Saturday, June 27, 2009

An Open Letter to Lorne Michaels

Dear Lorne,

I was watching an old episode of SNL the other day, one with Maya Rudolph playing Donatella Versace (a classic), and got to thinking about the gender and race of SNL performers. I did a little research.

Of the 35 seasons of SNL and 122 cast members, 31 have been women. And just a mere four have been female minorities. That's pathetic.

Why so few women? You don't seem to subscribe to the belief that women aren't funny. SNL has been home to many top female comedians of this time. Maybe you just don't know enough female comedians. For your sake, let me offer some suggestions.

My Comedian Wish List for SNL:

* Wanda Sykes - A sketch veteren with The Chris Rock Show; granted, she's about to have her own show, so you probably missed the boat.

* Kim Wayans - Wayans has 5 seasons of In Living Color under her belt.

* Christina Anthony - Second City: check.

* Frangela - It's a two for one and in these tough economic times, that's a comic deal! (Granted, they don't really do sketch, but they would be a welcome addition to the lineup. They would make great anchors for Weekend Update!)

* DSI Comedy grads - Bring a little southern charm to SNL! I can vouch for them, I've seen plenty of their shows and my funny bone was tickled without remorse.

*Marina Franklin- Another Chicago gem, also a Last Comic Standing and Chappelle Show alum.

*Melissa Vellasenor- Have you seen this girl's impression reel?

*Garfunkel & Oates - Cooler than sliced bread, with an already large fan base. Large fan base means more viewers, which is really what you want, Lorne. (Oh yeah. I can speak "biz.")

These are just a few suggestions and I know I've left out a lot of people. If you need more women comedians, check out our list on the left-side column of the blog.

Basically, there's really no excuse for the dismal representation of hilarity of the female kind on SNL. You are missing out on a huge demographic and the endless possibilities of new sketches.

Lorne, I know how much you like Kenan Thompson playing Oprah. But don't let it stop you from casting more women. Keep SNL cutting-edge. Feature more ladies.

Yours truly,

It's the Weekend!

Get your "Cats on a Treadmill" on.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Jen Dziura: Spelling out success in comedy

Comedy and spelling have a lot more in common than you think, and Jen Dziura is out to prove just that. As a founder [editor's note- our apologies, bobby blue is the founder] co-host of the Williamsburg Spelling Bee, an intellectual triathlon for adults, the New York native has her sights set on conquering not only the world of academic bees, but that of smarty-pants comedy as well. And with the recent success of her one-woman show, What Philosophy Majors Do After College, waiting in the unemployment line seems like the least likely scenario for comedy's queen bee. Hear what Jen has to say as she checks in with Wisecrack to discuss the correlation between grammar and comedy, getting back on her feet after failure, and Pee-Wee Herman in drag.

Wisecrack: Have you always known you wanted to pursue a career in comedy? Can you name a specific instance in which life drove you to laughs?

Jen Dziura: You know, that's a funny question, because I'm not totally sure what I'm doing now is exactly about pursing a career in comedy. I've always felt as though there's a Venn Diagram at play -- there's comedy, and there's my Platonic ideal of being the best possible public version of myself, and there's some overlap in the middle that is my working space.

I saw Sandra Bernhard's "Without You I'm Nothing" on DVD in a Queer Studies class in college, and I think that was pretty formative for me. And then I saw Josh Kornbluth's monologue show about being a math major, but at the time (in college) I was training to be an action adventure star in the movies -- I was captain of the boxing team for awhile, I did martial arts and rock climbing and bodybuilding and wrote a screenplay that I would theoretically star in, about a teenage lesbian superhero.

So it all took awhile to gel and come around to my running an adult spelling bee and telling jokes about philosophy. I can no longer do as many pull-ups as I once could.

W: Is there an inherent relationship between good spelling and good comedy? How are the two connected?

JD: I'm not sure about spelling, but there's a strong correlation between irregular grammar and comedy. For instance, just take a basic joke form such as the "your mom" joke. Compare:

What I love about your mom are (noun), (noun), and (insulting noun).

What I love about your mom are (noun), (noun), and (insulting independent clause).

Both forms have a "surprise" at the end in that the third item in the list does not actually belong in a list of things the speaker loves about the subject, but the first joke template obeys the principle of grammatical parallelism and, despite the nouns chosen, will likely end up only moderately funny; the second violates the conventions of grammatical parallelism, and is thereby already funnier. Try it!

Another good example -- the other day, I made some vegan ravioli for myself, and they were kind of hideously green, due to some kind of spinach pasta situation. Also, they had come apart in the pot a little bit and were leaking things like peas and beans. My boyfriend looked over and said, "Oh look, you made boiled terribles!"

It was such a funny comment because "terrible," of course, isn't a noun. I don't think "boiled disasters," for instance, would have been as funny at all; a great part of the humor was in the surprising (and technically incorrect) diction.

W: You seem to have a wide-ranging array of interests, from comedy to martial arts to nearly every facet of academia. Can you describe the process by which you brought all of these things together to formulate a bankable career?

