It’s time for female comics to take center stage

By MORGAN OME | February 1, 2018


Ome enjoyed performing in the 2017 Intersession stand-up comedy show.

MORGAN OME / The News-Letter

If you are a woman, how do you navigate a male-dominated industry? That was the question on my mind when I decided to take the stand-up comedy class last year during Intersession. I was interested in seeing whether I could make people laugh, and testing that out in front of 800 people seemed like a good idea.

I wasn’t that worried about performing. But I was worried about being the only girl in the class. It’s no secret that comedy does not have an abundance of female voices, and I was anxious that the class would reflect the industry.

Luckily for me, it did not. There were five other funny girls, and nine respectful, funny guys. The instructor even noted that since he began teaching the class in 2004, the number of women had increased every year, something I took as a positive sign.

I loved the class. The beauty of the stand-up class was that we were given the time and space to develop our sets, to solicit feedback, to practice among peers who were accepting and generous. Heckling was prohibited, and so none of us had to worry about crude or insulting disruptions. Those three weeks were a gift: a time to develop my own voice and test out material without fear.

When I finally got up on stage in Shriver Hall and took the microphone in hand, I looked out into the audience and saw 800 people looking back at me. I started my set. What if I could carry that same presence and confidence with me in my everyday life?

This year, I didn’t perform in the show, although I sat in the audience and enjoyed it. As I watched, I spent a lot of time thinking about female comedians and why they are still in the minority. Of course, one cannot ignore the fact that comedy is a male-dominated industry and that harassment both onstage and off can foster a hostile environment.

We often talk about the importance of representation and why it matters for underrepresented groups to see themselves in all kinds of professions. Stand-up comics are no exception, and they serve an important role in combating stereotypes.

Female comedians are women who are free to be as uncouth and vulgar as they please, who can address sex or sexism openly and who can do all of this while commanding a stage, uninterrupted.

While many of us are subject to mansplaining in the classroom, the workplace or even our own social circles, female comedians have the luxury and power of being the only voice in the room for a few minutes.

They can be loud, assertive and confident. They can control their own narratives. They can be everything that women have been told not to be.

And there are more and more female comedians on the rise. Brilliant, funny people like Tig Notaro, Ali Wong and Sarah Silverman are working to break barriers and subvert the expectations of what it means to be a woman. There are shows like The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, an Amazon original series which chronicles the blossoming career of a 1950s housewife-turned-comedian.

We know that there is space and demand for more female voices in all fields. That includes comedy. Nearly every industry is in the midst of a transformative time. As the #MeToo movement and Time’s Up initiative gain traction, the possibility of lasting, real change seems possible for perhaps the first time in history.

I am hopeful that we are reaching the start of a new era: one in which funny women are no longer revolutionary, but they are the norm.

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