Tuesday, April 22, 2014

An Open Response to Shecky Magazine

A few nights ago about 3am, I was bored and started googling myself. When I was done, I Googled myself. On page 18 of the Google search (I’m persistent when I’m high), I ran across a link to Shecky Magazine from back in May of last year. Hmm. When was I in Shecky Magazine? Usually, when I am in a publication, comedy or otherwise, I get texts and emails from other comics and fans saying, “saw you in [so-and-so].” With this, I got nothing. I guess no one read it. 

So I click on the link to discover an article by Brian McKim and Traci Skene attacking a piece I had written for the website Every Day Victim Blaming called “The Subtle Oppression of Women by Comedy” 

Once I got over the shock of it taking two people to write a short article in which half the words were mine, I noticed they called my essay a “trainwreck.” (I assume one of them came up with “train” and the other one “wreck.”) I thought it interesting that not only was it a particularly vicious review of my piece (they called it “blather”), but the writers seemed very annoyed that the piece had caught on with so many people in and out of the comedy community and that it had received so many positive comments (their article received zero comments). If so many female and male comedians and civilians related to my piece, it must be bullshit!!  Rather than acknowledging that a comic who has been in the biz a long time might be speaking from a perspective and experience the writers (also long-time comics) had yet to consider and could learn more about, the piece must be crushed and the perspective must be mocked!

So, since you didn’t get it Shecky, allow me to elaborate on the points you raised….

Shecky writes:

“There’s a website called “Every Day Victim Blaming.” We know, we know… it sounds like a satire or a parody site… something the Onion might come up with. (The title certainly sounds like it was named by one of the Festrunk Brothers-
“We’re two WILD AND CRAZY GUYS! Please to read our site, ‘EVERYDAY VICTIM BLAMING!’ The FOXES DIG IT!”)”

The most offensive part of that is what a bad joke that was. (Try harder, guys.) Then they go on to quote the website’s actual mission statement:


A campaign to change the language, culture and attitude around violence against women and children

Ok, let’s just start with what is going on in your world and your brain that you think an organization dedicated to helping women and children who are victims of violence and that seeks to change the way these people (we) are treated, is a joke? Seriously, the idea that a group of people would gather together writers from all walks of life to comment on society’s treatment of victims is hilarious to you? Lol beaten and raped women and children, amirite?! Why would you possibly seek to change the world when you can just sit around and make fun of people who try? 

You couldn’t have proved the point of the organization or of my essay more if you had just stopped there. But, you didn’t. In response to me stopping a radio interviewer from making a victim-blaming rape joke in an interview with me, Shecky writes:

“We submit that any comedian that ceases being a comedian and instead becomes an activist or ideologue will get that look a lot. Especially if the comedian is booked onto a radio show as a comedian but shifts gears into feminist scold. She has every right, of course, to shift into ideologue mode, but she can’t expect the segment to instantly turn into anything but a frozen turd. Oh, sure, it makes for a great story at the next meeting of the Lena Dunham Fan Club, but she can’t expect here riposte automatically provide rock-solid proof that we are all living in a hellish, unsympathetic “rape culture.” She was (we assume) brought onto the show as a comedian… she might consider responding to a joke with… a joke!”

Firstly, are you guys really making the point that a comic must be a dancing monkey 24/7 and can never be serious at all? So, Jon Stewart, Bill Maher, George Carlin, etc don’t count as comics? You two have no personal opinions you ever express in interviews? You said you assume I was brought on the show to be a comedian aka funny. I actually was very funny and have been asked back several times. The host went on to write an article about me that ended up on the cover of Pasadena Weekly, so I feel pretty sure that he was happy with my work on the show. Actually, I was brought on there to discuss the feminist perspective (you assumed wrong), which I often am because anyone who follows my career knows that I am a feminist. Why do you think we were talking about rape to begin with? Because it’s so funny?? I did not blind-side anyone. But, I’ll send the host your concerns for his feelings for having been corrected on his joke. 

Second, why did I correct him and why did I include this story in a piece about victim blaming? (I tried to get booked by the Lena Dunham Fan Club, but they were looking for a male comic) BECAUSE HE WAS BLAMING THE VICTIM. He was putting the onus on the victim to have prevented her own rape, just as society does every day in the news and on TV and movies and comment threads on the Internet and in courtrooms and comedians’ acts and in articles in comedy magazines about how organizations that help victims of violence are a joke. 

Words have power. I’m sure as good comedians (which I have heard you both are), you know this. What is considered acceptable speech in our society has changed over the years because of that power. Want to argue that? Watch bigots look both ways before saying “nigger” or “chink” or “faggot” when those kinds of people would have just said it on a radio show back in the day. Words have power. Words affect societal views and they affect your audience. And no, I didn’t expect my riposte to convince anyone we are living in a rape culture. But, let me say this loud and clear so that there is no misunderstanding: WE ARE LIVING IN A RAPE CULTURE. 