JD: Well, thank you for assuming that I masterminded the whole thing! I think it was quite a bit more haphazard than that. And it involved a lot of failing. I failed at running a dot-com, I failed at shopping around a screenplay, I failed at making a living as an art school model, I failed at holding a 9-5 job, I failed at getting myself into the traditional comedy club system.

I also tried a lot of things that didn't stick. The martial arts didn't stick. Some other things I've tried that didn't stick include skydiving and lesbianism. (No connection).

Somewhere in the middle of all the failing, when I was living in East Harlem in one of those hallways that people cordon off with a shower curtain and rent out as a bedroom (welcome to New York!), someone asked me to host an adult spelling bee. That was in 2004. And I've been doing that every other Monday since then. The high-water mark may have been when the New York Times ran a story about the bee on the front page of the style section, and that night, Bill Maher made fun of us on his show. It was in the "New Rules" segment -- as in, "New Rule: Adults must stop acting like children. The kids are going to spelling bees in bars!" I think the low-water mark was when Law and Order: Criminal Intent put out a casting call for, um, an actress to play a "female 20-something host of an adult spelling bee in a Brooklyn hipster bar." Seriously. I sent them something ("You know, I could just make a cameo as myself -- ever hear that story about the time Charlie Chaplin entered a Charlie Chaplin lookalike contest and came in third?") but didn't get anywhere. Finally, the episode came out, and of course it was awful. As in, the Brooklyn "hipsters" had bleach-blond gelled hairdos and earnestly said things like, "I just want to ROCK, man!" In other words, they were straight out of a 1987 Pop Tarts commercial on Nickelodeon. I never did get to see who they cast as me, because the spelling bee scene had been cut -- there was just a mention that the "hipsters" had attended a spelling bee before one of them was murdered. Jeff Goldblum got to be all, "Kids these days! Spelling bees! Pshaw!"

Anyway, the spelling bee happened and became very popular, and then I started running geography, math, trivia, and vocabulary tournaments for adults, and somehow word got around the internet that I tell a lot of grammar jokes, and then I was in a pilot for a show on the Sci Fi Channel that didn't get made, and every once in awhile something awesome would happen, like the time I had this piece on McSweeney's that was getting a lot of hits, and then someone posted it on, and then someone trying to be mean commented that I look like "Pee -Wee Herman in drag" and I said, "Oh my god, it's true!" It was a great feeling, like finding a long-lost twin. But a twin with his own playhouse!

Keep in mind, though, that this all happened really, really slowly, over a period during which I couldn't help being aware that I am aging, as are we all, and that Hollywood cares about this sort of thing an awful lot. I'm waiting to get some really good crow's feet so I can have diamonds embedded in them. Don't steal my idea!

So, no master plan. I just realized, over years of trying things, that I am good at hosting intellectual game shows and being nice to people even when they get the answers wrong, and that I'm good at telling jokes for smart, polite people. If I could just tour from library convention to library convention ... oh, a girl can dream!

W: What is your favorite word to spell, and why?

JD: For years, one of my favorite words was "apropos," because I learned that word as a young teenager from a translation of Dostoevsky's "Notes from the Underground" in which the book's second part is called "Apropos to the Wet Snow." Could that possibly have also rhymed in Russian?

Here are some of my favorite words from the Williamsburg Spelling Bee:

chionablepsia - snow blindness
rhinorrhagia - nosebleed
horologium - timepiece
discalced - barefoot, especially of a monastic order
poetomachia - an Elizabethan "War of the Theaters"
kakidrosis - smelly perspiration

Of course, that last one shares a root with:
kakistocracy - rule by evil men

Which reminds me a bit of:
hecatontarchy - rule by one hundred rulers

Which reminds me that this word is not "rule by eight rulers," which would instead be "octocracy":
ochlocracy - mob rule

And then there are the classics: lepidopterology, triskadecaphobia, trichotillomania, rhododendron, hyacinthine, hippopotamian. For the literature buffs: Lilliputian, Brobdingnagian, quixotic. Many of the hardest words are not from Romance languages: schipperke, aebleskive.

And if I'm going to go all meta on your ass: sesquipedalianism.

W: Ten years from today, what is the life of Jennifer Dziura going to look like?

JD: Hopefully no chionablepsia, rhinorrhagia, kakistocracy, etc.

In comedy, I'm really moving away from telling 15 minutes of jokes here and 15 minutes of jokes there.... I'm just going to develop one big show every six to twelve months, and do that show a few times, and then go back inside my head for a few months. I admire people like Mike Daisey, who do just that. Spaulding Gray's "Swimming to Cambodia" was really seminal for me. Of course "seminal" is a pretty gross word. And it's funny, I've donated eggs -- maybe I should insist that creative works that really influenced you be referred to as "ovoid." Of course, that just means "egg-shaped," which, in virtually all cases of seminal works, is simply not true.

