I’ve been doing stand-up for two years. Which is nothing. It’s a blink of an eye. To be performing at a truly high level in comedy, you either need to be a comedic genius, which I am not, or you need to put in years of regular stage time. I am green, I am local, I am an amateur. My perspective is limited by all of these things, but this doesn’t stop me from having opinions. About a year ago, I almost wrote a blog post about it. For the life of me, I can’t remember who it was, but I told somebody the things I was planning on writing and he said, “Yeah, don’t do that.” It was a guy friend outside of comedy, but I remember his eyes growing wide with horror and, at the time, as a greener, even more local and more amateurish comic, I felt the fear of overstepping my bounds. I didn’t write the blog post. A year later, I still hold all the same opinions, but a new attitude. That attitude is, “Screw it.”
The reason this comes up is because a friend posted this Buzzfeed article about what female comics are sick of hearing. To me, this list contains two things. Genuine disrespect that should not be tolerated and oversensitivity. To be disrespected sucks, no doubt about it. That said, in two years of doing shows at a pretty breakneck pace, I’ve only had two negative experiences with bookers. They were disgusting experiences to be sure, but in my opinion, one event per year is fairly rare. I’ve seen African-American comic friends deal with some pretty disgusting racism at about the same rate. So, I don’t know. Sometimes human nature is terrible. Whether you’re a woman or African-American or fill-in-the-blank, sometimes you catch hell just because you’re in the wrong spot at the wrong time. It doesn’t strike me that female comics have it worse than other minority groups in comedy, and I have no doubt random white guys have awful experiences dealing with terrible people, too, for equally stupid reasons.
I can only speak to my scene and my experience, of course. Greenville, SC is my comedy hometown, but I like to think I’m an adopted daughter of Asheville, NC. I’ve spent some time in Columbia, SC, Atlanta, GA, and now Charleston, SC, too. On the road, I found Seattle, WA to be incredibly welcoming and awesome. New York City was tough but fair. Madison, WI was a delight. Louisville, KY – wonderful. Knoxville, TN – freaking amazing. I could go on, but long story short – comedy has treated me far better than any other community I’ve ever been a part of. I don’t feel like I stated that strongly enough. Comedy has treated me so much better than any other community I’ve ever been a part of.
That’s where I’m coming from. A place of gratitude. I’ve had jobs where I ran into disgusting treatment three times a week, so two times a year is a massive improvement. Reading those complaints on Buzzfeed, I briefly considered the idea that these women had really easy lives before becoming comedians. But then I remembered they were comedians, so that couldn’t be it.
I also thought to myself, “Maybe they’re in a particular skeezy scene and they’re dealing with scumbags all the time.” I have no doubt those environments exist and any woman trying to work within them has my genuine sympathy. But if their scenes are anything like mine I can’t help but think, How can you be that oversensitive and be a comic? I don’t get it. Isn’t comedy the antithesis of oversensitivity? I also think, Why are you choosing this way of being? Because make no mistake – it’s a choice. You can choose to take umbrage over being given the compliment, “You’re funny and hot!” Or you can say, “Thanks!” I promise you, any male comic who is either too skinny or too fat and is definitely too weird for the world would be totally stoked to get off stage and hear a female fan say, “You’re funny and hot!” Yeah, I get it, women get oversexualized and blah, blah, blah but isn’t that a bummer to choose to feel that way? To look for your victimhood and hold onto it with both hands like that?
Perhaps it’s a fear of genuine disrespect that pushes them into having their guard up, so they might protect themselves from a slippery slope that ends in a bad experience. But isn’t it easy enough, as human beings, to know where others are coming from? It seems to me it is. I’ve never struggled to distinguish these things. If it’s coming from a bad place, I feel it in my gut. If it’s not coming from a bad place, I’m not bothered. The thing is, when we choose oversensitivity and then take it one step farther and choose to make it the world’s problem that we’ve become oversensitive, it results in everybody feeling the need to be careful. And what fun is that? Especially in comedy. We’re here to play, after all.
This list also includes the complaint that someone dare question the idea that a woman got on a show because she’s a woman. Spoiler alert – plenty of women have gotten onto shows because they’re women. I know I’ve gotten on shows because I’m a woman. Frankly, I couldn’t care less how opportunity arrives at my door, I’m taking it and running with it. My favorite thing about this complaint is its flip side – complaining about a show that’s nothing but men. As somebody who has put together shows myself, let me tell you, being a woman doesn’t hurt. When you’re creating the line-up you don’t want five white guys who are all the same age and coming from the same perspective. That’s a boring show. I always want to see a variety of comics, both in comedic style and in perspective. Being a woman instantly provides an unusual perspective on account that less than ten percent of comics are female. The fact is, sometimes women who are talented but green, or frankly just plain bad, get on shows because it’s an easy way to add diversity to the poster. Why pretend otherwise? “We are men of action, lies do not become us.” (My favorite line from The Princess Bride.)
About that ten percent thing, by the way. I figure, 90% of men who try comedy are terrible at it. The vast majority who try it fall by the wayside, and few ever graduate into a state of being such that I would say, “that guy’s a comic.” I think the numbers are the same for women. But because women stick out at an open mic, you remember her because she wasn’t good, whereas you forget the hundreds of generic young white guys who came and went. This, I believe, is where the myth of the unfunny woman comes from within the stand-up community. I do think, though, for reasons I don’t understand, funny women don’t latch on to comedy as easily as funny men. By latch on I mean, become addicted and seek out comedy as though it were the only thing keeping them alive.
I do think for some of them oversensitivity plays a role in why they don’t become addicted. They find the environment hostile because of people saying things like, “I didn’t know women could be funny!” I’ve actually gotten that one from audience members a few times. It’s almost always an older guy. And you know what? There’s a small part of me that sort of smirks at his ignorance, but there’s a much bigger part of me that comes to life and glows after a comment like that. I changed a stranger’s mind about women. How awesome is that? And how cool that the guy was willing to change his mind? And better yet, feel so moved by this change that he feels the need to come tell me he was wrong? Because that’s what that is. It is this very human statement of, “I was wrong,” and even more importantly, “I am glad I was wrong.” Do you know how rare change is? And what a privilege it is to be a part of the process of changing people’s minds for the better? This is the glorious thing about comedy. We get to connect with people in a real and vibrant way. We give them our jokes and our stories and they take us away with them. It is a beautiful alchemy that happens.
Another complaint in the article is about hosts who introduce you as “our next comic is a girl!” This doesn’t bother me at all. For one thing, not since I was born have people been so excited about announcing my gender. “It’s a girl, you guys!” And I figure, if the host hypes me up as a freak show and it keeps one audience member from getting up to get a drink, I’ll gladly take that and consider it a win. Honestly, I don’t know if any of my opinions are “right.” Quite possibly, the women represented on the Buzzfeed list are more morally correct than I am. What I do know is that I look at all of these things like a mercenary. I seek out advantages and find them everywhere I look. I may not be right, but I am having fun. In the end, no matter what scumbags or idiots stand in your way, if your work is undeniable, you put in the hours and you’re willing to ask for success, you will overcome.