Don't just roll with the punchlines

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

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.

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Your "lady bits" aren't dirty.

I used to avoid talking about periods, sex, or my body in general onstage because, what if everyone found out I was a girl?!
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 sexuality.
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’m embarrassed to say that I 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 hilarious poise and I’ve seen a man walk on-stage at a club naked except for a sock on his penis, so you tell me who is being alienating their audience with their “bits”.

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?

  • When a guy asks me where I want him to cum I like to make a fun joke and say, “to dinner with my parents!”.

  • 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.

  • 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 life. 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 was 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. It’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, promising 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.