The going back inside my head business is really crucial for me, and I've come to terms with the fact that stand-up comedy does not create a huge overlap on the Venn Diagram with what I know my mission to be. I've never been one of those comics who needs to be on stage five nights a week. I'm going to save it all up -- you can come watch me once or twice a year. It'll be more special that way. You'll be more likely to buy me alcohol when it's over, because of the extra specialness. Hmmn, you know what's never happened? Cute young men don't come up to me after the show and ask me to autograph their chests. I would like to autograph some chests. I just realized that that's a goal.

My current one-woman show is called, "What Philosophy Majors Do After College." I'm doing it August 7th in New York at The P.I.T., and then taking it on the road. Then, a book, a comedy CD.... Over the next ten years, I'd like to do a live show a year or so, and do more projects for television, hosting a reality show or variety show, ultimately landing a talk show. (Have I mentioned that Dick Cavett is a national treasure? That's what I mean when I say "talk show.") I'm going to have some kids who are really good at spelling. And a nanny who makes mimosas.

Also, I just moved into this Wall Street apartment that has a 25th-floor balcony, and I put a hammock on that balcony, and every time I lie on the hammock and look up the side of my 50-story building, I imagine that Batman's on his way, which I think can only be a plus for my creative process.

Read more from Jen in her McSweeney's pieces:

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Laurie Kilmartin On Balancing Motherhood and Setlists

(Photo by froggygrl727)

By Laurie Kilmartin, Originally posted on Babble

It was 8:45 PM on a Saturday night and the babysitter was not here. I had to be onstage, telling jokes at a New York City comedy club, at 9:15. I'd already left her a voicemail in my high school Spanish.
"Hola, uh, es la mama de William. Donde?"

I would be late for my spot if I didn't leave immediately. I wrapped my one-year-old son in a blanket and ran for the car. The babysitter and I communicated via I would write an email in English and convert it to Spanish. She would do the same, in reverse. I thought we were good for sabado. Damn. Merde?

I had four fifteen-minute sets that night, at three different comedy clubs. My final set ended at about one a.m. In theory, William and I could hang out in the car between spots, but while I was onstage, I'd have to hand him to somebody. I pulled up to the club at 9:12. Five or six comedians were standing out front. Some I knew, some I didn't.

"Hey!" I shouted, flipping on the hazard lights. "Can anyone sit with the baby? I'll pay you twenty-five bucks and I'll be back in twenty minutes." A comic named Maggie slid into the back seat.

"Thanks," I said, handing her the diaper bag. "Now, try not to kidnap him."

"You're no fun," she said. Maggie rode with us for the rest of the night, pocketing about a hundred dollars, which was not much less than me.

This wasn't supposed to be my life. I wasn't going to have kids. When I got pregnant by accident, I was forty and single. But also bored. I took a "Hey, why not?" approach to motherhood. My belly became a prop that I took on the road. We had a good time, the fetus and me. Indiana, Texas, Montreal. We flew to Alaska in my fourth month and L.A. in my eighth. My last show as a non-mom was the night before I delivered. When the baby came, I lost fifteen minutes of material.

And my lifestyle.

Comedians have the best lives. I used to stay up until four a.m. and sleep until whenever. Now, most mornings I wake up like the amnesiac from Memento. I have no idea where I am, or whose child is crying. Next to my bed is a helpful Polaroid of my son, captioned with the words: "You are his mother and his diaper needs to be changed."

William's dad is also a comedian. We took the baby on the road when he was six months old. My boyfriend would do his set, then run back to the green room, where I was waiting to pass him the swaddled baton. The emcee would kill a few minutes onstage until I arrived. It worked because there were two of us.

Now the baby is older, and there's often just one of us.

The boyfriend and I usually work alternate road weeks, but recently we each booked separate gigs during the same week. Neither of us could afford to cancel. We figured it would cost less for me to take William to Michigan than for my boyfriend to take him to North Dakota. I found a sitter online. She came to the hotel at seven p.m. I debriefed her on her mission as I saw it, which was to keep my son awake for as long as possible so I could sleep in the next morning.

"He's gonna start yawning in an hour. Don't buy into it. If you cave and put him to bed, he's gonna wake up at six a.m. And that can't happen because I will be dead by Sunday. I need you to keep him talking until eleven or so."

"Like, sleep deprivation? For a two-year-old?"

From the tone of her voice, I could tell she was not completely on board.

"Of course not! That's a torture technique. Jeez. All I'm saying is, when his eyes start rolling back into his head, point out the window and yell, 'plane!' That's it. Now, if he happens to spend the next thirty minutes looking for a plane that isn't there, well, that's his choice, isn't it?"

"Uh huh."

"Five or six times over the course of the evening should do the trick. And you don't have to say 'plane' each time. 'Firetruck' works. If you really want to keep him hopping, try 'Daddy.'"

I returned to the hotel at 1 a.m. I'd done two fifty-minute shows. I was tired.

"What time did he go to bed?" I asked.

"A little before eight."

Being home is hard, in a different way. After William was born, I cut back on the road work and took a day job writing for a now-defunct website. We had health insurance and the basic bills were paid. But I was in a frustrating position as a comic. 

