Sunday, February 15, 2015


I, too, must add my voice to the melee of discussion about women in comedy. I am a woman; I practice comedy. I have struggled with finding my place in the comedy world, and whether that's because I'm a woman or just a weirdo is a mystery I will carry to the grave.

I am hoping that women starting in comedy today are having a different experience than I did when I was starting out, but just in case they aren't... 

Way-back-when, in New York, I noticed the paucity of women on comedy stages. And the few women who were there often seemed to be playing straight men(not straight as in heterosexual, but straight as in the normalones in improv/sketch scenes). Too cautious, too contained. And far too many of those women had bangs.

Who or what is responsible for those “straight men,” those bangs? Lets take a peek at IMPROVISE, by Mick Napier, a widely-read bible of improv.

Mick Napier (b. 1962) is a Chicago-based improv guru, the founder of the Annoyance Theater. He is generally regarded as a master in the field. In IMPROVISE, a 130-page book published in 2004, he devotes exactly one page to issues of gender.

This is the first thing he says on the subject of women in comedy (although, granted, he doesn't say much):

A lot of women who enter improvisation believe that if they act a little batty both onstage and, more particularly, offstage, they will stand out. Eccentric attributes will set them apart and they will excel. Dont be a crazy lady. Be a strong woman instead(p. 90).

Mayyyybe you could make the argument that Napier was primarily advising women not to be crazy offstage. But why was that a message reserved for women? And is it not terribly weird that Dont be crazy made the top of his list of female-comedy-donts?

Im just curious: did anybody tell John Belushi Dont be crazy before Samurai Delicatessen? Did Sascha Baron Cohen get that message before Borat? Probably not, right?

When I read Napiers book 10 years ago, I was struggling to figure out where I fit in in the comedy world in New York. I kept hitting walls that I suspected were at least partially related to gender, even though I couldnt put a finger on what was wrong. "Don't be crazy" didn't work for me; it only made me feel more isolated, more crazy. So... is it working for anyone? Maybe it's producing some nice girl-next-door writer-types like Tina Fey, but how many big brave risky players like Melissa McCarthy and Rebel Wilson do we have? And why are both of those women fat?

Does being the normal one sound fun to you? Have at it.
I for one would rather be crazy.
Crazy is just another way of saying unexpected, and isn't that what comedy is all about?
So be crazy, ladies.

Be free. 

Sunday, February 8, 2015


Of all the punctuation marks, parentheses are the most hilarious. Their ostensible purpose is to de-emphasize what is between them, and yet, when a writer installs those big curved goal posts, they do anything but. In fact, they highlight precisely the thing they pretend to hide. And although you the reader are supposed to almost-ignore parentheses and what they contain, there is obviously no ignoring possible. I love parenthetical remarks! I actually feel more closely connected to text inside parentheses than out. The writer suspects his parenthetical remark may be unnecessary/tangential, but he could not bear to omit it. Parenthetical remarks are secret and dear, like the security blanket a kid turns to at night, after a triumphant day battling ninjas and cafeteria ladies.

Parentheses are also a great tool in interactive comedy. As we begin to create a dialogue with the audience, think about putting psychic parentheses around everything you do on stage. Here is the formula: ( each awesome thing you do on stage ). Let's break that down:

( = hey guys! I'm about to do something awesome! get ready for this! are you ready? get ready!

AWESOME THING YOU DO ON STAGE = an awesome thing, you do, on stage.

) = hey guys! did you see that awesome thing I just did? how did it go for you? I think it went well/not well!

Your final close-parenthesis changes depending on whether or not you got laughs/love during the awesome thing you did. If you got laughs/love, then that check-in should be pretty triumphant and pleased with yourself. If you did not get laughs/love, then that check-in should contain concern, apologies and/or embarrassment. NOT TOO MUCH! We will talk about the fragile ego of an audience later. But for now, remember that your close-parenthesis moment is your opportunity to show the audience that you have registered their response to what you just did, and are evaluating whether it was a success/failure.

Here's a sample internal monologue using the parentheses concept. Each parenthesis moment is in italics; each awesome thing is in all caps. Notice the way parenthetical moments are discreet, and yet they feed into each other.

Okay you guys, I am about to stand on my head. STAND ON HEAD. That worked! What did you think of that? You liked it! I'll do it again! Get ready! STAND ON HEAD AGAIN. How'd you like it this time? Not so impressed! Okay! This time I will stand on my head and sing Whitney Houston. HEADSTAND. THE GREATEST LOOOOOOVE OF ALLLLLLL. What did you think of that? You loved it! I thought so!

Parentheses ensure that you are in constant dialogue with the audience at all times. And if you have to "step away" from them, in order to focus on head-standing or Whitney-Houstoning or whatever awesome thing you have prepared for them, then those parentheses ensure that you never stray too far.

(What do you think of this journal entry? Do you like it? I like it a lot, because it gave me a chance to combine my love of grammar with my love of comedy.)

(The semi-colon is my other favorite punctuation mark; I am thinking of how to incorporate that into this blog as we speak.)

(Wait for it.)