Voyage ATL interview with Sam Gordon

Check out the article on Voyage ATL here

Today we’d like to introduce you to Sam Gordon.

Thanks for sharing your story with us Sam. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
I always knew I wanted to be a performer but it took a long time to figure out how I wanted to do it. In grade school, I was part of a children’s musical theater troupe where I played the evil queen in pretty much every fairy tale and when I was 14 I started interning at a local radio station in the Chicago suburbs. I spent about six years doing radio, freelance music reviews and interviewing bands when one day, I stopped seeing bands every weekend and started hanging out at comedy shows instead. I was just a super fan that didn’t think I could ever write my own set until an OkCupid date took me to an open mic (which to this day it is the bravest thing I have ever witnessed)  and I decided that if they could do it, so could I. The date didn’t work out but a few days later I went to two open mics in one night and now I have been doing stand-up for almost 5 years.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc. – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
I have been lucky enough to have had more highs than lows but like any woman trying to break into a male-dominated industry, it has been challenging. Comedy is full of people who don’t think women belong and over the years, I have burned bridges with a handful of venues because of sexist behavior and poor responses to harassment. But the great thing about comedy is that even the most important venue in a city is only important in that particular city. There will always be other places to perform and even though it felt like a loss at first, I’d rather lose negative spaces and make the effort to work in venues that make everyone feel respected.

So let’s switch gears a bit and go into the Windy Peach Comedy story. Tell us more about it.
Windy Peach is a comedy resource made up of live shows, comedy classes and original video content that I created after moving to Atlanta from Chicago. Through Windy Peach, I run an open mic, teach comedy writing classes with Highwire Comedy Co. and run several comedy shows. It also produces Sam Gordon Vs, a monthly talk show where I go “head to head” with a subject using live segments and video sketches. I recently partnered with Don’t Tell Comedy, a pop-up comedy show based out of L.A. that creates secret shows all over the country and Windy Peach just launched Peach Pitch, a free writers workshop for aspiring comedy writers to bounce ideas off of each other, collaborate and socialize. I sincerely believe that a rising tide floats all ships and using my resources to build up the comedy community is my main priority.

Has luck played a meaningful role in your life and business?
Most of what I have accomplished as a comedian has been a combination of luck and being ready. There is a saying that success is where preparation and opportunity meet and the longer I try to “make it” as a comic, the more I see how that is true. There is no clear path to becoming a successful comedian and the only thing you can actually control is your work. It can be incredibly discouraging but if you keep making things you care about and putting them out there, people will notice. Luck factors into which opportunities come along but it’s useless to be lucky if you aren’t prepared to deliver.

As far as bad luck… well, the two years before I moved to Atlanta were two of the most challenging and unlucky years of my life. I lost a friend, got fired from four different jobs, had a breakup and was sexually assaulted by another comedian. That bout of bad luck made me a lot more empathetic and has been part of my motivation curate a safer comedy community. As hard as those experiences were, they were also a catalyst for me to reclaim the direction my life was going and move on to bigger things.

Contact Info:

Your "lady bits" aren't dirty.

I used to avoid talking about periods, sex, or my body in general onstage- what if everyone found out I was a girl?!
Finding your voice in stand-up as a woman is frustrating because the female comedian stereotypes are: clever and depressed or filthy and promiscuous. And with the way we already judge women, whatever you’re wearing is going to dictate which one you are before you even tell a joke.  
For a lot of people, jokes just about physically being a woman are lumped in with “cheap” sexual humor, which is frustrating because writing about gender is so different from writing about sex.
They say to “write what you know” but when it comes to female experiences it's more, “write what you know, except for that...that’s gross.”
I had a hard time navigating between being a comedian and a woman, because a lot of people think the two are mutually exclusive and I am desperate people pleaser. I don’t think I told my first period joke until 2 years into doing stand-up. (It was something terrible like, “I don’t know why there aren’t more female rappers, most girls have a strong flow by age 12.”)
I even used to shy away from female comedians that talked about sex because the people around me told me that wasn’t funny and I believed them. Now that I’m older and a little wiser I see the difference between things that are not funny and the people that say they aren’t. Because I’ve watched set after set where a woman gets snarky comments over sex jokes that, had their male peers written, would have crushed. I’ve been approached at shows by other women who introduce themselves to me just so they can say, “You know, I usually don’t like female comedians, but you were funny!” while their husband silently nods along. I’ve been in a conversation about people’s aversion to female-focused comedy and there’s always some guy who says it isn’t about what we’re saying, it’s how we say it. But I’ve watched plenty of my female peers toe that line with such hilarious poise and I’ve seen a man walk on-stage at a club naked except for a sock on his penis, so I’m going to go ahead and say we have no idea where the line actually is.

In the spirit of this post, here are some of my “dirtiest” jokes:

  • Why do they call periods a “monthly visitor” when they feel more like a “home invasion”?

  • They say that the best way to get over someone is to get under someone else, but what if I like being on top?

  • I slept with a Philosophy grad student and now I can’t stop asking myself, “Why?”

  • Dating a guy who sleeps on an air mattress is tough because you’re always trying to finish before the bed does.

  • They say the eating habits you have as a kid affect your diet as an adult but I don’t remember eating pussy as a kid.

  • When I was a kid I hated getting my ass chewed out but now that I’m an adult I love it.

  • I’m bisexual but I prefer to be called a lesbiand.

  • Have you ever been so hungry that when the food comes, so do you?