Sunday-Thursday spots in New York City don't pay much, or at all. But they are the best shows to try out new material. There is no pressure to kill. And new jokes get fine-tuned for the weekend shows, which do pay. That system worked great before I had a kid. Now, I had to hire a sitter for those nights. And all of a sudden I was out $10-$50 dollars every time I did a set. I went from eight to fifteen development sets a week to about two.

My growth slowed, despite the fact that I had so much more to talk about. The problem was solved for me in January, when the day job ended. Now I'm back on the road, doing long sets where I have plenty of opportunity to sneak in new stuff. The corporate benefits are gone, but so is the stagnation.

And the boyfriend and I have settled into a groove. When we're both in NYC, we perform on alternate weeknights, or one of us will do an early set, and race home so the other can make a late set. We spring for a sitter on weekends and the occasional miercoles o domingo. My schedule's not the same as it was during the non-mom days, but is anything?

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Comedy Equals Puberty Plus Time

Guest Post by comedian Erin Judge

I don’t think most male comedians are sexist. I just think they don’t always know how to react to a woman who, like themselves, is trying to be funny. You know, on purpose. My pseudo-scientific faux-anthropological theories about it go a little something like this: 

We discover our senses of humor around puberty. The development of sex organs and body hair and vocal fluctuations leaves us painfully exposed and uncomfortably aware of ourselves. But at least we can crack jokes about it, deflecting some of those casual humiliations. And we’re finally far enough along to understand adult references – not just sex jokes and drug jokes, but political humor as well. 

The problem with all of this is that puberty is also an almost entirely homosocial time. Boys roll with boys and girls roll with girls. And being funny carries much more weight in male social circles than in female ones. Sure, adolescent girls like a good laugh, but they prefer manipulative Machiavellian back-stabbing triangulating evil drama. While cool girls consolidate their power by capriciously excluding, humiliating, and character-assassinating others, cool boys are the ones with the loudest and most hilariously-timed farts.  

Around middle school, it always seems that girls are much more interested in boys than boys are interested in girls. But in truth – and I’ve only learned this as an adult – boys are so interested in girls that they’re borderline nauseated with terror and embarrassment over it. Everybody always talks about trivial changes in adolescent males, like voice cracking. But the horror that comprises boners and sex dreams and carnal impulses must not be understated. Pre-teen girls develop crushes on the cute boys and the funny boys and the polite boys for all these wholesome, socially accepted, public reasons. Meanwhile, (straight) pre-teen boys are having involuntary X-rated fantasies about these sweet young ladies, and, sadly, sometimes feeling pretty guilty about it. Until boys get a little bit older and feel more control over all that sex stuff, I think it’s just really damn hard for them to let their guard down around their female peers the way they do around other boys. 

I remember being a different kind of girl back then, and I’m sure lots of other female comedians occupied the same strange place in the middle school social hierarchy. I preferred quoting Monty Python to scribbling rumors in slam books. The click of irony and the satisfying rush of cracking a joke thrilled me more than learning how to put on make-up. Maybe all female comics were as inept as I was at female social games back then, but as far as I can tell, we were just smart and uninterested in being particularly sweet or particularly mean. And holy crap, was life frustrating back then! Sure, I could get laughs here and there, but half the time the guys wouldn’t even hear my jokes and would wind up unconsciously repeating them as their own. The popular girls looked at me like I had three heads when they even acknowledged my existence at all. 

Fast forward to the stand-up comedy scene circa today. Male comics tend to be the most successful funny dudes from middle school mixed with the comedy-obsessed nerdy guys. They’re the irreverent geniuses out of the gifted classes or the wisecrackingest (and smartest) kids among the troublemakers. On some level, male comics rely on the skills they acquired in middle school in order to do their jobs and make people laugh. And maybe there’s a teensy bit of regression going on, and maybe they revert to a state of wariness and confusion around females and supreme comfort around an all-male social group.  

Female comics, meanwhile…well, let’s face it. We are still the overwhelming minority in any city’s scene. We have a harder time coming to comedy and a harder time sticking it out long enough to get good because we feel like outsiders and get treated differently. We’re still fighting the same adolescent-era battles to be heard and appreciated for our senses of humor by our male peers and by the community as a whole, now represented by the audience.  

I used to work for a nationally-known comedian, and he asked me not to sit in on writing meetings because he found his male collaborators wouldn’t be as free and open if a female was present. Even now, when some of my (straight) male comic peers tease me, they backtrack or apologize. Worst of all, they can’t tell when I’m teasing them.  

Guys, I know girls are confusing. But do me a favor. Respect us more by “respecting” us less. We’re not in the comedy business to get handled with kid gloves. We’re not wilting flowers who gasp and say “Well, I never!” Trust us. Listen to us. Make fun of us, and we’ll make fun of you, and we can laugh at each others’ jokes and give each other notes and write together and make everybody’s comedy stronger, more relevant, and just plain funnier.  

Oh, and P.S. – If we like you, you’ll know. We’ll hit on you. That’s just the kind of girls we are.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Nia Vardalos on Women and Hollywood

Nia Vardalos (of My Big Fat Greek Wedding fame) recently posted a piece at Huff Post on gender in feature films

A little-known fact: some studios recently decided to no longer make female-lead movies.

