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Power and Play: Women in Stand-up Comedy

This presentation was created for Paul Cuffee's FLAME Feminist and Gender Conference with the goal of introducing participants to an overview of the evolution of women in stand-up comedy.

Jillian Belanger

on 5 March 2017

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Transcript of Power and Play: Women in Stand-up Comedy

(1967- )
Hosted the late night talk show
The Mo'Nique Show
on BET
Said on Oprah that she follows advice Martin Lawrence gave her: "Listen, don't ever let them tell you what you can't have."
Hostess and executive producer of
Mo'Nique's Fat Chance
, a beauty pageant for plus-sized women
Margaret Cho
(1968- )
Grew up in San Francisco
Avid activist for women, Asians, and the LGBTQ community
Has produced comedic rap animated videos under the name "M.C. M.C." (MC Margaret Cho)
Sarah Silverman
(1970- )
Satirical comedy character addresses social taboos and controversial topics like racism, sexism and religion
Grew up in New Hampshire
Cast member on
Saturday Night Live
for one year
Rosanne Barr
(1952- )
Started out as a stand-up comedian and then starred in TV show Roseanne
Stirred up controversy
(caused trouble) when she sang "The Star-Spangled Banner" off-key at a 1990 nationally aired baseball game, followed by grabbing her crotch and spitting
Ran for president in 2012
Joan Rivers
Raised in Brooklyn
Alternately self-deprecating and sharply
(sharp or bitter)
"When I am onstage, I am every woman’s outrage about where they put us. We have no control. And that’s why I am screaming onstage. We have no control!”- Joan Rivers in
New York
magazine, 2010
Phyllis Diller
Self-deprecating humor
Wild hair and clothes
"She was the last of the women that had to look like clowns to be heard." - Joan Rivers on Phyllis Diller
What observations did you make about elements of
as we went through the evolution of female stand-up comedians presented here?

How have the examples we've viewed contradicted and/or contributed to public perceptions of women?

What can humor accomplish if used purposely toward a particular social purpose?
Women in Stand-up Comedy

Presented by J.Belanger for Paul Cuffee's FLAME Feminist and Gender Conference
Moms Mabley
One of 16 children
Ran away when she was 14 to join a traveling vaudeville show
Dressed in
(neither clearly feminine nor clearly masculine) clothes
Tackled many topics in her routines, including racism
Amy Schumer
(1981- )
Grew up in Manhattan and Long Island
Named "Class Clown" and "Teacher's Worst Nightmare" in high school
After everything I've shown you today, I honestly could not find one clip of her stand-up that might pass as appropriate, so here's a mock music video from her show
Inside Amy Schumer
Whoopi Goldberg
(1955- )
Dropped out of high school and worked as a phone sex operator
Advocate for human rights
Whoopi on her name: "If you get a little gassy, you've got to let it go. So people used to say to me, 'You're like a whoopee cushion.' And that's where the name came from."
Ellen Degeneres
(1958- )
Went to school in Atlanta and New Orleans
First female comedian to be invited for an onscreen chat after her set on
The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson
Played a character on
The Ellen Show
that was one of the first to come out on TV
Wanda Sykes
(1964- )
Earned a bachelor's degree in marketing and worked for the National Security Agency before becoming a comedian
Won an Emmy Award for her writing on The Chris Rock Show
Activist for same sex marriage
Janeane Garofalo
(1964- )
Progressive and feminist activist
Studied history at Providence College and was named "Funniest Person in Rhode Island"
Known for her detached, dry style
Write down all the stand-up comedians you can think of.
Quick math challenge:
What percentage of comedians you wrote down were women?
"Considering that standing on a stage with a microphone in hand and deliberately trying to make people laugh at commonly held beliefs is an inherently
, perhaps even
thing to do, and considering that
our society still seems more comfortable empowering men than women
... being a comic is a little more complicated for a woman than a man.”
"It was an incredible frame of mind that the society had that a woman couldn't stand up and tell jokes because it was
too powerful
. To make an audience laugh you had
of them in some way."
-Lily Tomlin

women who try to be funny....
Women are
not rewarded socially
for being funny."
"Girls learn, along with other rules pertaining to dating, how to laugh at the jokes of males but to
any clever remarks of their own."
Anne Beatts, "Can a Woman Get a Laugh and a Man Too?"

"For a female to develop into a clown, joke-teller or story teller, she must
the cultural expectation that females should not

mixed-sex social interaction."
-Paul McGhee,
The Role of Laughter and Humor in Growing Up Female

And a special thank you to Johanny, Claudea, Jayse, Raycily, and Ms. Thoma for planning this awesome conference!
Full transcript