Moving Forward: Women in Comedy

November 9, 2015 – by Margarita Sophia Cortes and Destiny Lilly

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I remember watching the Emmy’s when Jon Stewart and a sea of white men in suits filled the entire stage to accept their award. The screen panned out just far enough to fit all the men on stage. I think Jon even joked about the amount of white men up there. Everyone laughed. I was not as amused and I couldn’t understand why there was not one opportunity for a woman in his giant league of writers.

That was some time around 2001. Cut to 2015: Vanity Fair features a spread of all men in late night comedy. A slight increase in diversity. Zero increase in women.

For years, men have carried on the myth that women aren’t funny, “which of course, is a ridiculous male concept,” says veteran Studio Marketing Executive and NYWIFT Board member, Terry Greenberg. Greenberg has been producing an annual event at Carolines On Broadway as part of the New York Comedy Festival, which is co-presented by New York Women in Film & Television. Last year’s panel “Women Aren’t Funny: Debunking the Myth” was a smashing success featuring Marina Franklin, Blair Breard, Lea DeLaria and Judy Gold. “We debunked that myth in no time flat!“ said Greenberg. “When Blair Breard’s ‘Labias-to-the-Wall’ comment went viral, even Roseanne Barr retweeted it, which showed us the enormous power of women and comedy, and the huge interest and support for it.” The Daily Beast featured a really great story about that night.

There are plenty of talented women today proving the old male myth wrong, with such talent as Amy Schumer, Jill Koppelman Kargman, Whitney Cummings, Chelsea Handler, Cristela Alonzo and Grace Parra, not to mention the intelligent wit of comedy writers such as Lizz Winstead, Susan Fales-Hill, Barbara Gaines and Robin Thede, just to name a few.

Segment Producer / Associate Producer and NYWIFT member Leizel Olegario shared her experience with us. “Since I have shifted into the comedy world, I have noticed that the genre is still dominated by males and in order to succeed you typically have to get the backing of a male to be taken seriously. I have had to be androgynous and be willing to play the stereotypes of the ‘male’ and the ‘female.’”

The lack of diversity in the comedy space has also been progressing at a slow-moving pace. Finally, a show like The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore offers more diversity and women with Robin Thede as head writer for the show and Grace Parra as their newest on-air contributor.

A recent article in Remezcla entitled “Late Night TV Remains Mostly White, But The Nightly Show Just Hired Grace Parra, Its First Latina Writer” reflects on exactly that.

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“With Trevor Noah and Larry Wilmore making it in cable and subscriber based mediums, I’m seeing a slow shift of diversity being represented in talk television. I’m optimistic that one day we will see faces of different ethnicities and genders as audiences crave unique talent,” said Olegario.

Parra once worked for Late Night with Conan O’Brien and she also created a few comedy webseries, appeared on TV and recently co-hosted a late-night series on Fuse TV called  White Guy Talk Show with Saurin Choksi. In an interview with Latin Post, she explained the meaning behind the title in interview. “We thought, ‘What do we call it in a tongue-in-cheek manner?’ We called it The White Guy Talk Show to poke fun at what is going on in television in America today and we are quite keenly aware of it.”

Another female comedian to watch is Cristela Alonzo who has been widely recognized for being the first Latina to write, produce and star in her own television show. Although her self-titled sitcom was cancelled earlier this year, she shared on her blog how the show resonated with Latino families and multi-cultural homes. She’s currently on her own comedy tour so I expect we will be seeing more of her in the future.

NYWIFT members are also creating comedy on their own terms. Check out actress and stand up comedian Kate Rigg in her new comedy show at La Mama December 4th-13th. For an immediate chuckle, tune in to Lily Hayes Kaufman’s comedy web series Rare Birds of Fashion now streaming all episodes on YouTube.

This year, Susan Fales-Hill, Barbara Gaines, Jill Kopelman Kargman, Stephanie Laing, Elisa Zuritsky and moderator Lizz Winstead will be taking over Carolines On Broadway on Tuesday, November 10, as part of the 2015 New York Comedy Festival with “Comedy Makers: Tales from the Dark Side” co-Presented by New York Women in Film & Television,

“We are looking forward to another amazing evening of Women in Comedy!” Greenberg said. “We are going behind the scenes to talk with women who create and drive comedy – writers, producers, directors and show runners.  These women are all deep in the thick of it, and have wonderful stories to share, especially personal ‘tales from the dark side’ that we feel NYWIFT members (and guests) can all relate to.”

Get your tickets here to “Comedy Makers: Tales from the Dark Side” at Carolines on Broadway on Tuesday, November 10 at 6:00 PM.

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For more info on NYWIFT or to become a member, contact membership@nywift.org


Contributors: Leizel Olegario, Terry Greenberg

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