Lately, I've been in meetings regarding a new script idea I have. A studio executive asked me to change the female lead to a male, because... "women don't go to movies."


When I pointed out the box office successes of Sex and The City, Mamma Mia, and Obsessed, he called them "flukes." He said "don't quote me on this." So, I'm telling everybody.

...It's called show business for a reason. The theater owners want to make money, and understandably so. My Life In Ruins is the highest testing movie in Fox Searchlight history so we've been given a chance. And, the theater owners said they'll keep the movie in their theaters if people go.

So, women: can we speak up with our wallets?

Her newest film, My Life In Ruins, is now in (some) theaters. 

Vardalos is right- the biz depends on consumer spending.  So don't forget to buy Maria Bamford's new album, see My Life in Ruins, or check out your local women's comedy night.   Not only will you reinforce the fact that there IS a demand for women-led entertainment, but it's also the easiest, most enjoyable activism ever.    

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

THR's "Emmy Roundtable"

The Hollywood Reporter brings together small screen comedic leading ladies Amy Poehler, Sarah Silverman, Christina Applegate, Jane Krakowski, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, and Mary-Louise Parker:

More excerpts over here

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The First Queen of Comedy: Moms Mabley

The extraordinary Moms Mabley performed with Duke Ellington, Count Basie and Cab Calloway, wrote with Zora Neale Hurston, and went on to play Harlem's Apollo more than any other entertainer.  She was the first female comedian superstar, with a career spanning more than sixty years. 

Mabley has quite a background.  Orphaned by the age of eleven, and a survivor of rape, she had given birth to two children who had been put up for adoption before the age of sixteen.  She was forced by her step-father into marrying an older man.  With the encouragement of her grandmother (a former slave, whom she later based her stage persona on), Mabley ran away to Cleveland, Ohio.  Ohio is where she joined the vaudeville circuit and began her stardom. 

Featured in 24 comedy albums, she went on to produce and act in at least nine plays and seven films. By the end of her career, she was making $10,000/week for her stage appearances alone. Cited as a hero and influence by many comedians, she remarked, herself, on how often she saw white comedians sitting at her show with pen and paper in  hand.  She had no problem confronting these material thieves. 

From Moms Mabley's BookRags Biography:

Though Mabley's act may seem stereotypical to some, it was really quite a clever show business ploy. While attractive young women, particularly black women, could show little in the way of intelligence or sexuality without condemnation, "Moms" was safe—a laughable figure of fun. From behind the shabby clothes and mobile toothless grin, Mabley could offer sharp-witted insights and social commentary that would have been unacceptable from a more serious source. Beloved by African-American audiences, Mabley's whole persona was an "in" joke among blacks, and she did not hesitate to focus her scathing humor on whites and their ill treatment of other races. She also demonstrated glimmers of an early feminism with her jokes about old men and their illusions of authority. One of her trademark jokes was, "Ain't nothing an old man can do for me, but me a message from a young man."

I could find just one video clip of Moms Mabley comedy online.  It's not the most biting social commentary, but you do get to see her perform:

 There's some question over whether or not Moms was gay.  Besides "Moms," a hit play in '87, blog posts and a few academic papers, relatively little has been written about her.  What a shame.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Web Comedy Reveiew: Chick Comedy

As the name implies, Chick Comedy features comedy by  women, for women, on a woman-friendly pink, lipstick-kissy background.  Videos include comedy news, stand up performances and solo sketch shows, ranging from amateurs to videos featuring Chelsea Handler, Natasha Leggaro and Melinda Hill.  

The most popular video at Chick Comedy, featuring Anjelah Johnson:

Overall, this is the Cosmo of women's comedy sites: Pretty girls being heteronormative to the max (while making jokes!).   As the women's wing of the site Comedy Time, I'm going to go ahead and posit that it wasn't created by women.  Or anyone under 30 (who says "chick" anymore?).  But it's still nice that it exists.  It gives new comedians a place to be featured and discovered by fans who are bored of Comedy Central's typical dude-itude. 

Sunday, June 7, 2009

"Are Funny Girls Really Funny?"

From Chris McNamara's article "Funny Girls," published today in the Chicago Tribune:

It seems silly to ask, but here goes -- are women as funny as men?

"Yes," confirms stand-up comedian Cameron Esposito. "The difference is in exposure to comedy and gender norms."

In our society, she explained, women are exposed to less comedy (scan the crowd at the next comedy show you attend), they are instructed to be demure and they are often turned off by the entry-level opportunities to get into comedy -- open-mic nights.

The article goes on to talk about Feminine Comique, a women's stand up class in Chicago taught by Cameron Esposito

Quick Thoughts:

1) Go Feminine Comique!  This is what the world needs. 

2) I'm pretty darn sick of articles about adult female comedians including the phrase "funny girl" in the title.  New decree: "Funny Girl" articles will be limited to Streisand or the show Funny Girl itself. 

