Flipping the Ratio: Inside Boston’s Women in Comedy Festival
My improv team had a good set on that snowy night in February. The three of us were happy. After the show we celebrated with friends at a nearby bar. I attempted to get the bartender’s attention when a man approached me: “you were on that team, right?” he asked. I told him I was. “You guys were so good! At first I was like, ugh three girls, great” he said, enunciating that last word with palpable sarcasm, “but then you guys killed it.”
If you’re a woman or a regular, non-woman-hating man in the comedy community, you’re probably cringing in sympathy. When a man gets on stage, we assume he’s funny until he proves otherwise. One misguided attempt at flattery reminded me that women are often denied that luxury.
Women are just people in comedy. We are just comedians. If forced to fear sexism or expected to represent ‘all women’, however, the stage becomes an inequitable place for performers. The Women In Comedy Festival, which includes men, but maintains a majority of female performers, reverses the gender ratio to provide comedians a fair and supportive space.
“There’s no guarantee you’re going to have to deal with sexism at every single show you do, but there’s a fear… and there’s sort of a guarantee,” said Lane Moore, Comedian and Writer for the Onion, who also sat on the Board of Advisers for last year’s festival. “When I do any show – a sketch show, an improv show, a stand up show – I’m pretty much the only girl on the bill.”
At this year’s Fifth Annual Women In Comedy Festival, held throughout Boston and Cambridge Massachusetts from March 21-March 24, Moore has nothing to worry about. Neither do I. We will be among almost three hundred women performing.
Michelle Barbera and Maria Ciampa, both comedians and performers, founded the Boston-based event in 2009. Co-Producer Elyse Schuerman joined them the next year. “We noticed there was a disparity of men and women performing in festivals, writing for TV and on comedy specials,” said Barbera. “On a whim, I brought up to Maria that we should create our own festival. We wanted to include men, but switch the ratio.”
Ciampa, Barbera and Schuerman’s festival grants women the opportunity to perform alongside men as an equal part of the comedy community and not as an alienated subset of it. “Women really seek out the festival and try to come back year after year,” said Barbera. “It’s a great place to get together with a ton of other women and to feel like it’s normal. Women’s comedy isn’t a genre, it’s just comedy.”
Aparna Nancherla, a comedian and writer for FX’s Totally Biased, will also perform at this year’s festival and sit on a Writer’s Panel. “It’s not like we’re all talking about being women in comedy, we’re just the majority instead of the minority,” said Nancherla, looking back on her experience performing in the 2010 festival. “You don’t have to deal with getting on stage and knowing everybody’s thinking: ‘Oh, it’s the one girl on the show.’”
Over five short years, the Women In Comedy Festival has grown tremendously. In its inaugural year, seventy comedians were invited to perform in one venue over the course of a weekend. This week over three hundred comedians will perform at nine unique venues all over Boston and Cambridge.
This year’s lineup includes some of the funniest people in comedy, including Maria Bamford, Rachel Dratch, Erin Foley, Horatio Sanz and Myq Kaplan, among many others. The performances range from stand-up comedy to sketch and improv shows to storytelling and musical comedy. Men not only perform throughout the weekend, but they also make up about fifty percent of the audience, according to Barbera. “It really defies the notion that men aren’t interested in women doing comedy,” she said, reflecting on the festival’s usual crowd. “It’s simply not true.”
After all, women in comedy are just comedians. Funny women are just funny people. “This is how it’s supposed to be,” claimed Moore, as she remembered her experience in last year’s festival. “I can’t tell you the kind of support you felt backstage. We’re people who are so good at what we do, and we’re allowed to go on stage without worry about anything, and kill. And that’s what we did: everybody just killed.”
The more opportunities we have to see women performing on an impartial stage where sexism is not an inevitability, the easier it will be to accept women as an equal part of comedy. And, the more confident we — or, (because unlike Chaka Khan, I am not every woman) I — will become.
Gather your friends, road trip to Boston, and support these hilarious comedians. Any show you walk into at the Women In Comedy Festival will be filled with phenomenal and accomplished performers (Giulia Rozzi, Victor Varnado, Marga Gomez, Meghan Hanley and Selena Coppock will all perform stand-up in the same show, for example). Here are select events you won’t want to miss:
The Women In Comedy includes a number of workshops and panel to help comedians learn about the creative and business sides of comedy. One highlight is an interview between improviser and journalist Pam Victor with Rachel Dratch (Saturday, March 23, 2013, 1:00-2:30pm). It is free for WICF performers and $10.00 for the public. Tickets are available here.
