The Website I Am Female Comic Allows Women in Stand-Up and Improv to Talk About Harassment They’ve Experienced.
We may be on the verge of electing our first-ever female President of the United States, but, much as we wish this were a sign of gender equality, things still don’t quite exist on an even plane for all genders in America. In 2015, women still earned just 80 cents in the workplace for every dollar earned by their male counterparts.
This is a major issue in the entertainment world too — and not just in Hollywood, either. Female entertainers on all levels have to put up with more bullshit in general than the men in their field.
In the male-dominated world of comedy, this is perhaps especially true. Beyond simply being blanketed by stodgy old types as being less funny than male comics, female comedians put up with all sorts of bullshit in the comedy world.
Now one anonymously run website called I Am Female Comic aims to put this long-standing, aggravating truth on blast. The site offers women in stand-up and improv a place to anonymously speak about the harassment, humiliations and threats they endure while just simply trying to perform comedy and elicit some laughs. There are accounts of persistent, sometimes unthinking (though often deliberate) cruelty, and situations where women have experienced serious risk.
Though many of the site’s submissions are posted in complete secrecy, some include location stamps in their uploads. And with several submissions stamped as coming from comics based in the Dallas-Fort Worth area (see above slideshow), that makes for a pretty jarring look into what is otherwise so often a scene worth championing.
As someone who himself performs as part of the Greater Dallas comedy scene, it’s a tough pill for me to swallow. There’s a strong chance I know at least some of the women who sent these stories into the site. I also probably know some of the guys referred to in those accounts, too.
These are discomfiting realizations, but provoking that discomfort is a clear goal of I Am Female Comic. It’s hard to keep acting like everything’s fine when you’re faced with evidence that things are decidedly not.
I’m not a woman, so I can’t live the experience of a woman in comedy. But I, along with all the other guys in comedy, can certainly influence how women are treated. We can rebuke crude behavior when we observe it, or we can dismiss it and hope it’s harmless. We can listen and act when someone tells us how they’ve been mistreated, or we can bury our heads in the sand and just hope the problem’s gone away by the time we resurface. We can address our problems, or we can let them fester, and watch women – and people in other marginalized groups, who can also be affected when we refuse to think about the impact of our inaction – retreat from comedy, leaving us with a homogenized, creatively toxic scene.
I, for one, hope we can all strive to be the former in the above scenarios. How successful I may be at it is probably a different conversation for a different. For now, though, I think the efforts of I Am Female Comic toward spurring this conversation along are important. It’s a necessary first step.
Or, well, those are my thoughts anyway. But what do the women of the Dallas-Fort Worth comedy world think about the site? I reached out to several women who perform stand-up and improv in the area to find out their feelings on the site, and to hear their stories of how they’ve been treated in their comedic efforts.
(Full disclosure: I’m in a relationship with Jasmine Ellis, one of the comics who contributed to this article.)
De De T.
De De T splices deadpan absurdity with deep social insights. She’s bold, clever and wonderfully weird. She recently performed at Denton’s Oaktopia festival, and worked with Baron Vaughn during his week-long residency at Amphibian Stage Productions in Fort Worth. (Photo by Quinn Gordon.)
In her own words: While pouring over the many raw, unfiltered experiences of sexism shared on I Am Female Comic, I wondered if my lifelong work of putting socially dysfunctional assholes in check would ever be done. My reactions ranged from “Ugh, penis people can be SO immature” to “What the hell is wrong with these mutha fuckas?” Regardless of my repulsion, though, I cannot say that I’m surprised. After all I, De De T, am female comic. As a black woman living in a white male-dominated society (disregard that if you like #AllLivesMatter, but it’s SO real), misogynoir follows me wherever I go; my journey into and through the world of stand-up comedy has been no exception. The DFW comedy scene, being as familiar, isolated and segregated as it is, I believe has fostered a certain pretentious dude/bro, frat boy mentality among male comics that would naturally marginalize and obstruct women, LGBTs and POCs. Over the last 3.5 years, I’ve been patronized, belittled, sexually harassed and assaulted, and just plain ol’ grossed out by my male peers. (In Denton, however, where the scene is newer, younger, less competitive and more inclusive, I haven’t really experienced such patriarchal alienation.) Congruently, I have also been encouraged, praised and supported by DFW comics too. Hell, some have even apologized to me for their aforementioned offenses. So I’m not declaring that all male comics are inhuman monsters who are beyond reform. I’m just saying that I Am Female Comic lends validation to voices that have typically been (if not completely silenced) subjected to endless scrutiny. That said. we shouldn’t be satisfied with anonymously whispering into the void. If anything, I hope this site will empower comedy broads to fearlessly call men out for their bad behavior face-to-face it in lieu of just quietly storing away the trauma.
P.S.: Comedy dudes, we desperately need your support in holding offenders accountable and changing the gender-biased culture of this environment.