3) Did we really have to start the article with WAF ("women aren't funny")?  Seriously?  When will we at least pretend to live in a post-WAF society?   That McNamara ends the article with an acknowledgement of "prejudice against women" doesn't negate the fact that he frames the whole story with that notion that it's a big ol' gender battle/women need to constantly prove their comedic worth.  

Friday, June 5, 2009

Weekend Wuv: Marina Franklin

Just For Laughs will be hitting the Windy City later on this month.  Making the homecoming journey will be Chicago's own Marina Franklin (her performance schedule). 

A veteran of Last Comic Standing, and the Chappelle Show, Franklin's most recently featured in the standup documentary "The Awkward Kings" which premiered in NY last weekend:

Have a safe weekend, everybody.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

A Tribute to Marietta Holley

"The female Mark Twain." This is how historians refer to Marietta Holley, if refer to her at all (she was largely forgotten until the 1980's). 

Never heard of writer, activist and humorist Marietta Holley?  Don't beat yourself up.  It doesn't help that she wrote under the name "Josiah Allen's Wife," but still you'd think a former literary celebrity, who sold over 10 million books in the 19th century, would have somehow snuck into our literary canon.   

Holley, born in 1836, began publishing poems under a male pseudonym in the 1860's.  In 1870, she sent a poem to Mark Twain's publisher, Elijah Bliss, who strongly encouraged her to write a book, resulting in the Samantha Smith Allen series.  

In Samantha, Marietta created a character who would talk about women’s rights and women’s lives, particularly in rural districts where life was very hard. To defuse resistance to her radical ideas, Samantha had to be a woman who wasn’t a rabid suffragist.  As a woman who could laugh at herself as well as her husband, Josiah Allen’s Wife was accepted as a moderate thinker by the reading public. 

She died in 1936, having written at least 16 books and many poems and short stories. 

Many things about Holley are remarkable: she was tight with both Susan B. Anthony and Mark Twain.  As a pioneer for women's rights, she was invited to speak to congress multiple times.  She brought social and political criticism to the people through her humorous writing, popular among men and women. 

As an early American humorist and critical thinker, she changed the political landscape of her time and paved the way for the likes of Dorothy Parker and Erma Bombeck.  Marietta, you are gone but not forgotten... at least by a handful of us. 


One of her most popular works, Samantha at Saratoga

Dying to know more about Holley vs. Twain?  Check out Marietta Holley and Mark Twain: 

Cultural-Gender Politics and Literary Reputation by Charlotte Templin 

The Shacktacular Liz Feldman

Liz Feldman, a Brooklynite living in LA, already has quite a 
Liz Feldman." She now hosts Funny or Die's "Shack Talk," 
(essentially a straighter version of This Just Out). Both 
shows feature comedic monologues, interviews with famous 
people, a flashy blue velvet sport jacket and a room full of 
laughing staff members.

If you live near Temecula, California, you can catch Liz in 
person this weekend, hosting the "Pretty Funny Women" 
show... check her myspace for more details.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Women ARE Funny: Notes from a Feminist Male Comedian

Over the last month four different female comedians have spoken with me about the troubles in being a female comedian. One said that comedy was rough for women because club owners, bookers and producers often hit on the comedians, making it difficult for them to rebuff these advances and still get booked on shows. I, occasionally billed as a feminist male comedian, do notice the difficulties women go through in this business. It is harder for women to get booked than it is for men.

In the early eighties when I started going to NYC comedy clubs regularly as a fan, bookers were less likely to hire female comedians. They said that audiences didn't like women comics, that all they did was talk about their periods and complain about men. Some club owners were even quoted as saying that women simply weren't funny enough. It was very rare to see more than one woman in the line-up, even if the show had a dozen comedians.

And unfortunately, when people see a small amount of truth in something, they may believe the whole thing. The small amount of truth being that in fact there was a percentage of working female comics who did talk about their periods and complain about men. Sure, male comics talked about their girlfriends but they were more likely to say "MY girlfriend stinks" whereas the females were saying"ALL men stink" and for an audience there's a difference between the two statements. I'm not her boyfriend but I am a man, and I'm therefore being insulted for my gender.

Some generalizations may have had a bit of truth twenty years ago, but no longer.

It's been my observation lately that at amateur shows and open-mikes in NYC around thirty five percent of the comedians are female (this is more than a guess-- I've been counting). The percentage of professional female working comics is probably much lower. But before the statisticians start calling, I do need to point out that you can't compare the two-- you'd have to look at the proportion of female amateur comics several years ago vs. working comics now (and not just in NYC) because it takes years to go from starting out to making money. And maybe only one percent ever make it to the professional level.

It takes a long time for things to change. Right now one NYC comedy club, Laugh Lounge, is owned and booked by a woman, and the person who first auditions comedians at The Comic Strip is also a woman. Many other clubs have women who book/produce shows. And if you look at who is booked at some rooms, the proportion of women seems to be on the rise. There's no Title IX in comedy, but there are women who are doing all they can to help other women succeed. Change is happening. Not terribly fast, but faster than it would happen without the women in comedy who are there helping other women. But there is a group of people who can help women comedians even more than the bookers and other comedians can. It's you. How can you help? Keep reading.

