When you tire of the grind of comedy, and when you find a control freak just as motivated as yourself, what do you do? Start your own mic. That’s what I did five years ago, along with intrepid firespinner and fellow type-A personality Dale Sorenson. SuperEgo has traveled from the back of a bar to the main stages of major comedy clubs in NYC, putting up open mics and showcases that make people quite happy to have been there – either as performers or audience.
As much as I love all my frat boys and nerd boys, who inhabit my mic in profusion working to perfect their craft, I am particularly proud of the fact that SuperEgo’s mic is a most diverse and tolerant place. On any given night, there is a veritable United Nations of comics from different backgrounds, including Sikh, Korean, Middle Eastern and more; people of all sexual persuasions (who are all cheerfully hit on by the hosts); and a fairly healthy mix of men and women. Women perform strongly, and any back-and-forth stage flirtations are always good-natured. Women onstage can be as pure of heart or as toilet-filthy as they like, without judgment or criticism. We have simultaneously hosted young ladies discussing bathroom-stall dynamics at work and a born-again Christian fundamentalist woman (with her husband), performing comedy for the first time.
SuperEgo Comedy is clearly one of my proudest achievements. We as hosts and producers set the positive and tolerant tone of the room and feel responsible to our comics and guests. Putting up these comics on stage – from all backgrounds, perspectives, and experiences – and giving them a place to learn the tough craft of standup – has been a huge joy.
I’ve asked some of my favorite SuperEgo lady regulars – week after week, slogging in the comedy coalmines – to weigh in on their experiences as women in comedy. I hope you enjoy their work.
Chrissie Mayr has appeared at clubs all over the city (Comix, Broadway Comedy Club, New York Comedy Club) as well as the 2011 Women in Comedy Festival. She is also an illustrator for O’Brienland Comics and lives in Williamsburg with her two plants.
Like a comedy crackhead, I started getting antsy after 5 years of improv and I knew I needed something else. It took performing a one-woman show for me to realize I had the balls and talent to give stand-up a try. Before throwing myself into this world my perception of stand-up was somewhat negative. I expected nothing but depressed, unemployed, substance-abusing white guys telling the same canned, hack jokes night after night. Yes there are those guys, sure, but there are also a lot of really interesting people doing this too: lawyers, teachers, parents, janitors, and of course I’m including women! I have met so many amazing ladies doing this. They are diamonds in the rough, many with twice the talent and guts of their male counterparts.
Stand-up is real. It’s raw. It’s whatever happened to me last night, and you’re hearing about it before my best friends do. Stand-up is the emotional equivalent of jumping off a cliff. And you won’t know if you had a parachute until it’s all over.
What is my type? What is my voice? What message do I want to send? These are questions you constantly ask yourself as a new comic. Do I want to come off as a feminist or a doormat? Am I a maneater, or a delicate flower? Opinionated progressive or apathetic bum? The best part about performing stand-up is that you can be anything you want. I’ll be totally sassy and bitchy, and also completely vulnerable in the same five minute set. Discuss Planned Parenthood in one joke, and then my Methodist grandmother in the next. You’re in the drivers seat of whatever car you want.
In my attempt to show who I am to everyone else, I’ve actually showed myself. The highs make you confident and the lows keep you humble. Most importantly, I’ve learned that the only limits we have are the ones we put on ourselves.
Angela Cobb is a stand-up comedian whose self-deprecating jokes and likable personality embrace life’s awkward absurdity. She has performed at venues such as Broadway Comedy Club, New York Comedy Club, and The Laugh Lounge. Cobb currently resides in Brooklyn and her simple pleasures include the morning’s first cup of coffee, pants with extra long inseams, and watching Young Frankenstein.
One could say that I’m a bullshit artist. I managed to get a degree in English without reading a book. I’ve been doing stand-up comedy for a year and a half and it is the first thing I haven’t been able to bullshit my way through. That is why I love it.
My slam poetry experience helped me make the transition to comedy. In performance poetry, you have three minutes to generate clear, concise imagery and if you’re effective they will understand it as you deliver it. This need to be immediate and evocative is present in both art forms.
Women in comedy face unique challenges. I do a lot of self-deprecating jokes and the challenge is getting people to laugh at me rather than console me. People seem more comfortable laughing at a man who ridicules himself; Rodney Dangerfield comes to mind. Women run into this whole “after school special” moment, where people say: “Oh no Angela, your face isn’t really cumbersome.” Of course, the job of making the audience laugh vs. “aww” rests in the hands of the comedian and I’m getting better at that.
