Girl, you really stepped in it.
On June 12, Deadline published an interview with Iliza Shlesinger about her upcoming projects and inevitably, the question of being a woman in comedy was discussed. Here’s what she said:
When you’re a woman in comedy and you get a break, people get so excited about it, but while we have to work hard to get that attention, I do think many women think, “Oh if I just act like a guy, if I go for that low hanging fruit…” Everything’s about sex, or how weird I am. It all just kind of runs together.
I could walk into The Improv, close my eyes, and I can’t tell one girl’s act apart from another. That’s not saying that 30-something white guys don’t all sound the same sometimes, but I’m banging my head against the wall because women want to be treated as equals, and we want feminism to be a thing, but it’s really difficult when every woman makes the same point about her vagina, over and over. I think I’m the only woman out there that has a joke about World War II in my set. I think shock value works well for women, but beyond that, there’s no substance. I want to see what else there is with such complex, smart creatures.
That’s why women like Tina Fey do well. It’s smart, and men can laugh at it, too. I consider myself one of those comics, and quite frankly, I’m appalled by what is expected of women, and what women offer in response in that.
This quote gave me whiplash. As a woman in comedy who struggles constantly to fight against the pre-conceived perceptions of women comics “not being funny” on a regular basis, I couldn’t believe what I was reading. A woman who has managed the daunting feat of establishing herself in a male-dominated field essentially turned on the very minority she represents. She has been (trying) to defend herself on Twitter, but it’s a seemingly lost battle. Her Indignant defenses have been thrown out, telling critics she is a champion of women comics, booking them on her shows on a consistent basis. Reading the response to these tweets seem to have have fallen on deaf ears. People aren’t buying it.
The issue with her statement is this: if you book women on your shows, it’s clear you have no interest in supporting them by the very nature of your interview. You, Iliza, are no better than the random dude who comes up to me after a show telling us, “I don’t normally find woman funny, but you were good.” You say woman categorically talk about their vaginas and we must do better! Girl, please. The broad stroke statement of being the only woman with a World War II joke is self-indulgent, contrived, obnoxious and ignorant. You clearly have spent too much time with your assumptions and not listed to many women speak. For someone who has a four minute bit about how women can’t eat in front of men, this is pretty rich. Call me crazy, but I’m pretty sure this has been done before?
The first unspoken rule of comedy is to talk about what you know. Are there women who talk explicitly about sex and sexuality? Yes. Is that my favorite style? Not really. For me, I talk about my divorce, dating, dick pics, weight struggles, body perception, and my mother. It’s material I am proud of and came from honest, real places. Does that mean everyone will love it? Absolutely not. Are there women who talk about the EXACT SAME THINGS? Fuck yes, and I don’t think it’s a negative thing at all.
Anyone who has ever walked on stage and attempt to make strangers laugh is brave. You are alone, exposed, and have no safety net. It’s you against them and you better have your shit ready. Add a woman into the mix and it becomes tenfold. Not only are you standing there being judged on your comedy, but we also get the added bonus of being judged on how we look. This. Is. A. Fact. If you don’t think it’s real, take my place when I walk on stage, looking out and seeing expressions ranging from disappointment to straight up annoyance. Hear how the cheers and claps dramatically reduce, sometimes stopping, when my name is announced as the host for the night. “What the fuck, there’s a WOMAN hosting?” is something I’ve actually heard walking on stage.
Sadly, this whole ‘controversy’ will blow over by the next news cycle. Hell, even as I’m typing this I’m getting breaking news alerts on other important things happening in the world. But as a woman, and a comic, it’s something I need to keep in the front of my mind. It’s important for me to remember these members of my tribe who don’t want to elevate other woman so I never become one of them.
Iliza, this is your Battle of Normandy. I hope you’re prepared.