also performing in the show?

RUSSELL: Kate [Bennett] and I started out together in Des Moines. The great thing about comedy in Des Moines is that it is located on I-80. I-80 runs from Chicago to Denver so a lot of comedians end up passing through Des Moines. Which means you can really see and meet a lot of great people when you live in Des Moines. Gena [Gephart] and Sarah [Sherman] are from Chicago and Molly Bartlett is from Omaha. And that’s how I ended up meeting all of them. Des Moines is this hub for comedy.

Chicago comedian Sarah Sherman
Gena Gephart in a performance











DMSC: When did you first get into comedy?

RUSSELL: I started doing comedy in Des Moines. I started out at the former House of Bricks. They had an open mic. That open mic now is at Lefty’s Live Music on Tuesdays.

DMSC: Who were your comedy inspirations growing up?

RUSSELL: My favorite comedian is Maria Bamford. I started listening to her in 2005-2006. At the time there was something called ‘Comedians of Comedy’ that included her, Patton Oswalt, Zach Galifinanakis, and Brian Poeshn. They had a documentary out that had interviews with them and [included] a lot of their comedy style. I was really inspired by that, the whole mission for ‘Comedians of Comedy’ was to take comedy to more live music venues. It also had a much more DIY attitude about comedy. That was really inspiring to me, and also turned me on to Bamford. She has been my favorite ever since.

DMSC: You grew up in Ames, Iowa and have performed with many theater companies in Des Moines, including Stage West and Repertory Theater of Iowa. Can you give me three important lessons performing in Des Moines taught you, either about yourself or your art?

RUSSELL: I would say there is an absolute wealth of talent in Des Moines. And I think that people get this idea that in order to see good theater you have to go to New York or Chicago or Kansas City or the Twin Cities, and you don’t. There is a hum going on every single weekend [in Des Moines]. Also on top of that I’ve done a lot of [public relations] in Des Moines and the media outlets are open to covering events. I did marketing last year in October and I worked with Michael Morain [of The Des Moines Register] to create this big layout on comedy in Des Moines. If you’re willing to work hard and put in the effort you can get a lot done in Des Moines as an artist.

DMSC: What is one piece of advice you would give to your 16-year-old self?

RUSSELL: I have a personal mantra that I have developed the last couple of years. So I would probably give that to her early. “Work hard. Work smart. Make friends.”

DMSC: If you had to convince someone to come this show how would you do it?

RUSSELL: Well it’s an all-women’s comedy show, supporting women, and supported by women. That’s why I would go.

DMSC: What’s your drink of choice?

RUSSELL: Water. Americans are chronically dehydrated and I’m doing my part to combat that.


Molly Bartlett, a comedian from Omaha


Sarah Mattox
Comedian Sarah Mattox in a performance


Sarah Mattox, a comedian based in Des Moines