Women Missing From Comedy

A couple blogs ago we did a quick review of the Kennedy Center’s entertainment offering for the 2016 summer season. A new festival this year was the “Kennedy Center District of Comedy Festival,” co-commissioned by The Second City, a club for comedy and school of improvisation. Reviewing the events of the fest, we found only two of the comedians slated to amuse listeners were women. The two woman-focused events were a performance by Jane Lynch and a tribute for the deceased Joan Rivers.

At least nine men, conversely, had their own events. While the tribute to Joan Rivers was to celebrate the way she “changed the way America thinks about women in comedy and paved the way for an entire generation of stand-up comedians,” the preponderance of men performing doesn’t illustrate a change in the thinking of women in comedy. It shows the same-old-same-old. Beyond equity issues, this doesn’t give women in the audience, who may like the angle of some jokes from a woman’s point of view, an opportunity for that. As is typical, women are left with entertainment solely from a male vantage point. In addition to limited press, limited in-person exposure, and matters of taste, women comedians miss the opportunity to be paid for appearances, which the men receive. It seems time, almost 20% of the way through the 21st century, that organizers select a more even sampling of performers for this brand new festival and ensure women also reap the benefits.

Here is a comedian that might have been a selection to lessen the gender gap: Aparna Nancheria. She began as a stand-up in Washington, DC. After living and doing stand-up in various cities, she is now based in New York City and says she does two or three shows in one night. She was covered by the Arts section of the New York Times recently. In the Lori Holcomb-Holland article about her, we learn that she has had her issues with perceived gender differences in comedy, despite what the Kennedy Center reported Joan Rivers had accomplished.

When asked in what ways is it different for men and women trying to make it in comedy, Ms. Nanchuria had a revealing reply. ”I think the most obvious difference is that male comedians aren’t asked this question in interviews. But I think the reason women are tired of talking about what it is like to be a woman in comedy is it diminishes the fact that women have been a part of comedy forever. ….To treat it as if it is some kind of new movement feels ludicrous. I am proud to be a woman in comedy and I am proud to support other women in comedy.”

How about bringing living, hard-working women comedians into the Kennedy Center fold.