Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Women Doing Comedy

"Comedy is very controlling - you are making people laugh.  You feel completely in control when you hear a wave of laughter coming back at you that you have caused." - Gilda Radner.

Somehow, people - usually older, irrelevant male comedians - are still commenting in the media that women aren’t funny.  It bugs me.  Not just because women ARE funny.  But also because there is actually a reason there is less of a female presence in the comedy world and it has nothing to do with sense of humor. 

It's literally because there are less women actively trying to pursue comedy. 

Every few weeks, I help run auditions for the comedy theater where I perform.  I'm the only female out of four on the "panel."  And out of 60+ people auditioning, roughly ten of them are women.  And roughly four to five of those ten women are any good. 

Yes, that’s right, some women aren't funny just like some men aren't funny! 

We're not going to take all ten women just to balance out the ratio.  If there needs to be a team of all men, then so be it.  If those men were the hands down funniest improvisers in the room, then they deserve it.  Personally, I would never want to take a job because I was filling some sort of quota.  I'd want a job because I deserved it and was funny or talented enough to get it.  It's not that women aren't funny, it's just that there are less of them putting themselves out there and making the jokes.

Honestly, I understand why there are less women pursuing comedy.  It has been my experience that women, by nature, aren't the type to throw themselves in the face of rejection.  And comedy is the ultimate rejection!  There is no hiding!  When you send in a resume, you might not get an interview.  When you go on an interview, you might not get the job.  When you give someone your number, they might not call.  And even when you try out for a role, you might not get the part.

But when you go up on stage and you make a joke, you know in that second how people feel about you in that room.  If they didn't laugh, they’re not on your side.  If they did, you're on your way to having them in the palm of your hand.  There's no guarantee what you do will be funny or well-received and women, typically more so than men, tend to shy away from those odds. Why on EARTH would people put themselves in such a vulnerable position and open themselves up for criticism?

Men seem to have an easier time with failure and rejection, where women tend to “get in their heads” a little bit more.  When they go out on stage and deliver a bad joke, or they don’t have the best improv set, they tend to dwell on it a little bit longer and harder than their male counterparts.  They wonder what they did wrong or why it didn't work or what they could have done better.  I've seen women apologize - on stage and off - and physically fold into themselves when something doesn't hit.  Some women have even immediately thrown themselves under the bus and stated they weren't funny or deliver some other cruel, self-deprecating joke.  It doesn't matter who you are - male or female - but apologizing or being mean to yourself gives up all your credibility. 

Personally, I always feel the need to apologize when I do something "shitty" to a scene partner.   I walk away from bad sets a little angrier than my male cast mates.  I take way more things to heart and lose my sense of self when I fail on stage.  But... my only option is to keep doing it and move on to the next one.  I have a difficult time letting bad jokes, scenes and shows roll off my shoulders... but eventually I do, because I have to get right back up there the next night.  And in those shows that follow, I aim to do better and prove to myself - and everyone else around me - that I’m perfectly capable of doing it.

And, ultimately, that’s what makes women damn good at comedy. I believe that women are inherently motivated, strong and empowered individuals who might get a tad bit more personally let down by failure - but they don't let it take them down.  They just keep going.

In all fairness, I have seen plenty of men who take failure to heart as well.  And I've seen plenty of women who don't!  It's not gender specific.  Rejection and failure have a tendency of dragging us all down at some point.  But, from what I’ve noticed in my eight years of comedy and twenty seven years of being a woman, women typically like being in control at all times. (Think of all the times you have, or a female friend has, got drunk and felt awful and guilty about the texts that were sent or the things that were done.  Then think of all the times you have, or a male friend has, felt that way.)  Men have an easier time looking like an idiot, and society is way less hard on them for it.

Women are funny.  Men are funny.  There's no debate.  Success in comedy doesn't rely on one's gender.  Men fail in comedy just as much as women. Success doesn’t even solely rely on talent.  There are plenty of genuinely funny men who have zero stage presence.

Comedy relies on the ability to get up, fail, brush yourself off and then try again.  It's about having a sense of humor.  It's about confidence.  But most importantly, it's about resilience.  Being a man, or a woman, doesn’t help you succeed.  Being a resilient human being does.

And if all that doesn't work, just drop an F bomb... like three times in a row.


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