Wanting validation is a valid feeling

On a local level, the entire stand-up industry operates through social media, which means it only takes me about 3 minutes of scrolling through any given timeline before I feel like a failure. I click past image after image of people I know getting spots I didn’t or worse, spots I did once, but haven’t been invited back for in a while (did I do something wrong? Are they mad at me?). I often wonder if any other business besides entertainment is this mutated version of a workplace and a social life where your professional success almost entirely hinges on your social clout. Social media shows you who is hanging out with who and within a few weeks, also serves as a record of who is booking who. It’s how you find out about open spots, promote your shows and in general, it’s the one place you keep evidence to show everyone else that you’re a comedian. For a long time I convinced myself that it’s important to keep track of it but now I’m starting to see how all the keeping up and comparing are bringing me down.

It’s kind of like that feeling you get when you go out to eat and once the food comes, you realize what your friend ordered looks way better than what you got. It’s like, sure, this is what I wanted but now that I see what they’re eating, I wish I had something else. Sometimes it feels like you are at the same restaurant but somehow they’re getting an All-You-Can-Eat buffet while you’re stuck eating a side salad. Right now, the meal I’m eating looks really great on the menu: I’m getting booked on great shows, I’m running my own rooms, I’m making money directing and teaching comedy- I’m practically an entree, baby! I’m eating well and I should be happy but I’m not because it feels like I’m eating alone.

I’m pretty independent but moving to a new city to do something as simultaneously social and anti-social as comedy has left me feeling needy. After two years of living here, I still feel like I’m orbiting the scene instead of being pulled into it because I have met a ton of people but don’t feel like I’ve gotten to really know anyone and that’s a lonely feeling. Friends are the leafy greens and high fiber that you need to thrive but I feel like my soul is eating fast food every day. It feels lethargic and cranky and even though I know it’s bad for me, I’m still gorging myself on junk food like Facebook likes and spots on shows. My social diet is made up of tiny sugar rushes that make me feel accepted followed by huge crashes when I see someone who seems like they’re better off. Without the filter of friend’s voices to build me up, I’m constantly comparing my success to others and cutting it down until it doesn’t feel like an achievement anymore. It makes me feel very stupid because I’m over here starving for validation from my peers but if I would just accept it from myself I could feel so full right now. But it’s hard to validate yourself. It’s much easier to listen to the meanest part of who you are, that total dick that lives in the back of your brain and feeds you Big Macs, and promise that your new diet starts tomorrow.


Popular is not the same as good

I have lived in two different comedy scenes and spent time traveling through dozens of others and I’m here to tell you: The best local show in your town is just the best local show in your town- so don’t freak out if you’re not on it. Every city has a show that becomes the goal of new comics. A show that is "the best" and acts as some marker that tells people, “You’re in, kid!”.
It’s easy to get caught up in the culture that surrounds shows like that because if feels good to be part of what is popular. The downside to these shows is that more often than not, we are having too much fun to recognize shitty behavior until something bad happens.
Because sometimes those local heroes running the best show in town are not so great.

Some shows are run by ignorant people, like someone who still doesn’t get why their joke about a black trans school shooter isn’t working. [a real joke someone decided to write]

Some shows are run by shady people, like someone who gets paid but won’t pay their performers. [a real thing you will experience until you quit comedy or die]

Some shows are run by gross people, like someone who rarely books women and when they do, introduces them as, “a beautiful lady that would never fuck me, but did in my dream last night!” [a real thing that was said about me as I went onstage]

Some shows are run by struggling people, like someone who isn’t dealing with their drinking problem and you watch basically almost die every week. [a real thing you shouldn’t ignore if you notice it.]

Sometimes the person running the show does something truly fucked up, like physically harm another person-level fucked up. Usually this comes after all the other things we ignored because no one thought it was their place to say something. It’s complicated to navigate comedy scenes because they are a space with a lot of unwritten rules. Half of us treat it like a frat and the other half treats it like a job but either way, there isn’t anyone to report to. Bad behavior slips through the cracks all the time because who wants to be the person complaining about everyone’s favorite show?

There are shows I stopped supporting because of the things I see happening at them and for a long time I was anxious that it would hurt my success, but the thing I have learned is...it didn’t. Every show that has a booker I’m at odds with over their sexual harassment, their racist jokes, whatever it may be, is still running their show and I am still telling my jokes. We just don’t do it together.

My point is: Just because a place is popular doesn’t mean it is a space you have to support. Don’t be afraid to confront bad behavior and if you’re scared to, try bringing it up to a peer first. More often than not, they have also noticed and maybe together you can do something about it. There will always be people using their position to get away with stuff and just because you can’t guarantee it will stop doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try. If it doesn’t work and some sad loser that treats people poorly gets mad at you, there will always be other shows, so don’t just settle for cool shows in your scene, demand that they be good ones too.


A Running List of Things I Would Report if Comedy had an HR Department:

Things I would report if comedy had an HR department:

(In chronological order)

(2014) The drunk male comic who mistook me trying to get him to sober up for flirting and ended up putting his hands up my dress to touch my crotch and the female comic who told me "You just have to avoid him."

(2014) The comic who whispered perverted things in my ear before I went on at a mic and when I called him out on-stage, whispered even worse things into my phone, recording over my set.

(2015) The club owner who always touched my lower back or thigh when he talked to me, depending on whether we were sitting or standing.

(2015) Whoever roofied the drinks at the house show I used to run (because the police didn't take it seriously).

(2015) The man who tried to film up my dress while I was onstage & his friend who fought me when I took his phone to delete the videos.

(2016) The showrunner who paid the two men I was traveling with but not me even though we all did the same amount of time.

(2017) The male comic who sexually assaulted me in my own bed & the woman who told people my assault was fake.

(2017) The show-runner who told me that I "just didn't know him" when I said his kisses hello made me uncomfortable. (Which, by the way, was exactly why I was asking him to stop.)