I could tell you that 1 in 4 women have been raped (including women in your audience) and that my personal experience is that the number is higher among the female comics I know, but that wouldn’t convince you. I could point out in a long essay about comedy’s contribution to that rape culture in not only its obsession with rape jokes, but with the jokes’ focus on the victim as the punchline. Oh wait. I did that. Or you could have actually read the website you mocked and the collection of essays by women from all walks of life discussing experiences and responding to current events in the news.  

In response to me lamenting how, in a Women in Comedy Roundtable that I hosted, managers/agents/club owners responded to my complaint that I have been in unsafe conditions in comedy condos, Shecky writes:

“Those managers– regardless of their gender– are stone cold morons and a danger to themselves and to their clients. The conditions described– which were so quickly dismissed by these so-called managers– are a danger to any comedian regardless of gender. No comic should tolerate such conditions. And any comedian who considers bookability (or re-bookability) when tacitly accepting such conditions is putting some sort of vague notion of comedy success over safety and security. (We suspect that a few comedians without management have swallowed hard and accepted slovenly, dangerous conditions, but a manager who tells her client to do so is without conscience and a special kind of sleazebag that is lower than the club owner who provides such accommodations.) Early on, The Female Half, when confronted with similar tattered and dicey lodging at a midwest comedy gig, promptly walked out, found a nearby hotel and told the management of the venue that the conditions at the condo were sub-par and that they could “do the right thing” and reimburse her for the hotel. And, of course, she never returned. She was 23 years old at the time.”

Yes! You made my point for me. Those conditions are unsafe for everyone (however, women are more at risk than men in those situations). But, the point you missed is that the response from the industry on the panel was “women comics are too high maintenance!!” They also added that we are “complainy.” My point was that when I raised concerns about safety, I was told that women should not complain or they will be viewed unfavorably by the industry.

When you say that comics should refuse to work in those conditions, I have to wonder what road you were on. Because on the road I know, the squeaky wheel did not get rebooked. Comedy is about supply and demand and the supply is a lot higher than the demand. Asking to be moved to a hotel room instead of the condo on the venue’s dime may have worked somewhere once, but is a great way to never work there again. If you pulled that off, kudos to you (and email me the name of club because I want to stay in that nice hotel). Those situations are ideal, but most of the time, comics are just busting their asses to get rebooked and pay their rent. No one is putting trying to be a star over safety. Comics are just trying to eat. That’s the reality. Yes, club owners, agents, managers, etc should step up and fix the unsafe conditions, and in the meantime, the people who complain about unsafe conditions (often women) should not be attacked for it. That was my point.

In response to me discussing comedian Christina Walkinshaw not being rebooked after asking Yuk Yuk’s Comedy Club to handle hecklers who asked to see her “tits and bush” (there was a policy that comics aren’t allowed to respond to hecklers), Shecky replied:

“Oliver muddies the waters here. This diversion does nothing to reinforce her thesis that “comedy” is guilty of any sort of “oppression of women,” subtle or otherwise.”

On what planet does a women not getting rebooked for wanting to be protected from or to be allowed to defend herself against heckles of an aggressive sexual nature muddy the waters of an essay about victim blaming? In this situation, Walkinshaw was the victim. The club punished her for standing up for herself instead of punishing the heckler. How much more clear can I be? (insert stick figure of heckler yelling “show us your tits” as Appendix A). Female comics face a different set of obstacles on the road than males comics do, in addition to the ones male comics face. 

In the article Shecky wrote on the Walkingshaw incident itself, they say, 

“But the “breast and vagina” part of the story is the “B plot,” if not the “C plot.” Walkinshaw was put in a bad position. We’ve all been there. Not in this particular, exact position, but we’ve been in situations where our artistic integrity is (at the very least) compromised and/or we’re miserable and/or the “management” of the club (such as it is) is unsympathetic.”

Oh, but it’s not the “C plot”. It’s not a regular heckle. It has an underlying implication of possible violence and can prompt a feeling of lack of safety and of an attempt to shut the woman down who dares to speak on stage. And we haven’t “all been there.” Most men haven’t “been there” in regard to this kind of attack. I could tell you stories of the women I know who have been physically assaulted on stage (often in a sexual manner) – and men have been attacked on stage, too, of course, but it is very rarely sexual, if ever. I have been attacked on stage by men three times in my career, each time being sexually groped. It’s how I learned to throw a mean punch. But, that won’t impress you or sway you or even evoke a twinge of empathy in another person’s experience because it doesn’t match your belief system that women have it no different than men. But, that doesn’t make it less true or valid. So, you may not see how a lot of women feel unsafe in their own town, on their own streets and sometimes in their own houses, and, most certainly, on the road doing comedy alone in a strange city, state or country. 

In my essay on victim blaming in comedy (and how making it a joke normalizes it in our society), I mention seeing a video in which Bill Burr said he wants to know what Rihanna said right before Chris Brown beat her up. I don’t have the link, but I can’t imagine two minutes on Google couldn’t produce it for you. I also discuss the Daniel Tosh incident with the female “heckler” in which he said “Wouldn’t it be funny if that girl got raped by like 5 guys right now? Like right now? What if a bunch of guys just raped her…”and the backlash and death and rape threats the women received when she dared to blog about the experience.   

