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If you turn on your TV — or, more likely, flip open your laptop — you might get the impression that the comedy world is good to women. Broad City, Veep, The Mindy Project, Girls, Orange Is the New Black, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Parks and Recreation (may it rest in peace) — there is no shortage of women who reliably make us laugh, week after week.
For those women still duking it out in the comedy trenches, the game hasn’t changed all that much. Natalie Wall recalls the first night of a 2014 tour for her storytelling show, Awkward Sex…and the City, in which she and five other female comics shared their most horrifically funny sex stories. “We sold out the venue. There were people in line to see us that had never even heard of us before,” Wall says. “We fucking killed! Then three separate guys told me I was
really funny…’for a girl.’ It ruined the ‘killing it’ moment immediately.
Moments like that one led Wall and her fellow comic and collaborator, Shaina Stigler, to organize “Bad Assery: A Women and Comedy Conference,” which takes place March 27–29 at Brooklyn’s Littlefield and the Bell House. A mix of panels, stand-up, sketch, and performance art, the conference was born out of frustration.
Two years ago, Stigler, 25, began hosting sporadic get-togethers for women in New York’s comedy scene. They would meet for breakfast and swap clothes and talk. “I started researching and was thinking, ‘There has to be a women-in-comedy conference at this point,’ ” Stigler says. “ ’I probably just don’t know about it, but I’m sure it’s happened.’ ” But it hadn’t. So Stigler and Wall decided to make it happen.
The ultimate goal of Bad Assery, according to its organizers, is to erase the line between male and female comedians. It’s not lost on them that by creating a conference for women, they’ve voluntarily separated the women from the men. “We have to stop talking about it as us vs. them, as women vs. men,” Stigler says. “But that being said, in order to do that, we have to say, ‘This is my perspective as a female.’ ” For Stigler, it seems as though she and other female comics face a careful balancing act that their male colleagues do not.
“They don’t worry about what women are thinking about them when they’re standing onstage and delivering a joke,” Stigler says. “They’re not thinking, ‘I need to make sure I appeal to women, because they’re the ones booking.’ ”
The farcical mid-Aughts debate over whether or not women could be funny seems to have been put to rest long ago, but male comics continue to significantly out-earn and out-book their female counterparts. And no woman in this business is immune to the backhanded “funny for a girl” compliment.
“Nobody doesn’t get that,” says Ophira Eisenberg, a stand-up comic and host of NPR’s live game show Ask Me Another, who will perform Saturday night at Littlefield. “It is the one universal. People say, ‘I don’t usually like female comedy, but I liked you.’ And let me tell you something — you get it from the guys, and you get it from the women. I’ve had a woman say that to me and I felt my soul just ache.”
Eisenberg adds that she’s approaching her set from a different perspective than usual. “I would love to figure out some hilarious way to talk about how a guy can get onstage and do a dick joke and everybody laughs, but the other way is not quite as easy,” she says. “You feel like you’re alienating half your crowd. That’s what you get told, and then you have to make an adjustment.”
Most — if not all — women in comedy learn to make those adjustments. But more and more women are discovering that in order to get what they want out of the industry, they have to break from traditional routes to success. Ashley Skidmore and Lyle Friedman, the duo behind the New York–based Web series Hot Mess Moves (think a less absurdist Broad City), who will perform at Littlefield on Saturday night, met while taking a class at the Upright Citizens Brigade. “We’re kind of UCB dropouts,” Skidmore admits. “We love the community, but there’s so much inequality we kind of just had to go off on our own. As progressive as it is, UCB still has a college mentality.”
For Skidmore, it’s an honor to be a part of Bad Assery. “There’s nothing else like it,” she says, adding that men in the comedy community will often insist there’s no divide between the genders — but experience proves otherwise.
“If you make any joke that is even on the line of being sexual, you can just feel the audience turn on you,” Skidmore says. “The women are like, ‘Oh, they’re those types of girls,’ and the men are like, ‘I’m gonna fuck these girls after the show.’ ”
For other comedians, the problems don’t stop at gender. “It’s great having shows like Broad City and Inside Amy Schumer, but you rarely see a woman of color have those opportunities, ever,” says Phoebe Robinson, who takes the stage on Friday night at Littlefield. “So for me, as
a black woman and a stand-up, I’m like, ‘Yeah, that’s great, but that stuff’s not
happening for people like me.’ ”
Robinson is looking forward to the
conference, mostly, she says, for “selfish reasons.”
“From my personal experience, I’m usually the only woman on a show,” she says. “We’re all kind of kept apart. We’re always told, ‘Female comics all sound the same.’ And then you see a show with five or six female comics and they’re all completely different. So it’s really nice to just work with my co-workers, and I’m often not able to do that.”
Eisenberg agrees that the event will be valuable for its ability to harness the far-flung female members of New York’s comedy scene. “I don’t even know exactly how it will look,” she says of Bad Assery. “I know how I would like it to be, and I would like it if it was a bunch of women talking shop and doing great shows, and every once in a while, we look at each other and go, ‘Hey, it’s really cool, it’s all women! Huh!’ ”
Bad Assery: A Women and Comedy Conference takes place at both the Bell House and Littlefield from March 27–29. For ticket and schedule info, click here.
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