Lately, I’ve been asked what it’s like being a lady in comedy. All. The. Time. Honestly, I barely thought about being a female comedian before being on my female team, The DC Intervention. All of a sudden people starting asking my opinion… like I was suddenly some expert on the topic. Like being on a team full of chicks means that I’m trying to make some sort of statement.
My first reaction to being asked what it’s like being a chick in a boy’s club was that I don’t think about it. The typical response is always Well, I don’t like to point out my gender because I don’t want to considered successful ‘for a woman’… I want to be considered successful. or Really? I don’t think it’s much of a boy’s club! Look at all the positive females we have in comedy these days!
I responded like that for a long time. I avoided the question because I didn’t want to smack the “female comedian” stamp on my forehead. I just wanted to be a comedian.
But then I thought about it. Why wouldn’t I want to point out the fact that I’m a female comedian? Everyone else is already pointing it out for me. Why hide from it? So here are my thoughts on being a female comedian:
1. You have to let yourself be ugly.
As someone who is feminine, I want to look pretty during a show. When you’re standing front and center with a hundred people watching you for the first time, you want to look good. The hard thing is, I’m a very physical comedian. For whatever reason, my energy pulses out of my body and I make ugly faces, body movements and throw myself across the stage.
I found myself at a crossroad between wanting to look “good” and playing to my talents. I didn’t give myself the freedom to embrace my physical comedy because I didn’t want people to think I was strange. However, I was severely limiting myself by doing so. Then a magical thing happened. Second City opened “A Clown Car Named Desire” which had the most solid group of female comedians I’ve ever seen. Watching them portray wacky, unattractive and nontraditional characters made me realize that the only one concerned with how you look is yourself. No one else cares. The audience isn’t paying to see a beauty pageant, they’re paying to see comedy.
My improv teacher passed on an article awhile back with the quote, “Be ugly onstage. Be pretty at the party afterward.” It pretty much revolutionized the way I performed as a female.
2. You have to stick up for yourself.
I’ve had people call me a bitch, whore, slut and address me as “WOMAN!” during scenes. At first, I let them do it. I had a teacher tell me that he’s sick of seeing feminist scenes about chicks getting mad at being called a bitch… so I let it happen. But then someone tried to sell me as a prostitute during a scene. I was visibly upset. I tried to let it go. I thought, well… he’s improvising and I can’t get mad at him because then he won’t feel free to express himself. My teacher literally stopped me and asked if I felt upset. At first I told her that I was fine. She told me to stop all the bullshitting. I wasn’t fine with it. I shouldn’t be fine with it. She told me to fight back. To show that it was wrong. The concept of “yes, and” doesn’t apply to harmful statements. If you don’t stick up for yourself then you’re telling everyone that it’s okay to treat women like animals. If you don’t stick up for yourself, you’re going to lose at least half of your audience.
3. People will constantly tell you play smarter. To write smarter. To represent yourself as an intellectual.
My teachers and directors put so much pressure on me to be an intellectual. At least once a week, I hear “You’re smarter than that”, “Play to the very height of your character’s intelligence” and “Don’t dumb yourself down.”
To be fair, guys hear this too. But girls hear this twice as much, if not more, than guys. I don’t consider myself someone who plays cliche female parts often. I don’t think of myself as someone who dumbs down female roles. Even with that said, I still hear this constantly. One day I got a little frustrated with my coach. I told him that this was literally the first time all term that I’ve made myself a cliche female. Aren’t I allowed just one pass? Can’t I just have one easy scene where I can coast without having to be so damn smart? He told me that I’m not allowed this luxury. That I’m smarter than that. Why? Because for every best intention I have in starting a scene, someone will come along and cast me into being the girlfriend, the mistress, the mom. There will always be that person. Never let yourself be that person. Never do it to yourself.
When you’re not being told to stay away from casting yourself into a female cliche, you’re told to stop going for the “shock” factor. Rapping, playing a bro, literally throwing yourself onto stage (or jumping off it) , excessive swearing and all things opposite of “lady-like.” You’re told that it’s a cheap laugh. You’re told that you’re smarter than that.
And fuck, you’ll realize writing women is hard as fuck.
4. You will be forced to represent your gender.
This used to bug me. I had (and still have) a fear that people will think I’m funny/smart/successful for a girl. I always strayed away from the term ‘feminism’ because I didn’t want to recognize that there’s a difference between men and women. I just didn’t want to carry that load. I had to learn that sometimes I’m representing my entire gender. When I’m the only female on a team that’s composed of guys, I’m not just looked at as a comedian. People are watching me as a female too. I feel the burden of responsibility to prove that females can hold their own.
When I joined The DC Intervention, all these people started reaching out to me. People I haven’t seen in years, other aspiring comedians that I barely know, classmates who I haven’t talked to in awhile… just all these other chicks. They told me how great it is that I’m on an all-female comedy team. How we’re really making a statement. How proud they are of me. We even had someone think that our name meant “The Dick Club Intervention” (as creative as that is, I’m sad to report that it doesn’t meant that). I felt guilty… honestly, I just joined this team because they’re people I liked to play with. The fact that they’re women is secondary.
