On the eve of International Women’s Day, standup comic Jenny Collier, 30, was cancelled from a comedy show despite having already been booked, because there were “too many” women.
“I was completely dumbfounded, not only by the fact that I was cancelled for this reason but also by the blasé tone of the email containing such a bombshell,” she wrote in The Independent, noting that the incident opened her eyes to sexism in the comedy industry. The Senior Times asked three veteran standup comics, featured at this year’s Just for Laughs Festival, July 9 to 28, to speak about their experiences as professionally funny females in a male-dominated world.
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Gina Yashere, 40, considers herself an adventurer. She says she never does the same show twice. Trained as an engineer and without work one summer, she gave standup a try and has never looked back in 17 years.
“There aren’t many of us,” she says, when asked about women in comedy. “Women tend to get judged more harshly and clubs are more likely to take a chance on a guy they don’t know than on a woman they don’t know.”
Born and raised in London, she credits that city and New York as having the best comedy scenes. “If you’re funny, you get booked. I never had an issue on live circuit, but television is still run by white males who tend to book other white males.” Yashere, of Nigerian descent, is a black British woman, who gleefully draws on that experience to enrich her material. She says she routinely pulls police over for racially profiling her and, stunned, they immediately apologize. “Excuse me madam,” they say. “I thought you were black.”
Judy Gold, 51, also performing at the festival agrees that late night talk shows are white male dominated. “I always say that being a woman in comedy is like being a woman in every other profession, except teaching. Look at what’s happening to women’s rights [regressing in the US].”
Gold, who has been performing for 30 years, never considered being a woman as an obstacle to her career in standup. “I never felt I can’t do this because I’m a woman. I always did the work, wrote the jokes, did a lot of sets. But in the industry you have to deal with the fact that three guys on stage is a regular show, but three women is ‘ladies’ night out’, a special event.” Being female, a gay parent and Jewish, (she calls herself Jewdie once in a while) gives her plenty to work with.
Kathleen Madigan, 48, appears regularly on American television and will be performing at the Just For Laughs fest in a solo show. “A lot of women show up at open mike, very talented and funny. But it takes a special person to adopt that lifestyle. I’m on the road 300 out of 365 days a year. Most comedians who are famous have done that.”
Madigan, who refers to herself as “the lady at the bar you want to talk to”, draws her material from religion, politics, sports, family and travel. She’s not impressed by some comics’ attempts at getting a laugh by shocking the audience or insulting women. “There is a lot of misogynistic humour going on, and some of it is the ‘hoe’ culture. Women in the 70s, Linda Rondstadt, Janice Joplin, didn’t come out wearing bathing suits. It’s all part of what this culture is and I hope it will change soon.”
Yashere sees vulgarity in comedy as people just trying to be edgy and as a passing trend, especially with more women entering the field of standup over time. “Some comics are very funny and there is an element of truth in [their act]. If they do it only for the sake of shock value they’ll be found out.”
Gold says she believes in freedom of speech, but doesn’t relish the gratuitous use of the “lowest common denominator” to get a laugh. “That is the one thing that bothers me, I’ve noticed that a lot of comics talk about porn and women, and porn and porn, and porn. I do think that to be a great comic you have to have a point of view and there are so many male comics,– Jimmy Fallon, Lewis Black–, that you would never hear that kind of stuff from. The greatest comics dig deep into their psyche and take what’s real. Those are the true heroes.”
Kathleen Madigan performs Thursday July 24, 9:30 pm. Gina Yashere and Judy Gold will present several shows at the festival. For dates, times and venues visit hahaha.com or call 514-845-2322.