Some people say that one reason that men are more successful in the business world is that while women tend to seek consensus, men are more likely to try to win people over to their point of view. Genetics? Upbringing? Sexism? A combination of all three? We don't know. I will say this about comedians-- search for comedians on the web and you will discover a lot more male comedians than female comedians, and the men's sites are more likely to have content that draws you in-- as an example, look at my site ( or Steve Hofstetter's ( Of course there are exceptions-- Laurie Kilmartin's website ( is a good example of a woman's comedy website with a lot of content. But only 15% of the comedians choosing to list themselves on are women, and an equally small proportion of the comedians who regularly post blogs, one of the site's most popular features, are women. Marketing is very important in comedy-- the more we promote, the more people we get to shows. And it's putting people in seats that gets us booked.

I've learned that the comedy business is half about being funny and the other half is about people. The business really runs on favors. You gave me a spot last year when I asked for one, so I'll tell my agent about you. You introduced me to this booker, so come open for me on the road. You gave me a ride home when I was sick and it was raining, now I have a TV show so come audition for it. Successful comedians have learned to be nice to other comedians-- more than half their help as they start in the business will come from other comics.

Want to know the reason that comedy clubs put on theme shows such as Latino comics or gay comics? Because they attract an audience. Vote with your feet-- if you see that NYC's Gotham Comedy Club is putting on an all-women show, go to it. If the room is full the owners will notice and put on more of these shows. They'll probably also put more female comics into the regular line-up. If you go to The Comic Strip because Judy Gold or Veronica Mosey or Karen Bergreen is playing, mention how much of a fan you are within earshot of the person at the door. Amateur comedians are told that one step in getting noticed is when the waitresses at comedy clubs start talking about them-- they see a hundred comedians a week and what they say carries some weight. More importantly, if you, a paying customer, let it be known why you went to a show, you will be heard. It's not exactly as scientific as the Nielsen ratings, but it works.

Why aren't female comedians getting their share of TV shows? Where's Laurie Kilmartin's sitcom, or Jessica Kirson's? I don't know. I don't think TV executives are geniuses, and surely they prefer going with what has already worked instead of risking something new, but if the few female-centered shows were drawing in huge ratings, the networks would notice. There seem to be a lot of television shows about young women-- they're all on UPN or WB. How are they doing? Obviously well enough that we're getting more of them. It actually took Fox to put on a number of TV shows about black families (after very few of them on network... "Good Times," "The Jeffersons" and "The Cosby Show" come to mind) and now there are a lot of them. And black people are what, fifteen percent of the country? Women, you're are more than half, and I'm pretty sure you all own televisions.

Why aren't there any women hosting late-night talk shows, traditionally a job given to a stand-up comedian? I don't know. Joan Rivers had a shot at The Tonight Show but she blew it. Frankly I really liked her on Monday nights but I don't know if I could have watched her five nights a week because she was, to me, more of a character than a person I wanted to invite into my home on a regular basis. I would quickly get sick of having so much of her. I would have said the same thing about Rodney Dangerfield, by the way. But perhaps this is still the result of sexism. Possibly women in comedy have to be more character-driven in order to get to the top, and then at the top they're locked into their character. Roseanne and Ellen got sitcoms, but Jay Leno got the comedian's biggest prize. I think he does a fabulastic job and I'm thrilled he buys some of my jokes, but when Johnny Carson retired part of me wanted Rita Rudner to get the job.

A long time ago people said that women would never be TV stars, until Lucille Ball proved them wrong. In the eighties people said that the traditional sitcom was dead because it had been done to death, until "The Cosby Show" showed that the problem was not the sitcom format but simply that we needed better sitcoms. For a long time people said that standup comedy as a TV show or movie theme wouldn't work, until Jerry Seinfeld proved them wrong. Some people even say that Kevin Costner will never be in a movie without baseball. Eventually he may prove them wrong too. There will consistently be number one sitcoms starring women. Maybe even, shockingly, with me, a feminist male, as the head writer of one of them. What will make these shows number one? When you all watch them. That's what made Oprah the Queen of daytime TV. Viewers. It's as simple as that.

And before you go completely batty, remember that while the winners of all three seasons of "Last Comic Standing" were men, not one has a TV show. Pamela Anderson has had how many?

You want more female comics to succeed? Get yourself to their shows. There are thousands of comedy clubs in big cities, in little cities and even occasional professional comedy shows in small towns, all over the United States. Comedy is a business; it runs on money. Your money is your vote. Go out and vote.

Shaun Eli

Feminist Male Comedian (sm)

(Copyright Shaun Eli Breidbart, All Rights Reserved)

This article originally appeared on in 2006.  Republished with permission. 

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Spring Breakdown (2009) Trailer

Rachel Dratch, Amy Poehler, Parker Posey, Will Arnett's Spring Breakdown is available today on DVD and Blu-ray.