Another highlight is a Writer’s Panel with Ilana Glazer, Aparna Nancherla and Mindy Raf, among many others (Saturday, March 23, 2013, 10:30-12:00). “This panel will be a whole gamut of different ways to write comedy, whether it’s a book, a column, a TV series or a one woman show,” said Nancherla, who is one of two female writers on Totally Biased. “Generally as a woman in a writer’s room you’re in the minority, so I’m excited to hear what the other writers on the panel have to say.” This is free and open to the public.
Workshops range from how to punch-up a script to a character-based improv class and writing for a one-person show. Lane Moore will also host a workshop on Sunday, March 24th called “Write Now: Writing Even If You’re Not Ready.” It will focus on encouraging female writers to submit and publish their work. “Men are sure of themselves, and they can be believed. With women, if you say you do something, you better be the best at it in the world. So I understand why women are hesitant [to write and submit their work] but I want to help make that better,” said Moore on the workshop. The full list of workshops is available on the WICF website.
UCB: Queens of Improv, Thursday March 21, 2013, 8:00pm, The Wilbur Theater
On the first night of the festival, Rachel Dratch and Horatio Sanz will grace the stages of the Wilbur Theater to improvise a show never to be repeated. Because that’s how improv works. They will be joined by three of the best improvisers from the Upright Citizen’s Brigade theater in New York: Shannon O’Neill, Fran Gillespie and Michael Delaney.
“This is a really unique opportunity to see people who have really made it in Hollywood and on television to doing the thing that got them there at an extremely high level, in a fairly intimate space, in front of a live audience, in a show that will never ever happen again. It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity,” declared festival producer Barbera. “I would hate to miss that show.”
Tickets are available here. http://www.ticketmaster.com/event/01004A43DEA17C2D
Maria Bamford ft. Kelly MacFarland and Erin Foley, Friday, March 22nd, 7:30pm and 9:30pm, Brattle Theater
Maria Bamford, a veteran performer and comedy star who has graced the stages of nearly every late-night talk show, will headline the Women In Comedy Festival this year. She has the first female comic to have two half-hour Comedy Central Presents specials, and according to twitter, she recently made Mike Birbiglia feel like this:
“Saw @mariabamfoo tonight at Caroline’s. I’ve never seen a comedian who made me want to give 25 standing ovations in one set.”
Bamford will perform two shows at the Brattle Theater – one at 7:30 and another at 9:30 – and will be supported by Kelly MacFarland (Premium Blend) and Erin Foley (Conan, Comedy Central Presents).
“Maria Bamford, Kelly MacFaland and Erin Foley are all women I really look up to and are inspirational for all comics, both male and female,” said Nancherla. Do not miss this show.
Tickets are available here. http://wicfbamfordearlyshow.eventbrite.com/
Musical Comedy Hosted by Niki Luparelli with MC Mr. Napkins, Velveeta, Cocoon Central Dance Team & Rogue Burlesque, Friday, March 22, 2013, 7:30pm, Club Oberon
The Musical Comedy show hosted by Niki Luparelli is one of the most unique of WICF, and will feature everything from comedy rapping by the always inspiring MC Mr. Napkins (aka Zach Sherwin) to Burlesque by Rogue Burlesque (featured on IFC). the Cocoon Central Dance Team, a comedy-dance trio that has performed at UCB, Terminal 5 and on the Chris Gethard Show. “It’s going to be a really funny, wild show,” says co-Producer, Barbera. “Club Oberon is such a cool and unique space. I highly recommend that show.”
Improv All Stars with Rachel Dratch & Myq Kaplan’s “Hang Out With Me,” Featuring Maria Bamford & Rachel Dratch LIVE, Saturday March 23, 2013, 8:00pm, Improv Asylum
Join the hilarious Myq Kaplan, who was a finalist on Last Comic Standing and who has performed everywhere from Letterman and Conan to Comedy Central, as he tapes a special live recording of his podcast “Hang Out With Me.” He will interview both Rachel Dratch and WICF headliner Maria Bamford. Stick around afterwards to watch improv from some of the nation’s top performers, including Rachel Dratch, Rebecca Sohn (Second City), Adrianna Frost (The Daily Show) and Don Schuerman (Just for Laughs), among others.
Alison Griffin Vingiano is a writer and performer based in Brooklyn. She will be Storytelling in the Women In Comedy festival on Thursday, March 21st at 8:00pm at the Charles Playhouse. She would love for you to come, but she knows you will see the UCB All Stars show instead. She totally understands. She Tweets & Tumbls.