“We’re not familiar with the bit. But we trust that Burr handles it deftly, as he handles every other subject he touches on. The inclusion of Tosh and Burr in Oliver’s piece seems incongruous, until we realize that the main purpose seems not so much to provide any real evidence of any oppression as much as to demonize various people and, ultimately, portray female comics as victims. (Ironic, considering the ostensible mission of the website it appears on.)”

Forgive me if I grow frustrated at the inability to see what is right in front of you. First of all, to lead any argument with “we’re not familiar with the bit, but…” proves that you aren’t interested in an actual analysis of my essay, but in defending a position you hold firm, regardless of facts and individual situations and perspectives. Asking what Rihanna said right before Chris Brown beat her up implies that she ‘must have said something really bad to bring on that kind of ass-whooping.’ Victims are not responsible for their attackers’ inability to control their violent impulses. Period. That is victim blaming as a punchline to a joke. That is actually a textbook example of what I am talking about. Does that mean that Bill Burr is a bad comic? OF COURSE NOT. It means that is a victim blaming joke. 

What does the Tosh incident have to do with the thesis of my essay, sorry, trainwreck? The woman (heckler) who blogged about her experience and discomfort, fear, etc of being in that situation was sent rape and death threats. According to people who were there, Tosh asked the crowd what they wanted to talk about. That woman was no more of a heckler than the guys who shouted to for Tosh to talk about rape. Why didn’t Tosh imply a threat to the male hecklers? Why didn’t he try to silence them the way he silenced her? Has anyone thought that, considering rape stats and the fact that woman expressed discomfort with the topic, the heckler may have, in fact, been a rape victim herself? And even she wasn’t, likely 1 in 4 of the other women in the audience were. What was the woman’s crime in blogging about her experience and her dislike of Tosh? Why did her voice (via the blog) have to be silenced instead of just tolerated or, gasp, respected?  And for people who say, “well she didn’t actually think she would be raped right then,” you try sitting through that and walking to your car at the end of the night with the audience members who said ‘let’s talk about rape,’ especially if you have been a victim of violence in the past. 

I close the article with a story about my friend who was raped by a staff member of a comedy club. I called her a brilliant female comic, because she is. I love how in the paragraph below, Shecky chooses to put “brilliant female comic” and “rapist” in quotes. Hmm. As if they are neither. 

“That’s just great. Our “brilliant female comic” puts her career over the security of any future comics (female or otherwise) who might play the club at which she was allegedly raped. So… to review: Our Brilliant Female Comic gets to carry on with her career, while allowing a “rapist” to roam free. Awesome. Is this supposed to be the ultimate example of “comedy oppressing women?” (Ultimately, a meaningless concept.) Any clear-thinking person will read the above and see that this is the worst possible example she could have cited to cap off this awful screed. Sadly, though, it’s elicited a torrent of “attagirls” from both female and male comics.

This probably makes me madder than any of this attack piece crap and not the part about my “awful screed” (points for owning a thesaurus, guys). You just proved that this was the perfect story to end my piece with because you are attacking the rape victim. You assume that she did not tell any other people in the industry and warn other female comics on the circuit, but let’s put that aside for now. It is an example of comedy oppressing women via our current rape culture within comedy as a microcosm and society as a macrocosm.   

Our society does not typically take rape very seriously. We attack victims who report it and those who don’t report it. We leave rape kits on shelves in evidence rooms for months and years or forever. We worry more about the man’s sports career (Kobe Bryant, Jerry Sanduski) or the family he comes from (Dupont) or his business career (Adam Richmond-I could do another entire essay on the attacks received by the waitress who reported his sexual assault and the number of male comics who knew this happened and didn’t warn women on the road for months after the assault). 

Society asks what the rape victim was wearing and how many sexual partners she had and why did she go back to his room, how much did she have to drink, what did she expect to happen?? Entire communities come together to protect rapists and blame victims  (Stubenville) My friend was not willing to go through what the courts and media and the comedy industry would put her through on top of being raped. Do I wish she had reported it? Yes, I do. But, is that my decision to make for her or my place to attack her choice? Absolutely not. And it’s not yours either. Ever.

And why did I get so many “attagirls” by both male and female comics? Maybe because, like Patton Oswalt and Louis CK, they are able to take in new information about comedy and its treatment of rape jokes and women based on hearing about other people’s perspectives and experiences and learn and change and grow. Or maybe they just want to fuck me! 

“It seems as though folks are building a case that seeks to pit female comics against comedy. All it does is make female comics look like pathetic, weak, ineffectual people. Which we know them not to be. Female comics (at least the ones we have had the pleasure to have known) are some of the strongest, most robust people on the planet.”

