Sometimes being a woman in comedy feels like an obstacle. You’re often outnumbered at open mics, on lineups, in positions of power. It’s easy to feel like being female is something you have to overcome in order to be successful but like I said in my post about period jokes, your “lady bits” aren’t dirty, they’re your experience. An experience that at this time in comedy, is still very unique and largely unexplored, especially when it comes to women of color, trans-women, and any other woman people can’t confuse for Amy Schumer.
One of the hardest things for me when I started comedy was being told that I had to just “get over” the bad behavior of the men around me because they were there first. My 3rd month at open mics there was a very drunk comedian who wouldn’t leave me alone and the host told me to just ignore it because, “he gets like that”. Later that night, the drunk comic cornered me in a booth and put his hand up my dress, something I’d later find out he had done to other girls.
A few months later I told a comedian sitting behind me to stop whispering sexual things in my ear and when I left my phone on the table to record my set, he whispered into the camera that there was nothing I could do to stop him from “beating up that pussy” if he wanted to. The host said, “he’s just joking around.''
Over the years, I would have this experience over and over again: I’d see a man doing something inappropriate, I’d say something, and I’d be told to “get over it”. I’d see all white and male lineups and have people roll their eyes at me when I said it wasn’t right. Someone would say something totally fucked up to me backstage and I’d be told to take a joke, get over it.
It was when I got told to quit coming to the show if I didn’t like how the host touched me ( or said he “fucked me his dreams every night” when he was supposed to be bringing me on stage) that it dawned on me: I was going about this all wrong. Here I was trying to change the way people were, when what I needed to do was change the people. I didn’t need to get over it, I needed to go over their heads.
So, I started my own open mic and it wasn’t until I consistently saw the same dudes week after week that I realized it just how few women there were and because there were hardly any women, these men felt free to tell awful and disturbing jokes about women. And duh, when you have a bunch of unchecked, overly confident young men making jokes about murdering sluts, you have an environment that most women don’t want to spend time in. If women don’t feel comfortable at open mics, how can they grow or be seen enough to get to the next level? I finally understood that instead of fighting to change how things were working at the top, I needed to change how they worked at the bottom. That began with making sure my mic wasn’t a place that rewarded comedians for punching down. I don’t tell people what to say, but I do make sure they know how what they said makes me feel and now there’s a culture at my mic where other people feel empowered to do the same.
My next opportunity came when a theater invited me to teach a stand-up writing class. My first instinct was to teach a women’s comedy class but I decided that one all-female class run by a badass was enough (shout out to Lace Larrabee at Laugh Lab) and it might be more useful to have a woman teaching a co-ed class.
Teaching that class gave me the opportunity to intervene before a guy got it in his head that his “chicks with dicks” joke was pure genius. It gave them the chance to learn where the line was in an environment where not just one person, but a whole class would make sure they didn’t cross it again. Most importantly, it taught the entire group how to speak up, something crucial to changing the “get over it” attitude in our industry.
In addition to all that, now I run several showcases around town, working within a system that allows me to give opportunities to all levels of comedy, while influencing what passes for acceptable behavior within my community. It took some trial and error but I realized the key to overcoming this feeling of otherness isn’t trying to blend in, it’s to stand out. Being visibly true to yourself is like a beacon that calls to other “others” and if you give the signal, little by little you can reshape even the most toxic environment together.
With that said, if you are a person of any background or gender and facing harassment, discrimination or just need an ally, email me: Sam@windypeach.com or visit a Windy Peach Comedy open mic, I promise you’ll be welcome.
Comedy may not have an HR department but that doesn’t mean you don’t have resources <3