But then the other night, my teammate Katie dropped me off from rehearsal and we were talking about how good it feels to kill a show. In the conversation, the topic of strangers coming up to you and saying that they watched you the entire time came up. That’s when I realized how much pride I take in this compliment because of my gender. There’s this sense of pride I get when I realize that someone walked away thinking “that chick really killed it”. I thought of my younger self – constantly seeking out female comedian role models. That sense of hope and inspiration I got when I thought the funniest member of the cast was female. That notion of realizing that girls can hang with the boys. Guys will laugh at girls. If I can provide that for someone else, then I’m cool with being a representation of my gender.
5. Someone will tell you that you were cast onto a team to fill a female quota.
And that they were passed over because they were a dude. Or that you were only cast because the director thought you were hot. Tell this person to fuck themselves.
6. You will realize that there are a lot of male feminists.
For every misogynistic asshole in the world, there are many many more good guys. The majority of people I play with and learn from are dudes… but dudes who love and respect women. Many times they love and respect us more than we love and respect ourselves. It’s not an us v. them world. Most of what I’ve learned about being a female comedian comes from my male teachers pushing me to defy stereotypes and shine as a comedian. There’s this sense of extreme approval and pride when the guys feel like you can hang. Not only hang, but shine.
7. You will seek out female role models.
As much as I hesitated to be labeled as a “female comedian” with a capital F, I always idolized other female comedians. I’m turned off by prominent shows and theaters that don’t have at least a 2/5 female to male ratio. I’m obsessed with shows that have an equal one. And I fucking idolize female comedians. Gilda Radner, Kay Cannon, Amy Poehler. Katie Rich, Punam Patel, Tara DeFrancisco. This chick I once auditioned with named Sarah. But not in a way that’s like, “Oh! You’re a lady and you made it!” It’s not superficial like that. It’s not even lady pride. When I think about it, I think it’s because I see them as someone I could actually be. As much as I can learn from guys onstage, there’s a basic biological difference. But when I see a female really killing it, I’m like… oh, I can do that. I get it.
8. People will think you have some sort of insecurity problem.
Oh, you were a fat kid, right? Like, a social outcast? And to defend yourself you taught yourself how to be funny so you could make fun of yourself before anyone else did? You must have been really shy. Like, no friends shy. So to win over the cafeteria, you studied comedy tapes. I know! Your parents didn’t love you! So to win them over, you made them laugh.
Uhhhhh…. no. None of that is true. I just like to laugh and I like being around people who laugh. That’s as deep as it gets.
And while we’re here, I’ll dispel other rumors I’ve heard about my gender. Nope, guys aren’t afraid of me because of my confidence… yes, I do believe I can have a family and pursue this “thing” and no, I don’t hate men.
9. You will always want to lose 20 pounds.
No matter how skinny you get. You’ll also desperately seek an eyeliner that stays in place under stage lights. You will praise whatever God created the empire waist shirt. At least once, you’ll think about cutting your hair short but then realize that you would need updated headshots. You’ll hate yourself a little when you look at the “ugly” headshots. There’s at least a handful in every batch. Oh, and if you don’t get a show that you really wanted, you’ll soothe your wounds in red wine, Jeni’s ice cream and a Parks and Rec marathon on Netflix. Obviously all in bed.
10. People will compare you to either Tina Fey or Amy Poehler at least 20 times a year.
Like they’re the only successful comedians. I used to hate this. I got Amy a lot because of how loud, short and physical I am. Every time someone made this comparison I wanted to slap them. #1 – I’m not like her. #2 – I WANT TO BE ME. I respect the shit out of Tina & Amez. They’re fucking geniuses. But I want to be Annie Taylor. I used to want to scream out my character profile for everyone to hear…
ANNIE TAYLOR is different comedian than anyone else. She is prone to spraining her knee onstage, giving life advice without anyone asking her opinion and telling people how happy she is to the point where it’s super annoying. She only reads autobiographies of comedians because she thinks that most authors who write biographies are extremely biased and misrepresent the legacy of the person they’re writing about. She tries to spit one liners in the writer’s room and fails miserably. She doesn’t go anywhere without her two notebooks – one for writing, one for advice – so she’s always wearing her North Face backpack. She’s horrible at accents so she practices German and Russian accents without realizing her roommates are home but gets a sense of pride when they call her out only to tell her it sounds good. Her biggest regret in life is that she was born after Gilda Radner died but feels a creepy sense of solace knowing that she’s buried in Connecticut. The only reason she majored in Political Science is so that she would be forced into learning about politics & history so that she could write intelligent satire. Oh, and to get into the habit of reading the newspaper. This is ANNIE TAYLOR.
However, I have to tell myself to stop being an asshole sometimes. People compare you to these strong females because they think you’re a strong female. Take the compliment and stop being such a dick about it.
So. Loyal reader. At the end of the day, I love being a lady. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.