Katy Evans offers intelligent, fully realized observations about her life, and she’s adept at fostering a real connection with audiences. She’s opened for Saturday Night Live star Michael Che, and she’s performed at the East Texas Comedy Festival. (Photo by Jason Hensel.)
First things first: I’m glad this site exists. It’s striking and powerful in its simplicity. While it’s sad that this site is necessary, it’s great that there’s a safe, anonymous venue through which female comedians can share their stories of harassment — whether it’s a creepy comment or straight up assault — in comedy. Speaking out against sexual harassment is often met with “you need to get thicker skin” and “quit whining” and “this is part of being a comedian.” But that’s wrong. No woman — comedian or otherwise — should have to face this type of treatment at their job. Because that’s what comedy is for a lot of us — a job that we love. This site is important to women in comedy, but I think it’s just as — if not more — important to the men in comedy. We are your peers. We are your colleagues. We have to listen to each other and work together if we want to put an end to this. I know I’m supposed to address the DFW-specific stories on this site. Just reading them breaks my heart for the women who had to deal with that crap. So instead I want to address those women: Ladies, if you ever feel threatened, tell someone. Find me. Find a security guard. Find a friend to back you up. Sometimes it’s scary to deal with it in the moment, but there is ALWAYS an avenue of recourse to pursue. If nothing else, talk to someone about it after. You’re not alone. We’re so lucky to have people like Linda [Stogner of Backdoor Comedy Club] and Amanda [Austin of Dallas Comedy House] in positions of leadership in our community. These are strong women who are always willing to listen. The worst thing you can do for yourself and your fellow female comics is stay silent.
Cary Denise was the first person I interviewed for my weekly series with local stand-up comics, Humor Us. That wasn’t by accident. She is sharp, frank and willing to probe at the dark underbelly of the human condition. She’s performed at the Moontower Comedy and Oddity Festival, and at Denver’s High Plains Comedy Festival. (Photo courtesy of Denise.)
I mean, my thought is that if you’re going to speak out, it’s not effective anonymously. Some of those stories sound unbelievable. They very well could have happened. But without a face to tell the story, there’s no realness to it. I think some people make up stories for attention because they know these things happen — and they do happen. I think what’s important is to tell the specific truth and stand behind it. I also think it’s way more important to stand up for yourself in the moment and call out the bad behavior in the moment. Telling the story later and anonymously may be cathartic, and it may raise awareness to the problem, but it doesn’t do much to fix the problem. I have been punched in the boob by a Dallas comedian. That same comedian used to grab my face and try to force me to kiss him even while I was struggling. I was slapped in the face by a drunk bar owner when I refused to kiss him at a gig. I have been introduced to a headliner by a comedy club manager as, “You don’t know Carey? She’s really funny and she used to fuck John.” And you can put my name on that.
I feel like these stories are reflective of what comedy is like for women in general, not just in DFW. Not to excuse the behavior at all, but a lot of male comics are socially inept and don’t know how to react to women — so this is what you get. My first year in was marked with a lot of near-harassment and overt sexism. That’s the nature of the beast when you’re in a male-dominated industry. I’ve been told to “play up that you’re a hottie, show more skin on stage.” I’ve also been told I won’t get laughs because guys are thinking about fucking me. I got laughs. I wrote what I wanted to and I focused on stuff that made me and other women laugh. Men and their opinions of me have always been an afterthought. As a female comic, you have to come into this with the same kind of confidence and just believe you are supposed to be on stage. Write, work, write and work some more. What I try to do personally to combat the sexism in comedy is to create spaces for female comics to thrive. That Time of the Month, the comedy show I host at Drugstore Cowboy, is a great place for funny women — newcomers and pros — to work on their most creative stuff. I love it.
Amanda Austin’s deep love of comedy and improv is apparent onstage, and in her work as the owner of Dallas Comedy House. Her theater offers local performers a chance to push their creative limits, and regularly provides some of the most unique, exciting comedy in Dallas. Dallas Comedy House also offers classes for people interested in standup comedy, sketch writing and improv. (Photo by Allie Trimboli.)
As a woman in comedy, it makes me sad that so many women have been hurt in this industry. But, it makes me proud that the conversations are happening and will continue to happen. Education is the key to enlightenment in these areas, and when women speak up about their experiences, we all learn from them. As a female theater owner, we constantly work to educate our performers, students and staff about how we can continue to lift women up in an industry that has traditionally been dominated by males and which has perpetuated sexism in so many ways. I have an open door policy for anyone to voice their concerns so that we can educate people when they’re wrong and make it a safe place for women. I don’t want anyone who steps foot in Dallas Comedy House — performer, student or customer — to feel like they don’t have a voice, or that comedy isn’t for them because of negative experiences. Because women are really funny, and they deserve to feel safe.