So my essay standing up to the status quo of the comedy industry seemed pathetic, weak, and ineffectual to you? So having an opinion that does not mesh with yours, being smacked down in your magazine is you empowering female comics? No thanks. If you are holding the status quo idea that everything I said in my essay is bullshit and that organizations that help women and children who are victims of violence is a joke, then YES, I am pitted against you. And you don’t get to hold on to your archaic ideas of a male dominated industry that lacks empathy toward the female experience (which is admittedly wide and varied) and call it “comedy.” You don’t get to hijack comedy from the rest of us.

The article wraps up by dragging Jerry Lewis into it (you were saying something about my essay being off point?). The assertion is that Jerry Lewis saying women aren’t funny is like your grandpa rambling at Thanksgiving dinner and should not be listened to or paid attention to. This assumes your grandpa is not a respected elder in your industry that many grew up loving and respecting. So are Eddie Brill, Christopher Hitchens and Adam Carolla my creepy uncles at Thanksgiving? At what age do we get to stop publishing their versions of women aren’t funny? 

“The Female Half dismounted the stage earlier this month at Goodnights in Raleigh– after a killer set– and she encounters an adoring 24-year-old female fan. The fan says, “I love you! But when you first walked onstage, I turned to my boyfriend and said, ‘Oh, no… a chick comic…’” Perhaps the tipping point has already been reached.
When a comedy fan– a female comedy fan, born in 1989– utters such a sentiment to her companion while seated at a comedy club in 2013, perhaps we are past the tipping point. The “Women Aren’t Funny” meme has taken hold with all the tenacity of a badger. How long before a female patron– born during the Clinton administration– claps her arm around a competent, professional female comic and says, “Honey, standup comedy is no place for a woman.”?
Do women have it hard in comedy? Yes. Do men have it hard in comedy? Yes. It’s a tough business”

So, wait. Is your point that people aren’t affected by these ideas that women aren’t funny or that they are? If we have reached “the tipping point,” are we to throw in the towel or continue to speak up? Regarding these lists (that have been compiled of funny females) that you mention your hostility toward in your article, how is reminding people that there are a lot of funny women among comics they have laughed at all their lives some sort of an affront against female comedy? Are there other lists of funny comics out there that you are opposed to? Are you against lists of any kind? How do you buy groceries?

I looked through Shecky and ran across this attack piece on Lindy West that I thought spoke volumes about the magazines starting perspective. Lindy West was the writer who dared to debate comedian Jim Norton about rape jokes on the show Totally Biased, which was a great debate. Shecky seems to have watched a different debate than I did or that Jim Norton has discussed afterward. Shecky describes Lindy as a blithering idiot who was incoherent and made no good points at all. 

To the contrary, she made a lot of good points and so did Jim. But, Lindy was not “allowed” to make points because she is a woman questioning the status quo of a male dominated industry. Why is it if you call out an industry on hack airplane food jokes, you have integrity, but if you call out hack rape jokes you are a free-speech fascist? Just because you can say anything, doesn’t mean you should. Not once did Lindy suggest censoring comics. Not once. She suggested a dialogue about the power of words and the effect they have on your audience. A dialogue Shecky Magazine is not willing to have.
The idea that West put forth that comedy clubs are hostile environments for women by met by Shecky with:

“This is utter nonsense, but it’s right in West’s wheelhouse. It’s a notion that can’t be proven or disproven. It’s merely a vicious, outrageous claim that merely seeks to demonize comedy clubs, their patrons and the people who mount the stage. And, as a bonus, it helps in the effort to portray 
women as victims… She gives no credit to comedy club patrons.

Since the debate, West has received numerous rape and death threats for speaking out and even Jim Norton asked fans to leave her alone and stop threatening her. Would these comedy club patrons/fans she doesn’t give credit to be the same ones that were sending her death threats or are we to assume Norton’s Twitter followers don’t go to comedy clubs?

When I guest tweeted on The Women’s Room (no, that’s not a parody organization either! Lol womenz), I was told by a ton of women that they stopped going to comedy clubs because of the culture of hostility toward women. I was really surprised. THEY STOPPED GIVING MONEY TO OUR INDUSTRY. This culture is affecting the bottom line: butts in the seats. If we keep saying, “if you don’t want to hear this stuff, don’t go to comedy clubs,” guess what? They will.

Now, if you will excuse me, I need to get to a dark basement full of angry men to go work out some new jokes. I can’t wait to see what disaster Shecky compares this essay to. Oh the humanity of speaking up and expressing perspectives in comedy! I’m still gonna use you guys as a credit, though, so thanks!

Bobbie Oliver (as seen in Shecky Magazine)

Friday, September 20, 2013

Yin Comedy

Women In Comedy

A Little Yin with Your Yang

Ginger Rogers did everything Fred Astaire did, but backwards… and in high heels
-    Bob Thaves

Every comic who hits the stage has a set of challenges that they must overcome in order to do stand-up. Women who do comedy have all the challenges men face, plus a unique set of our own.

The fact that the term “female comic” is so prevalent supports my point. You don’t often hear “female doctors,” “female lawyers,” “female senators” - even if men do outnumber women in those jobs. Working in comedy can feel a bit like working in the NFL (National Football League, for non-Americans) and sometimes you get harassed in the locker room. This is not meant to disrespect male comics or male industry at all. Many men in this industry support women - in and out of comedy. Many do not. Many women in and out of this industry do not support women. But, that is their baggage. I just want to make you aware of some of the challenges faced by women in comedy.  