There is also the struggle to be taken seriously. Great looking women may have a disadvantage. I’ve often seen a guy complimenting a woman because he thinks she’s hot – and if she asks him about her set, he has no idea what she said. I’m grateful that this has never been a distraction for me.
There will always be comedians who are disrespectful, but in my experience this has not been gender driven. There are plenty of talented male comics who are truly supportive of female comics. One thing I like about comics is we are up front. Those who are self-interested to the extreme don’t make any secret of it. Conversely, there are many well-intentioned and supportive people. The great balance is when you find comics who are not only good people, but talented as well, and in the short time I’ve been doing this I’ve been lucky to meet such people.
Cindee Weiss is smart enough to know that a moderately unhealthy lifestyle makes good comedy. She has appeared at numerous clubs in New York City including Gotham Comedy Club, The Comedy Cellar, StandUp New York, Broadway Comedy Club, The Laugh Lounge and New York Comedy Club. Cindee also has an extensive improvisational comedy background having studied at both Groundlings East and Gotham City Improv where she was a member of the all female short form improv comedy troupe “Chicken Ranch”.
I’ve just celebrated my first year back at the mic after a 10-year break. I realized that I needed comedy in my life as much as I need water or cigarettes. It’s been a year filled with creative bursts, perfectly awful sets, and a new level of confidence that cannot be contained. I’m also pretty pleased to have a boyfriend who supports my writing jokes about him. I try to perform as much as I can, and need to find the right balance in my life of work/comedy. My job is stressful, and comedy is my release. There are days when I hate my jokes, and those nights when no one shows for a bringer, and you can’t connect with the audience to save your life. I try not to dwell on it. I gently admonish myself, and know I’ll just have to write better and stronger jokes for the next show.
I think stand-up in NYC is experiencing a bit of a renaissance. It’s a much more supportive scene now. There’s a lot of exchange between new comics and the pros. I’ve been able to take workshops with Frank Santopadre, and Frank Vignola, two heavy hitters in the comedy world. They’re incredibly supportive, and give me advice whenever I need it. The ladies-AHEM- the GORGEOUS ladies of NYC comedy cannot be beat. Surrounding myself with funny, smart people makes me happy and productive. I’m glad I took a break. Finding the company I’m now with has been worth the wait.
Comedian, writer, and storyteller Emily Epstein has been trapped in a self-cleaning toilet and has stitches from a treadmill accident. She performs all around New York City, the Northeast, and the West Coast, (not to mention a boat in the middle of the Yangtze River in China). She has been featured in the New York Underground Comedy Festival, the Boston Globe, and was on Good Morning America. She has also written for such publications as Travelistic.com, Gawker.com, and the Hartford Courant.
Women are judged by their appearance. That’s just the way it is. And it’s not only in comedy, it happens to lots of women who hold microphones. When people wanted to attack Hilary Clinton, they didn’t go for her policies, they attacked her supposed cankles. So I realize that when I get onstage, people are going to evaluate me based on my looks.
Sometimes it’s as if the audience sees you, but doesn’t register any of what you’re saying. After doing a show a Rochester, New York, a guy asked some friends of mine who the female Indian comic was. There was only one female comic on the show, and I’m far from Indian. Not only that, but I addressed my background in one of my jokes.
“Why do you want to know anyway?” my friend asked.
“Oh, I wanted to know if she wanted to smoke pot with me in the parking lot,” he said.
Because when I have fans, they are classy.
But it’s a whole other story when people choose to address your appearance out loud during your set. It was late one Friday night in a basement bar in Manhattan. The space was packed and it was clear that some of the audience was drunk. I got onstage and started to do some material that went over well. Then I did a joke about how I was once told that I never get mistaken for anyone famous. From the back of the room someone screams, “You look like Anne Frank!”
The whole room went silent. “Wow,” I heard someone mumble. I paused a second, weighing in how to respond, given that I had revealed earlier that I’m Jewish. And I realized that how I reacted would set the tone for the rest of the show.
“I’m assuming you mean that I look pretty young for my age, because she was only fifteen.”
The audience laughed, another audience member yelled “go Jews!” and I let out a little sigh before continuing with my set.
Michelle Dobrawsky is the cofounder of SuperEgo Comedy, incubator for new comedic talent from all walks of life. She is a performer, producer, writer, attorney and inept amateur wrestler. She lives in New York City with her boyfriend, her cat, and a small tumor named Beauregard.