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: 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

Time spent doesn’t always equal experience earned

You will meet an endless amount of people whose biggest credit is that they’ve “been doing comedy for (some number) of years.” This is information to be taken with a grain of salt.
The amount of time someone has done comedy does not solely speak for their ability and someone’s ability does not always reflect how long they’ve been doing comedy.  Appreciate the people who have put in the work for a long time but do not bow to anyone just because they’ve been around forever.
When I started doing stand-up someone told me that I wouldn’t get booked on anything that mattered for at least a year and I believed them. That seemed like a reasonable amount of time to have to work on being good enough for something, especially when someone who had done comedy longer than I had said so. But what ended up happening was that I worked really hard and I asked for opportunities instead of waiting for them. (More on that here.)
When I was around 7 months into stand-up I booked a gig doing 5 minutes of material to open for a national headliner at a club. I came home proud of myself for my accomplishment but within days I felt like I had done something wrong. People asked me, “How did you get that?” with a heavy inflection on the “you”. One person accused me of having a romantic relationship with the male comic that was hosting the show and said that must have been why I got the spot. The same thing happened the first time I got booked to do 20 minutes. I think I was about 2 years in at the time and once again this accusation of, “How did YOU get that?” made me wonder if maybe I didn’t deserve the things I had been given.

I spent a lot of that first year letting comics that had been around longer than me give me bad advice because I assumed they knew better. Once I posted a clip from an open mic set that I was proud of (In hindsight it wasn’t really that good but I was proud and who cares?) and another comedian told me it was stupid to post that on my blog because if anyone saw it they would think I was being too cocky for a new comic and wouldn’t like me. I had people tell me not to make a website or market myself because I wasn’t good enough to have a website or be marketed. All of these people were people whose opinion mattered to me greatly because I wanted “in” but none of those people are people who ended up actually affecting my career. You know what did affect my career? Having a website to refer people to. Having a clip available to send out when I wanted to book shows or submit to festivals. Having the ability to look at the results I was getting as a performer and to decide for myself what my value was.

While you try to find your footing as a comic,  you have to learn a lot. If you're any good you will never stop learning new things about being funny. Don't underestimate your own experience or let anyone make you feel inferior just because they’ve been at open mics a year longer than you or some other inconsequential qualifier. Every single comic is in a constant state of growth and anyone who tells you they’ve reached their final form is a liar. (They probably aren’t very funny either.)

“Ask not what the booker can do for you, ask what you can do for the booker”

    If the comedy community had an FAQ page, “How did you get that?” would be at the top of the list right after, “Who books that?”. In the last year I’ve gotten booked more than ever and it's no coincidence that it also the year when I started asking about the shows I wanted to be on instead of waiting for them to notice me. I know asking isn’t always a popular thing to do. When you’re new and untested, it takes a certain level of hubris to demand to be booked before you’ve shown that you have the skills to back it up. But in my experience, asking for what I want professionally has always yielded more better results than not.

Before I did comedy I worked in the music industry interviewing bands and reviewing albums. Before I worked in the music industry I was a person that wanted to work in the music industry but wasn’t sure how to break in. I started by writing an email to a local radio station that played the kind of music I wanted to write about and asked if they would consider me for an internship. I was 15 …and there wasn’t an actual internship that I was applying for, but I knew that I wanted to be part of what they were doing at 98.3FM. I pitched an idea for what I wanted to do, why I thought I would be great at it and when I was available to begin doing it. I got lucky and the right person read my email and over the next several years I worked my way from intern to full-time host. Once I had honed my industry skills a little, I knew I wanted to interview bigger bands and review major release albums. When I was 19 I started a blog that next to nobody read but I just kept posting, 2-3 times a day. Eventually that blog became the portfolio of writing I submitted to major publications and by 21 I was freelancing for people that were big enough to grant me access to the major names I wanted to sit down with.

I’ve approached comedy pretty similarly: I decided I wanted to do it, I found ways to practice and once I felt confident, I started asking the people to consider me for opportunities. As silly and fun as comedy is, if your goal is to do it at any level beyond open mics, you have to treat it like a job- and it is pretty rare to get a job that you don’t apply for.

If you have been doing the work and consistently developing your act at open mics, but haven’t gotten booked on a show, more than half of the time it is probably less that you’re not funny enough and more that the person running it just hasn’t seen you yet. Even in the smallest comedy scene, there are a lot of faces that cycle in and out and it is ridiculous to expect everyone to pay attention to your growth specifically.
In my experience the people that book rooms are much more likely to consider your booking request if they’ve seen you watch their show before. Comedy is often a give and take in this way but it is important to remember that attending a show is not a bargaining chip. You don’t get to say, “Well I came to your show so now you have to put me on.” but you do get to say, “I think your show is great and I would love to be part of it. What can I do to be considered?”.  Try striking up a non-booking related conversation with them in person and then send a polite follow up message thanking them for the good time and expressing your interest. There is a huge difference between putting a show runner on the spot and asking, “When are you going to book me?” and submitting your work for their consideration.
You can also try to get booked from the inside- if you see a show of comedy festival posting about needing volunteers, offer your help. Shows often need someone to work the door, to help set up chairs, to post flyers- there is a ton of work that goes into running a successful show. Offering your help in this way not only gets you face time with people who can book you, it shows your investment in the making the show a success and your respect for what the show-runner is doing.

After you have made a connection with the host or show-runner, try to get in touch with them through the show’s booking email or social media account. If they makes themselves easy to connect to on social media, following them isn’t a bad idea, just don’t stalk people who barely know you- it is not a good look. A great message to send a show you have already been out to support goes something like this:

Hey (Show-Runner’s Name),
(Name of show you saw) was so much fun last night, you run a really great room! I would love to work with you in the future-do you accept video submissions?
Thank you,
(Your first and last name)

Final recap: Be present and pleasant. If you're actively trying, are funny and cool to work with, you're going to get booked- eventually. It's always nice to be invited to do a show but if you sit around waiting for people to discover you, you’ll be doing a lot more sitting than stand-up.