The last year has been a lot about dealing with my own insecurities. To say that the past year, starting from the beginning of spring semester 2011, has been rough is an understatement. And it’s also been one of the best years of my life. But, beginning last January, a lot of my life had to deal with figuring out my disease- Crohn’s disease. I hadn’t gotten sick since I was a freshman in high school, when my life had been much different. In college, it was hard to score sympathy from my friends after four months straight spent in bed, not that I didn’t pity myself enough. In January, I was just getting on medicine and really depressed. My friends didn’t recognize me anymore and neither did I- I was oversensitive, petty and not fun at all. And then April came. Tina Fey’s book, Bossypants, came out. I read it cover to cover and realized I had never associated with something or someone so much. The goofy side, the feminist side and the sort of sometimes being lame side (that I realized you have to embrace) all really resonated with me. A few days later, my friend Katie and I went to a signing to meet her in person. Nothing significant happened except I got tongue tied when it was my turn and I met Grizz from 30 Rock.
But I owe a lot of comedy, particularly comediennes. Comedy has always been a comfort to me, in ways that I only realize now, while actually thinking back on being a kid watching Saturday Night Live, or skipping Thursday nights out with my friends in high school to watch 30 Rock.
But after that visit to Barnes and Noble, my comedy obsession had officially begun. It was time to dig deeper. Any my life in comedy wasn’t just about funny ladies like Fey and Amy Poehler, but I branched out. My first visit to the Upright Citizens Brigade occurred in June, with my friend Nick, to a show called ASSSSCAT. I was silently suffering from a flare up of my Crohn’s, and doing little else than my internship and occasional visits with my closest friends. It was the first time I laid eyes on Shannon O’Neill, Chris Gethard, and Will Hines, three comedians who I’ve come to love. This year, I actually had the opportunity to interview O’Neill for an hour about her journey through comedy and her thoughts about women in comedy. O’Neill, who is always in support of her fellow UCB colleagues, particularly those who are female, actually had very little to say on the topic—instead, she lets that passion for being a tough woman in the New York City comedy scene show in her performances and in the sketches that she writes.
So, despite feeling sick as a dog, being malnourished and anemic, I started going to UCB pretty much every Sunday to go see ASSSSCAT, a long form improv show that never failed to be hilarious. I saw some of the greats—Amy Poehler, Janeane Garofalo—and comics who I had never heard of before—like O’Neill and Fran Gillepsie. Women who I saw in the background of my favorite TV shows were main performers and they were hilarious. I owe a lot of this to living in New York, which boasts one of the biggest comedy communities in the country. Had I attended a small school in the Mid-West, I would not have figured out how much I love comedy, nor would I have been able to cultivate this passion beyond Fey and Poehler.
What particularly impressed me was Ruby Karp, an 11 year old girl and the daughter of American feminist writer Marcelle Karp, who became a fixture on the stage. The women weren’t exploiting her, but exposing her to a community in which women were currently thriving (this was also the summer of Bridesmaids.) O’Neill often hosts a UCB show called “The Lady Jam,” a fun night where lesser known female comedians and improvisers perform. Then there’s a dance party. One of the best things about this event is the emphasis on inclusion: “men welcome,” a poster enthusiastically reads. Karp, meanwhile, is a presence on HelloGiggles, a sight for women by women.
But I didn’t really think about all of these gender dynamics until the end of the summer, when I started considering a career in comedy. Would I be included, too? I see a lot of white, females thriving, but very few with hips like mine. Writer’s rooms, too, are still dominated by males including SNL, Parks and Recreation, and 30 Rock. We still live in a world where Christopher Hitchens writes so adamantly on how women aren’t funny. But then again, we live in a world where many people would disagree.
As I continue on my comedy journey, whatever that may mean, I realize I have a long way to go. I still haven’t been to every comedy club in the city, and I’ve only scratched the surface when it comes to non-mainstream comics. But this world has sucked me in and I don’t plan on stepping out any time soon. Female comedians are the inspiration for the insecure girl in me—their beginnings as awkward and unsure give me hope that one day, like them, I’ll have embraced those quirks. Which is why I believe in comediennes so much, and why I think that this project is so important, not just for me: I can’t think of a better community for young girls to be inspired.