BY AIMEE LUTKIN
Awhile ago I was exchanging emails with a popular comedy venue trying to book a show and even though it was a show stacked with talent my main selling point was, “It’s ladies only!” The response to that was, “Great, we’re always looking for women only revues.” Cool.
Let’s talk Lady Only comedy.
It’s fucking great. You can just chill out and laugh and make all the jokes about being on your period that you like. It can be inspiring as you look around at all these wonderful women who are funny, smart and ambitious. It can be healing, a ‘safe space’ where you can be away from the pressure of representing your sex in a room full of men or just a break from the common sexist tropes that pop up so frequently at open mics, improv and sketch in the broader comedy community. It may be the only place you actually do feel safe.
It also kind of sucks. Because you can’t stay there forever and when you come back nothing has changed in that broader world, the ‘real’ world that belongs to men. And there are a million shows that aren’t Ladies Only, they’re Seven Dudes One Lady or what I call a Snow White Panel.
What would it be like if every single show had to have gender balance (sorry I am working within the binary here for the sake of simplicity) rather than the occasional Ladies Only show attempting to make up for the lack of representation for women?
The landscape would change completely. It wouldn’t be The World and then the Women’s Anteroom. The World would be our world, shared and universal. Then men could have their Men Only shows occasionally and it would be a fun bit instead of just reality. Women wouldn’t be exhausting their creativity and ability on coming up with ways to work around the cultural roadblocks that keep them from being seen, respected or taken seriously as comedians. We wouldn’t have to be so angry and we wouldn’t have to pretend to not be angry. That’s what I find most exhausting, personally…acting like I’m cool with misogyny so I don’t get blacklisted forever from The World where that’s the norm.
There are a lot of successful women in comedy who work in pairs, one popular example being Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson of Broad City. In web series: The Pursuit of Sexiness with Nicole Byer and Sasheer Zamata, #hotmessmoves with Ashley Skidmore and Lyle Friedman, SRSLY. with Alexandra Fiber and Danielle Gibson, DIBS with Tracy Soren and Jessie Jolles. They all produce great work but when I look at this list there’s a thought that cycles through my head, a thought I hate, which is: Did these women come together because men wouldn’t listen to them?
I hate that thought for 2 reasons. 1. The answer is probably, in some part, yes. 2. Even though they rose above it they essentially had to do it by leaving The World and going to the Women’s Anteroom. And it’s hard to leave the Women’s Anteroom once you’re in there, not just because it’s more comfortable but because now you have a reputation. You’re a Lady Comedian now. You can be Snow White and you can book the Ladies Only show. But in a business that’s constantly commodifying people you’ll be pushed into your category and it will be pretty damn hard to get out. Right now the broadest ‘alternative’ category is WOMEN and that is pretty frustrating even when it means you get to book your all lady show at a popular revue. Or have a show on Comedy Central (um, I’d take it tho, call me, CC!)
I just want to be a regular person. I want to make jokes and have observations and play characters without it being a ‘woman’s perspective’. Does Ladies Only comedy serve that? Sometimes I think it just perpetuates the perception that there is a division between what the sexes are supposed to perceive as funny or relevant. Sometimes I’m insanely grateful the Ladies Only spaces exist because they facilitate women connecting and growing as performers, without the insane competition for that spot on the Snow White Panel.
Maybe I’m being shortsighted. Maybe more and more of us will cram into the Woman’s Anteroom until it can’t hold us anymore. It’ll burst and we’ll spill out, gleefully cascading across the landscape, transforming it like a glacier does (much faster, hopefully) until we can’t even tell where the walls once stood.