I write this chapter on the heels of interesting developments in comedy. Within a few months in 2012, Daniel Tosh had his “rape joke” scandal, and we heard Adam Carolla tell us that women are always the least funny on the writing staff of television shows because of our “mediocre” sense of humor. Eddie Brill was kind enough to share that women aren’t “authentic” and go on stage and “act like men.” Long ago, Christopher Hitchens, Jerry Lewis and John Belushi told us flatly that women just aren’t funny. If that is not evidence to you of discrimination against women in comedy, you need to look up the words “evidence” and “discrimination.”  I’d be willing to bet that a similar story comes out between me writing this and you reading it.

According to Huffington Post, of the 48 spots given to comedians on late night television in the first half of 2012, only two went to women (Late Night TV Stand-Up Demographics: First Half Of 2012 Still Overwhelmingly Male, White: Huffington Post, July 28, 2012). You can turn on any stand-up show, see a comedy show live, look at the roster of comedy agents and managers and see a huge disparity between the number of men and women. Some people say this is because more men do comedy than women. True, but not nearly to the extent that we are underrepresented. Maybe not many women in Kansas do comedy, but I would say my experience in Los Angeles is that about 25% of comics are female. I would guess New York would be similar. Last time I checked, TV shows cast out of LA and NY, not Kansas.  Yes, there are a ton of women who aren’t funny or who are just not my cup of tea. But, there are also a ton of men who are not funny to me. People who say that women aren’t funny are not always getting the most exposure to comics who are women. My funny friend Rosie Tran pointed out to me that if all you watch is Comedy Central, whose dominant demographic is 18-34 year-old males, and you only see live comedy shows rarely, you aren’t getting a whole lot of exposure to female comics. There also seems to be a double standard when judging women. How often do people see a painfully unfunny male comic and say, “Men aren’t funny?” That’s the same as seeing a black comic you don’t like and saying “Black people aren’t funny.” Each woman does not represent all women’s abilities and should not be judged as such.

I’ve heard it said that “women aren’t as funny as men” because we aren’t  raised  to be  funny,   that  our   culture  does  not  encourage women to be funny. That may be true about our culture to some extent, but it’s not the 1950s anymore. It’s ok to be funny now. I think that our society does not encourage women to be empowered, to stand up and speak out and own their Selves and their thoughts and opinions. Women are encouraged to be submissive and sweet and quiet. I think that’s why I often hear the ridiculous accusation that women talk about sex (or their body parts) more than men on stage. All I can say to that is: WTF? Sit through night after night of watching men hump mic stands and stools and use the mic as their dick in a joke or do ten minutes of masturbation and blow job jokes, and then tell me men don’t talk about sex on stage. I think our culture does not see men talking about sex as unusual, and therefore, we don’t notice it as much. It’s unusual to see a woman publicly talking about sex, so it sticks out in our minds. Don’t let society norms fool you (or remain intact).

It’s great that TV shows like Girls, 30 Rock, Parks and Recreation, New Girl, Two Broke Girls, Whitney, The Mindy Project and Veep are out there and that more movies are also being made by women and starring women (in three-dimensional characters), especially since the success of Bridesmaids. But, is it a trend or are women here to stay in a big way? We have to work to make sure this is not a flash in the pan, and that diversity is achieved in the types of women and points of view that are represented. Also, I would like to see many women being given opportunities rather than (or in addition to) a few select women given many opportunities. There are going to be female projects that are weak, just like some male projects are not funny. When “female comedy” is not all lumped together in one package, we will be closer to having succeeded. I recently saw a cartoon that reminded me of the “women aren’t funny” debate. The cartoon had two panels. The first panel had a boy watching another boy trying to solve a math problem on a chalk board and failing miserably.  The boy watching said, “Wow. You suck at math.” The second panel had the same scenario except the person trying to solve the math problem was a little girl. The watcher then said, “Wow. Girls suck at math.” That’s what we are trying to overcome.

Comics who are women face issues that men do not need to consider often:

·            Safety: Is the club safe for me to go to at night and walk to and from my car alone? Am I putting myself in a threatening situation? When on the road alone in a strange state: What if my car breaks down? What are the accommodations like?  Will I be in a trashy hotel in a scary part of town? Will I be in a comedy condo with two male comics I have never met?

·            Motherhood: Small children are harder to leave for women than men regarding dependence. Being on the road and doing comedy in general while pregnant is very difficult (and impossible toward the end). Mothers are typically considered the ones that stay at home and don’t travel all over the country rarely seeing their children. I know lots of male comics who rarely see their kids, but not a lot of moms on the road. A lot of famous female comics are childless or have children later in life, after their careers are established.

