Comedy is hard. Especially when it’s at a dive bar on a Tuesday night with people who are only there to enjoy a beer after a long day of work. They didn’t pay to see you- or see any comedy for that matter. They've already undergone an ambush of bad pedophile jokes, and suddenly, it’s your turn to make them laugh.
Now add the assumption that you’re not going to be funny, the question, “did that guy really like my set, or was he hitting on me?” Top it all off with that weird old dude who gives you a long hug on your way out, and you’ve got yourself a typical evening as a female comic. (BTW: never Comedienne. *vom*.)
Sounds fun doesn’t it?
Navigating the comedy industry as a female has its challenges, but ultimately— comedy is one of the most rewarding careers you’ll ever pursue.
While you might face challenges, here are the best ways to ensure you’re taken seriously so that both you and the audience can have the best possible evening.
Stereotypes about Material
If you’re going to talk about sex, periods, or vaginas onstage, be aware that these topics are female comedy stereotypes. Of course, there are male stereotypes, too. Overall, hacky comedy will be hacky comedy, and no material is truly off-limits if you can put your original and interesting spin on it, but unfortunately touching these jokes can and will skew the audience in a certain way.
A fellow female comic shared how even with only ONE sex joke, she’s dealt with rude remarks and judgment.
“They’re not even paying attention to the joke itself, they just hear one ‘buzzword’ and immediately label you based on that.”
I haven’t personally dealt with this, mainly because I work clean. I guess that’s the perk of talking about toasters onstage.
Getting Grouped into a Category
The “women in comedy” category reminds me of the ‘kid’s table' at Thanksgiving. It feels condescending.
It’s frustrating when female comedians who differ in style, voice, and skill level get lumped together as one thing.
It‘s also annoying to be told, “You’re one of the best female comics.” It sounds like they’re saying, “You’re one of the best junior varsity players.”
Networking or Flirting
“We should write together” is now a running joke, the line a male comic uses on a female comic when he wants to hook up.
Sometimes it’s hard to tell if ‘good set’ or ‘you’re really funny’ is genuine or if it’s a pickup line.
Overcoming the Challenges
The best way to overcome the preconceived bias that women aren’t that funny is to be undeniably funny. I know, easier said than done. But it’s true! The harder you work on your craft, and the more unbiased you are about the ways you can improve, the easier it’ll be for you to circumvent the negativity that people might throw your way.
Joke writing is a skill. It’s a muscle. Study it, write every day, and prove time and time again that you can make people laugh.
I recommend keeping a calendar and marking each day that you write, a tip I got from the Book: Poking a Dead Frog.
Your reputation as a great joke writer can transform beliefs about women not being funny. YOU can make the difference!
When you hit open mics every night, hone your craft, and perform well on shows, people take notice.
Demonstrating a good work ethic also helps you avoid the ‘she must be blowing the guy who books the show’ assumption.
Think about what you want to share with the world the most. What makes your friends, family, or yourself laugh?
There must’ve been a real moment that sparked this comedy dream- what was that moment for you?
If sex is the topic you feel most passionate about, go for it! If it’s windshield wipers, that’s cool too.
If you’re interested in working clean, I highly recommend it. Having clean material makes it easier to get work at clubs, colleges, and corporate events that pay $$$.
Set boundaries and emphasize that you are there to network and grow your career, not to be treated like a Tinder date.
Fist bumps are a good way to say ‘this is friendly but platonic.’
To make the interaction more professional, opt for a handshake.
Trust your Gut
You’ll be out late at night, so it’s important to be in tune with your body- if a person is giving you a weird vibe, trust your intuition and leave.
Turns out, a kiss on the top of the head was not an appropriate way for a showrunner to tell me ‘good job.’
Stay by your fellow comedy buddies- ask a trusted friend to walk you to your car at night. And if you’re unsure of a booker’s intentions, don’t be afraid to consult other female comedians about it.
Here I am, loving life on the stage.
There are double standards, stereotypes, and people with bad intentions, but if you work hard and consistently prove that you’re funny, you’ll overcome these obstacles and build a good reputation.
Amazing things can happen in your comedy career; go out there and tell your story.