Spring Breakdown was mentioned in Lauren's blog a while back. It's receiving mixed reviews, thus far. Anyone seen it, yet? I'm worried that if it's great, I'll be angry that it went straight to DVD and if it's so-so, that will be disappointing.

Obviously, I do want it to be great. And I want it to have been released already in theaters. And I would like a pony.

By the way- rated R?

Reversing Midol's Curse

So recently Lauren and Caitlin posted videos in which comedians Lynne Koplitz and Lauren Ashley Bishop are featured in ads for Midol about periods. Lauren posed the question of whether or not this ad represented progress in our culture's discussion and understanding of periods.

For now, let me just say that this ad represents progress in Midol's advertising strategy. After all, this is a company that used the phrase (imperative?) "Reverse the Curse" to sell their ibuprofen.

I know this isn't exactly comedy-related, but perhaps it is funny in a terrible sort of way that our periods, a very normal, banal occurrence in the life of most women, have been conjured into unmanageable nuisances by advertisers.

And as Midol's very livelihood depends on the way they portray periods, it is no wonder that the company must evolve their advertising for the times, lest we all realize that midol is not any more special than my Walgreen's brand of pain killer.

I go into detail about that marketing campaign here. Please read on if interested:

It’s time to reverse the curse. No, Midol commercials, I don’t mean ending my period. I mean reversing the curse you have conjured up against periods.

Products marketed for women have long cashed in on exploiting women’s fears and insecurities about their bodies. Exaggerating the inconvenience of menstruation is yet another ploy churned out by the pantheon of myth-making advertising bullshit to scare up some dollars. In the meantime, however, talking about periods as though they curse women damages the ultimate feminist goal of achieving equality between men and women.

The whole article can be read here...

Try this incredibly fun, rewarding interactive experience!

Pic by Flickr's Pink Sherbet

Alright folks.  This is an interactive blog post.  Here's what we need you to do:

1.  Look to the left of this column.

2. Scroll down and check out the list of comedians and shows (then come back, we'll wait).

3.  Get upset about who we've neglected to link to.

4.  Leave a comment about who we should include on the list.

5.  Go back and check out some of the phenomenal comedians already listed.

6.  Enjoy some sherbet, like our technicolor tween model.

Monday, June 1, 2009

What is Feminist Humor, Anyway?

When I talk about this feminism and humor project, a considerable number of people shift their glance, squirm a bit.  Sometimes they smile politely and change the subject.  Sometimes they smile and ask what I think of 30 Rock/Roseanne/this one prostitute joke.  Once, a guy tried to bait me into an argument over Andrew Dice Clay.  (My response: "Yeah... I guess his rise was before my time.") More than once, I've been treated to the "Feminism and comedy? Isn't that an oxymoron?" quip.  Zing!  Way to prove you know nothing about feminism.

But you can't really blame people for being confuddled, especially if they're not hip to what feminism actually is, compared to its stereotype: angry, male-hating bra-burners with a not-so-secret agenda to lesbianize our daughters, refinish our garage cabinets and rule the world.  And these people have jokes?

The internet is littered with "Feminist Humor" sites, only adding to the miseducation. These sites feature anti-male or anti-feminist jokes (like this, this, & this).  They were not written or labeled by feminists (we were too busy refinishing our cabinets).  But nonetheless, they reinforce the idea that feminism is about putting men down, which, if you're still confused about, isn't true. (There are millions of phenomenal feminist guys!)

So, here's the hard part.  It's easy to say what feminism isn't.  And much harder to say what it is.  Contrary to popular belief, feminism isn't one big united front, with a sneaky set of objectives.  Feminism or feminisms, as Make/Shift magazine likes to put it, are as varied as the groups that identify with the terms.  A commonality is a concern for the well-being of women and girls in a world that frequently treats them like crap.  Many feminisms recognize the intersectionality of how race, gender, class and sexuality can severely limit the opportunities for individuals... and think needs to be addressed and changed.  

And so, what is true "feminist humor"?  It's a slippery slope to try to create a classification system- this counts, this doesn't.  Generally, feminist humor is based on a worldview cognizant of the way the world oppresses certain groups.  It might address and invert cultural assumptions about identity or experiences of being marginalized.  But it might not.  In a world where women and minorities are given so few voices in the mainstream media, I feel that the act of a woman holding a microphone is feminist, in itself. (Er, unless she's reinforcing misogyny with that voice.  See how tricky it gets to start saying what counts and what doesn't?)

Feminist Humor Theory is a interdisciplinary field of scholarship devoted to intersections of gender, humor and power.   It's really cool.  I'd recommend Nancy A. Walkers, A Very Serious Thing, if you're looking to read more about it.  More recently, Sabiyha Prince is writing about the ghettoization of black female comedians.  

We at Wisecrack truly believe in the power of comedy to shape the world we live in.  We hope Wisecrack will be a virtual space for exploration of issues of gender, comedy, feminism and ultimately, justice.  We'd like to include as many voices as possible- if you're interested in contributing, please contact us at Wisecrack [AT] gmail [DOT] com.