·            Sexual harassment: I could tell so many stories here, but I will be brief. Female comics face sexual harassment on a regular basis from other comics, club owners, bookers, club staff and audience members. We are given and denied jobs based on our “fuckability” and willingness to play along. We are intimidated, harassed and assaulted, verbally and physically. Some of us have been frightened and some of us have been attacked. I have personally been attacked on stage by a male audience member three different times; each time being groped in front of the whole audience. I know women who have been assaulted by other comics in the comedy condo and by the club staff or audience members after the show. While not always the norm, the level of harassment can be threatening and intimidating and, at times, overwhelming.

·         Discrimination: We face the stereotype that women aren’t funny by some male comics, audience members and industry gatekeepers. I have had a gig canceled at the last minute after being told, “We already have a girl. We don’t want two chicks in one week.” Women face a huge lack of opportunity on television, in agency representation, writers’ rooms and live shows. Sometimes when a woman goes on stage, you can almost feel the “oh great; a woman” attitude from the audience. Then she has to prove herself doubly: as a comic and as a female comic.

·         Misogyny: It’s hard being a woman and following male comics on stage who: do fifteen minutes of rape jokes (and not the insightful ones); talk about how women are all bitches or whores; use their entire set to dis “ugly girls” and  “fat chicks.” The maleness of comedy (particularly at open mics, in my opinion) can discourage women from starting or continuing comedy. I have heard it described by more than one female comic as “soul stealing.” Women have to work twice as hard to earn respect from our peers, audiences, and many factions of the comedy community.

I am in no way implying that women don’t make jokes about men. We do, and many of them are harsh, unfair generalizations. I believe you typically make jokes about who you date or mate. But, with so few women in comedy per male comic, men don’t have to listen to as many jokes about themselves as women do. They can feel safe in the sheer numbers of men vs women, especially at an open mic, putting them in a power position. I am also not saying that being a female comic is one big rape waiting to happen, or that most male comics, club owners, staff, industry gatekeepers, agents and audience are jerks. Most people in the comedy business are friendly and accepting. But, like in the real world, these are things you must be aware exist so that you can prepare yourself and get tough. Be smart, aware and safe. But, most of all, grow a thick skin and brace yourself for a rough business.

We often think of male comics when naming our biggest influences or favorites in comedy. There are tons of male comic role models (for me, as well). Women also have so many positive role models in comedy and those names should not be forgotten: Lily Tomlin, Phyllis Diller, Moms Mabley, Elaine May, Anne Meara, Gracie Allen, Mae West, Rusty Warren, Roseanne, Elayne Boosler, Wendy Liebman, Judy Tenuta, Lizz Winstead, Sandra Bernhard, Janeane Garofalo, Maria Bamford, Sarah Silverman, Gilda Radner, Andrea Martin, Lucille Ball, Mary Tyler Moore, Betty White, Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Ellen DeGeneres, Carol Leifer, Caroline Rhea, Ruth Buzzi, Margaret Cho, Brett Butler, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Lisa Kudrow, Kathy Griffin, LaWanda Page, Laura Kightlinger, Cloris Leachman, Whoopi Goldberg, Joan Rivers, Kristen Wiig, Bea Arthur, Minnie Pearl, Madeline Kahn, Thelma Todd, Jackie Kashian, Amy Schumer, Sally Mullins, Kelly Carlin, Rain Pryor, Jane Lynch, Melissa McCarthy, Paula Poundstone, Rita Rudner, Margaret Dumont, Nikki Glaser, April Macie, Jane Curtin, Goldie Hawn, Diane Ford, Kathleen Madigan, Julia Sweeney, Tig Notaro, Rosie O’Donnell, ZaSu Pitts, Carol Burnett, Vicki Lawrence, Laurie Kilmartin, Tracey Ullman, Kristen Schaal, Emily Heller, Wanda Sykes, Susie Essman, Merrill Markoe, Gina Yashere, Cristela Alonzo, Morgan Murphy, Garfunkel and Oates, Beth Lapides, Samantha Bee, Chelsea Handler, Fortune Feimster, Anne Beatts, Lena Dunham, Eudora Welty, Julie Klausner, Aisha Tyler, Sara Benincasa, Jen Kober , Katie Halper, Mindy Kaling, Rachel  Feinstein,  Erin  Foley,  Michelle  Biloon,  Jena Friedman,  Jen Kirkman, Jessie Klein, Chelsea Peretti, Kelly Oxford, Jenny Johnson, Aubrey Plaza, Sara Schaefer, Amy Sedaris, Maysoon Zayid, Janine Brito, Kim Coles, Aparna Nancherla, Christina Pazsitsky, Jessica Kirson…. I could go on and on. This list is far from complete and is not intended to be. You are likely thinking of someone I left off right now. Good.

