Bits on the Fun Bits: Inside an All-Female, Sex-Positive Comedy Show

sexpositiveSex sells.

It’s an old advertising mantra frequently used to criticize lascivious billboards or to dismissively explain the success of “provocative” artists and personalities. We are rarely treated to literal demonstrations of the principle. This past Saturday night was the exception, as I squeezed my way into Greenpoint’s Coco 66. The crowd lined up wall to wall and out the door, anticipatory chatter and the lamentations of those unticketed drowned out by loud music.

When the event starts half an hour later, nearly two hundred people have crammed into the back room of this small bar. Organized by comedians Alise Morales and Betsy Kenney, the show centers around some solid standup comics, a former adult entertainer, and a king’s ransom in masturbatory aids. The result is a celebration of human sexual expression by a gender often left out of the sexual agency equation. “It’s about feeling empowered and comfortable to follow your sexual desires,” comedian and photographer Phebe Szatmari tells me before the show when I ask for the meaning of sex-positivity. The definition is neutral, but carries different connotations for men and women, and of late the cultural discourse about sexual behavior has made the rounds on college campuses, in Congress, and at comedy theaters. It seems every few years, moralists and activists make the same discovery: women have sex, too.

Inspiration of show sprang from late night Facebook conversations between Morales and Kenney. “We realized we talk about fucking a lot,” Kenney says to the audience. This is no surprise: much has been made of fuckin’ and suckin’ in life and comedic routines, but parity for women on the subject comes more hard won. “I try to talk about all of my life experiences which obviously includes sex, and I do feel that I have to work a little harder to keep the audience on board with those jokes.” Morales, a standup comedian, tells me. “What I’ve found, what I think male comedians have had as a luxury for so long, is that audiences really respond to confidence. Men have been taught from a young age to speak about sex with a certain level of confidence that women are often discouraged from having, so sometimes you’ll see that translate to the stage.”

sexpositive2The audience seems to know the score. Standups Anna Drezen, Charla Lauriston, Hallie Kiefer, Michelle Wolf, and Jena Friedman are well met with applause and cheers throughout their sets. Drezen has one of my favorite jokes of the night, as she discussed her idea of female friendly porn. “It’s like regular porn, but we see the girl make it safely to her car after.” Intercut between performances are sex-themed games and raffle giveaways for products donated by Fleshlight, Nightcap, and other purveyors of adult novelties. The proceeds from the raffle benefit the Reproductive Health Access Project, a New York based training and advocacy organization.

During a segment called “Cliteracy,” three guy-gal pairs are brought on stage and given unlabeled diagrams of the female sex organ. The men are tasked with accurately identifying the parts as their girlfriends monitor their work. They easily label the anus, then set about the more “confusing” parts. Eventually, most of them get it. At several points through the evening, raffle numbers are read off and met with silence, as winners fail to claim their prizes either out of embarrassment, lack of want for a dildo, or because they couldn’t hear (Disclosure: I pocketed my free raffle ticket because I was of the first category). Another number gets read, and a less self-conscious/sex-toy rich/deaf person claims their plastic quarry.

Later, the hosts run a sex panel consisting of sketch duo Girls With Brown Hair, RookieMag’s Sandy Honig, and Brooklyn Wierdo-in-Residence Jo Firestone. One of the more memorable bits involves each of them reaching under their seat to produce less recognizable sex toys. Firestone yields a pink handle with a small clenched fist on the end. “This seems like more of a weapon than a toy,” Firestone remarks, brandishing her pull like a floppy pink mace. The hosts offer these kinkier items after the show to those who wish to claim them in anonymity. I hear later that somebody took the fist.

sexpositive3The night’s penultimate feature is an appearance retired adult film actress Lisa Ann, who answers audience- and Tumblr-submitted questions. Sadly, most of the inquiries could be resolved through a Google search (“How did you get into porn? What’s the most fun you’ve ever had on a set? Who is your favorite performer to work with?”). This feels like a missed opportunity since Lisa Ann, who achieved a special occupation in our culture through her widely-seen adult parody features, seems like she has more to say.

And there is much to be said on the intersections between the comedic and the erotic in the American landscape. Although humor and pornography have been around forever, their practitioners have long been cultural pioneers, often met with exclusion, obscenity trials, and, in certain instances, imprisonment. Public demand, shifting cultural attitudes, and a few Supreme Court victories brought comedians and pornographers in the mainstream, yet there are still voices among them that struggle to be heard. In recent years, however, both industries have begun to recognize women as producers, performers, and audiences. “Porn and comedy are the same in that they both were run by men for so long,” Kenney tells me later, “and it’s so amazing to see women not needing permission from anyone to bring an artistic vision to life.”

Although Lisa Ann does not address this idea directly, she speaks frankly and with ownership of her life, which is refreshing. Lisa Ann mentions that she was nervous Tina Fey wouldn’t receive her parody treatment well, but was less concerned with Sarah Palin. “Let’s let her fuck everybody in this!” Lisa Ann proclaims to applause. As she exits the stage, my big takeaway is that this woman has lived a far different life than I and that organizing an interracial gangbang sounds like a nightmare.

The evening ends with a dance-comedy performance that’s out of place and low-energy in light of the last two hours’ sensory overload. I leave with a better sense of my own hang-ups sexual and person, and in a way, I suppose the show has served one of its purposes: to make us aware of our own sexual feelings and how we, consciously or unconsciously, judge ourselves and others. More importantly, I laughed.

Photos by Bridget Badore.

Alex Estrada is a sketch comedy writer at UCB and the PIT. You can read his passive-aggressive tweets at @thealexestrada. He’s also licensed to practice law in three states, but he doesn’t like to talk about that.

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