Imagine doing something you absolutely love and have wanted to do since you were a little kid. Ten plus years later, you finally build up the courage to do so. For a while, you start seeing some momentum in this craft you love so much, and you start to use it as an escape from the real world. Sadly, you then start to realize that this craft, art, or thing that you love, actually mirrors society, and marginalizations pretty much follow you wherever you are.
This was my realization, being a woman of color trying to make her way through the world of stand up comedy.
“You have the BEST comedic timing i’ve ever heard-” I started to smile because hearing this at my first open mic ever had been amazing, to say the least
“-from a girl! Truly impressive.”
My smile started to fade, and quickly turned into a scowl, but I said thank you and kept it moving. Luckily at age 22, I was self-sufficient enough to know that when a man adds “…for a girl” in any compliment, the compliment goes from innocent to microaggressive. Considering the type of space I was in, either white male comedian, or male comedians of color mostly, and also being the new kid, I wasn’t in a place to be as assertive as I normally was. I thought “Hey, this is just one open-mic, maybe it’ll change.” Little did I realize that there was going to be a very limited amount of spaces for me to ever be assertive the further I dove into the comedy world.
I soon learned that as a female comic of color, I, along with many other female comedians of color, had to play nice, more often than any male comic, in order to get in good with the exclusive boys club. Networking is extremely crucial and can even make or break one’s career, whether or not their jokes are good enough. Networking with the right people during the right time can get you booked on good shows and on awesome projects, whether you deserve it or not.
Yes, talent does matter in the world of comedy, but if you’re thinking this sounds like a popularity contest more than anything, you’d have a point. It’s not what you know (or say), it’s who you know. This, of course, is the concept of every aspect in Hollywood, but this type of dynamic alsoresembles that of the society we live in. Networking in the comedy world reaches a certain level of nepotism that creates the pattern of the same white men helping the same other white men, who all look alike and come from similar backgrounds, who all produce the same material over and over again. The comedy world and show biz, are a lot like real life: looking for mediocre consistency, never innovation. It feels as if, we, women and femmes have to focus on playing nice, rather than working on our craft.
“PC (politically correct) Culture” is a phrase that most, if not all comedians have heard of and even discussed before. It pretty much means that a comedian should be aware and conscious of what they say on stage so, as to not offend or hurt anyone’s feelings.
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Some argue that all comedians have the right to say whatever they want on stage because it is their art and you cannot censor art. Although I personally believe the concept of being “PC” isn’t necessarily black and white, but shades of grey, I can’t help but comment on how stage content within the comedy world also mirrors that of the society that keeps the woman of color down.
In this society we live in, women of color have to deal with a combination of racism and sexism, specifically a type of racism that is sexualized and a type of sexism that is racialized (and one can go ahead and add any other intersectionality of identity into the mix and imagine the outcome). Female comedians of color have to deal with this, but in a series of “jokes.” “Jokes” that revolve around men, white or non-white, reciting rape, domestic violence, slut shaming, body shaming material. There are also white female comedians spewing content that uses cheap racist and racially minstrel punchlines to get laughs. With this type of dynamic being solidified in the the comedy world, it’s nearly impossible to find any kind of safe space for funny black and brown (and anywhere in between), women and femmes.
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When male comedians make light of sexual assault with rape jokes, not only are they signaling to potential rapists that what they do is condoned, they are also telling sexual assault survivors that what happened to them is in fact a joke. When white comics make lynching or immigration jokes, they are telling people of color that their existence and experiences are in fact a joke. Making light of very dangerous, oppressive, and violent acts is damaging because we are telling Black and Brown audiences that we do not care about what has happened to them, and we are also telling white audiences not to care either. Mainstream comedians fail to understand that the intent of a joke, pales in comparison to the impact of the punchline, a truth that parallels our society today, even for non-comics: it does not matter what you meant by what you said, it is the impact of what you said that matters.
Of course, my experiences within stand up comedy as a woman of color are my own, but often times than not, I share extremely similar experiences with other female comics, specifically those of color. I am still very new and green to this community, and much more experienced comics will read this and roll their eyes, because after all, what do I, a 24 year old snot nosed college grad who’s always mad about something, know about what it truly takes to be a comedian? I’m still trying to figure out my place, just like I’m trying to figure out my place as an Afro-Latina fat femme in this society, and the only thing I have come up with is that comedy world and the ‘real’ world are pretty similar, except I have five minutes to complain about it on a mic.