I include this list because it is important to me to encourage women to go into comedy and stay in it, despite the challenges.  Comedy needs both male and female voices. We need the balance, the yin and the yang. I don’t want fewer men to do comedy. I want more women to. Women are 51% of humans, but only about 25% of the voices in comedy. When people are saying that women are not funny and not giving us opportunities  in   and   out  of  comedy,  when  they  are  discounting  the experiences and reactions of rape victims, when women continue to get paid less than men for the same job, when laws are being passed stripping women of rights to our own bodies, when harassment and violence against women happen in large numbers each year and are swept under the rug, when countries around the world oppress women and misogyny reigns – the voice of women on the microphone (and behind the scenes) becomes more and more essential. The more they tell us to shut up and sit down, the more we should stand up and shout. Pick up a pen. Pick up a mic. Your voice matters. Use it.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

My Feminist Writings Regarding Comedy

Since I have been posting so much of other people's stuff, my 
writing got lost. So, here are the three pieces I wrote lately: 
I'm very honored to have been asked to write a piece for the 
feminist website 
Here's my perspective on victim blaming in comedy:

The Subtle Oppression of Women by Comedy 

Portrait of a Feminist Comedian

The Pen is Mightier than the Rape Whistle 

My Hubby Comedian Chris Oliver Gets in on the Rape Joke Debate

It's OK To Have A Complicated Relationship With Art: More Thoughts On Rape Jokes



Steubenville and the misplaced sympathy for Jane Doe's rapists

 Since the last article referred to this and it's great, check out...

Steubenville and the misplaced sympathy for Jane Doe's rapists


Tennis Star's Disappointing Comments and Apology

What Serena Williams 'taught me' about rape


Take Your Comedy Seriously – By Dylan Brody



Friday, June 14, 2013

Patton Oswalt Changes His Mind About Rape Jokes!!!!

Holy shit this just made me SO freaking happy!!!! Patton Oswalt admits he was wrong about rape jokes!! I love him again!!


Here's is the part pertaining to rape jokes: 

3. Rape Jokes
In 1992 I was in the San Francisco International Comedy Competition.  Out of a field of 40 competitors, I think I came in 38.  Maybe.

One of the comedians I competed against was named Vince Champ.  Handsome, friendly, 100% clean material.  He would gently – but not in a shrill or scolding way – chide some of the other comedians about their “blue” language, or “angry” subject material, or general, dark demeanor.  But nice to hang out with.  Polite.

Later that same year Vince won Star Search.  $100,000 grand prize.  A career launched.  Couldn’t happen to a nicer guy.

He’s now sitting in prison in Nebraska, serving a 55 to 70 year sentence for a string of rapes he committed at college campuses where he toured as a comedian.  College bookers loved him because his material was squeaky-clean and non-controversial.  I guess the Star Search producers agreed.
Vince is one example – there are others, believe me – where some of the friendliest, most harmless-seeming, and non-offensive comedians carry around some pretty horrific mental plumbing.  The comedians I’ve known who joke about rape – and genocide, racism, serial killers, drug addiction and everything else in the Dark Subjects Suitcase – tend to be, internally and in action, anti-violence, anti-bigotry, and decidedly anti-rape.  It’s their way – at least, it’s definitely my way – of dealing with the fact that all of this shittiness exists in the world.  It’s one of the ways I try to reduce the power and horror those subjects hold for me.  And since I’ve been a comedian longer than any of the people who blogged or wrote essays or argued about this, I was secure in thinking my point of view was right.  That “rape culture” was an illusion, that the examples of comedians telling “rape jokes” in which the victim was the punchline were exceptions that proved the rule.  I’ve never wanted to rape anyone.  No one I know has ever expressed a desire to rape anyone.  My viewpoint must be right.  Right?

I had that same knee-jerk reaction when the whole Daniel Tosh incident went down.  Again, only looking at it from my experience.  And my experience, as a comedian, made me instantly defend him.  I still do, up to a point.  Here’s why: he was at an open mike.  Trying out a new joke.  A joke about rape.  A horrible subject but, like with all horrible subjects, the first thing a comedian will subconsciously think is, “Does a funny approach exist with which to approach this topic?”  He tried, and it didn’t go well.  I’ve done the same thing, with all sorts of topics.  Can I examine something that horrifies me and reduce the horror of it with humor?  It’s a foolish reflex and all comedians have it.

And, again, it was at an open mike.  Which created another knee-jerk reaction in me.  Open mikes are where, as a comedian, you’re supposed to be allowed to fuck up.  Like a flight simulator where you can create the sensation of spiking the nose of the plane into the tarmac without killing anyone (or yourself).  Open mikes are crucial for any working comedian who wants to keep developing new material, stretching what he or she does, and keeping themselves from burrowing into a creative rut.

Even Daniel admitted, in his apology, that the joke wasn’t going well, that when the girl interrupted him (well, heckled, really) he reacted badly.  The same way I reacted badly when an audience member started taping one of my newer, more nebulous bits with her camera phone a few months earlier.  Daniel’s bad reaction I don’t defend.  His attempting to find humor in the subject of rape – again, a horrifying reality that, like other horrifying realities, can sometimes be attacked with humor?  I defend that.  Still defend.  Will always defend.
What it came down to, for me, was this: let a comedian get to the end of his joke.  If it’s not funny then?  Fine.  Blast away.  In person, on the internet, anywhere.  It’s an open mike.  Comedians can take it.  We bomb all the time.  We go too far all the time.  It’s in our nature.

