Comedian Isabel Hagen Adds a Classical Touch With Viola

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Comedy and music are a natural mix, but not the way Isabel Hagen does it.

She takes the stage with a viola – an instrument rarely seen outside of a symphony orchestra or a string quartet – and occasionally plays an interlude between jokes.

It’s a classy way to cleanse the comedy palate that also brings together two of her talents.

Hagen will make her Mahoning Valley debut this weekend, with a show at Riser Tavern on The Links on Friday, and two more at the Funny Farm Comedy Club on Saturday. She’ll definitely bring her viola.

The New York City native – she grew up in Manhattan – started playing the violin at age 5. She switched to the viola when she was 10.

“My mom thought I would get more opportunities with the viola,” Hagen said in a phone interview. “Plus, I had a crush on a boy who played it.”

Hagen wound up loving the viola and stuck with it. She earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in viola performance from the prestigious Juilliard School in New York.

She has since played in the orchestra for several productions on Broadway, including “Les Miserables,” “Fiddler on the Roof” and “Rocktopia” – the classical music-rock mashup created by Randall Craig Fleischer, the late music director of the Youngstown Symphony Orchestra.

Hagen has also toured internationally and worked with numerous artists, including Björk, Max Richter, The National and Steve Reich.

But she also long harbored a love for doing stand-up. Hagen took her first steps onto a comedy club stage shortly after graduating Juilliard.

She had other reasons for going into comedy.

“I had problems with repetitive stress syndrome,” Hagen said. “Plus, I didn’t think music could be sustainable and I always loved comedy, so I went to an open mic night.”

She was working as a freelance musician at the time and, therefore, had time to pursue both fields.

Hagen still gets gigs playing in recording sessions for musical artists, but the comedy side is taking over. Her career took a big step forward when she appeared on “The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon” on March 12, 2020 – the day before the COVID pandemic shut down live entertainment for months – and made a return appearance in October.

She’s been touring the club circuit ever since the pandemic restrictions went away.

For now, Hagen is still in that narrow sliver where stand-up comedy and classical music overlap. But she is developing a third interest: filmmaking. Hagen has already made a series of short films that she wrote, directed and acts in, and has posted them on YouTube.

“Those were my introduction into filmmaking,” she said of the films, which she collectively calls her “Is A Violist” series.

The films are each only a few minutes in length. While couched in dry humor, they also evoke a sense of poignancy or helplessness. 

Hagen has already started developing a feature-length film.

“I’m definitely interested in more sincere storytelling, while keeping the humor in it,” she said. “I’m interested in writing, directing and acting.”

She has written a script and has assembled a team of producers and part of the cast. Hagen wouldn’t reveal the plot details but said filming will take place in spring and summer if she has funding in place.

Hagen will perform at 8 p.m. Friday at Riser Tavern on The Links in Columbiana; and at 7:15 p.m. and 9:15 p.m. Saturday at The Funny Farm Comedy Club, downtown Youngstown.
Tickets are $20 (plus fees). To purchase, click HERE.

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