And don’t interrupt a comedian during the set-up.  A lot of times, a set-up is deliberately meant to shock, to reverse your normal valences, to kick you a few points off your axis.  If you heard the beginning of Lenny Bruce’s joke where he blurts out, “How many niggers do we have here tonight?”, and then stood up and motherfucked him into silence and stormed out?  You’d be correct – based solely on what you saw and heard – that Lenny was a virulent racist.  But if you rode the shockwave, and listened until the end of the bit, you’d see he was attacking something – racism – that he found abhorrent and was, in fact, so horrified by it that he was willing to risk alienating an audience to make his point.

So that’s how I saw the whole “rape joke” controversy.  And, again, my view was based on my experience as a comedian.  25 years experience, you know?  This was about censorship, and the limits of comedy, and the freedom to create and fuck up while you hone what you create.

But remember what I was talking about, in the first two sections of this?  In the “Thievery” section and then the “Heckling” section?  About how people only bring their own perceptions and experiences to bear when reacting to something?  And, since they’re speaking honestly from their experience, they truly think they’re correct?  Dismissive, even?  See if any of these sound familiar:

There’s no “evidence” of a “rape culture” in this country.  I’ve never wanted to rape anyone, so why am I being lumped in as the enemy?  If these bloggers and feminists make “rape jokes” taboo, or “rape” as a subject off-limits no matter what the approach, then it’ll just lead to more censorship.  
They sure sound familiar to me because I, at various points, was saying them.  Either out loud, or to myself, or to other comedian and non-comedian friends when we would argue about this.  I had my viewpoint, and it was based on solid experience, and it…was…fucking…wrong.

Let’s go backwards through those bullshit conclusions, shall we?  First off: no one is trying to make rape, as a subject, off-limitsNo one is talking about censorship.  In this past week of re-reading the blogs, going through the comment threads, and re-scrolling the Twitter arguments, I haven’t once found a single statement, feminist or otherwise, saying that rape shouldn’t be joked under any circumstance, regardless of context.  Not one example of this.

In fact, every viewpoint I’ve read on this, especially from feminists, is simply asking to kick upward, to think twice about who is the target of the punchline, and make sure it isn’t the victim.

Why, after all of my years of striving to write original material (and, at times, becoming annoyingly self-righteous about it) and struggling find new viewpoints or untried approaches to any subject, did I suddenly balk and protest when an articulate, intelligent and, at times, angry contingent of people were asking my to apply the same principles to the subject of rape?  Any edgy or taboo subject can become just as hackneyed as an acceptable or non-controversial one if the exact same approach is made every time.  But I wasn’t willing to hear that.

And let’s go back even further.  I’ve never wanted to rape anyone.  Never had the impulse.  So why was I feeling like I was being lumped in with those who were, or who took a cavalier attitude about rape, or even made rape jokes to begin with?  Why did I feel some massive, undeserved sense of injustice about my place in this whole controversy?
The answer to that is in the first inc
orrect assumption.  The one that says there’s no a “rape culture” in this country.  How can there be?  I’ve never wanted to rape anyone.

Do you see the illogic in that leap?  I didn’t at first.  Missed it completely.  So let’s look at some similar examples:

Just because you 100% believe that comedians don’t write their own jokes doesn’t make it so.  And making the leap from your evidence-free belief to dismissing comedians who complain about joke theft is willful ignorance on your part, invoked for your own comfort.  Same way with heckling.  Just because you 100% feel that a show wherein a heckler disrupted the evening was better than one that didn’t have that disruption does not make it the truth.  And to make the leap from your own personal memory to insisting that comedians feel the same way that you do is indefensible horseshit.

And just because I find rape disgusting, and have never had that impulse, doesn’t mean I can make a leap into the minds of women and dismiss how they feel day to day, moment to moment, in ways both blatant and subtle, from other men, and the way the media represents the world they live in, and from what they hear in songs, see in movies, and witness on stage in a comedy club.

There is a collective consciousness that can detect the presence (and approach) of something good or bad, in society or the world, before any hard “evidence” exists.  It’s happening now with the concept of “rape culture.”  Which, by the way, isn’t a concept.  It’s a reality.  I’m just not the one who’s going to bring it into focus.  But I’ve read enough viewpoints, and spoken to enough of my female friends (comedians and non-comedians) to know it isn’t some vaporous hysteria, some false meme or convenient catch-phrase.
I’m a comedian.  I value and love what I do.  And I value and love the fact that this sort of furious debate is going on about the art form I’ve decided to spend my life pursuing.  If it wasn’t, it would mean all of the joke thief defenders and heckler supporters are right, that stand-up comedy is some low, disposable form of carnival distraction, a party trick anyone can do.  It’s obviously not.  This debate proves it.  And I don’t want to be on the side of the debate that only argues from its own limited experience.  And I don’t need the sense memory of an actor, or a degree from Columbia, or a moody, desert god to tell me that.

I’m a man.  I get to be wrong.  And I get to change