In college, I wrote a sketch for my comedy group.
It was supposed to be a guy and a girl, and it ended up being cast with two girls. It was a job interview sketch with a lot of aggressive absurdism. It wasn’t my favorite, but it was pretty good, but I remember being thanked, with deep, serious emotion by one of the actresses.
It was, she told me, the only sketch where the female characters had names.
This is not the story of me being great or cool or thoughtful. The casting, again, was an accident. It is, instead, a story about how men and comedy fail women.
Let’s start from the beginning, not of comedy, but of me. I won the “funniest kindergardener” award in kindergarden, which, yes, was a thing, and yes, I still have on my resume. But I didn’t tell a joke. Or, rather, I did, but I didn’t understand it. It was about a window wiper with a lisp, so he said “vindow viper” and the guy was scared because he thought the guy was a viper, which, I explained to the class, was a kind of snake.
I was five. They let it slide.
The point isn’t that I was funny, but that I made it so by sheer force of will. The joke was gibberish, mangled, but I committed. I believed. I was the youngest of three sons, the youngest by far, and I wanted attention. I wanted to compete. As I grew up, it continued. I learned comedy as a way to seize attention, to yell, to perform, to interrupt class and friends in a dominate way without reprisal.
The funniest girl I knew- though I know and knew many- was a girl named Tzvia. Tzvia had- and has, I assume- a sharp mind, fantastic delivery, and the cutting, cutting edge of a knife compared to my blunt, “quantity is quality” approach.
Tzvia and I didn’t hang out much, but we did collaborate on a show in high school, where I was startled- thrilled and terrified- to find that she was funnier than I was. I wasn’t hurt so much as shocked. I swaggered through hallways, loud and declarative with my routines. I put on plays in hallways, delivered lines and quips in classes. Tzvia didn’t. She kept it to herself.
She works for Letterman now.
I used to wonder why she wasn’t louder. If I was funny as she was, I’d never shut up. I never shut up as is; a little extra talent certainly wouldn’t hurt. And so I chalked it up to an anomaly and went back to my male groups and male audiences and forgot about it.
For women who still want to be in comedy, I’m sorry. I’m proud, and I hope that isn’t patronizing. I can barely make an effort with everything skewed in my favor; you’re a champion for everything you do.
And you’re going to make it.
You are. Really. It’s unfair, horrible, awful, but comedy feeds on those things. Your energy can only be contained so long. Each setback, fair and unfair, is a badge of honor and experience that will only sharpen you, harden you to a dark stone point.
One day, they will listen. And when that day comes, you’ll have something real to say.
Look: these hairy, unattractive schlubs with jokes about “pussy” and “fucking” who act like masters of the fucking universe because they learned that “fuck” and “fucking” elicit laughs? They suck. You know that, but it looks like the world rewards them. And it does; a little, and for a little. But they don’t have a ladder. This is where they stay, where they live. It’s a purgatory, and those middling dudes are those minor demons.
If you look upwards at that now, you’ll be looking downwards on it soon.
If you’re a woman in comedy, you can’t afford to doubt yourself. The world has enough doubts for you. I hope you get some of the reckless pride I had at five to just perform if that’s what makes your soul sing. Comedy is unfair and insane to women. If you can, use that anger as fire, a glint of passion. Succeed out of spite for the guy who introduced you as “this young lady” without listing any of your accomplishments. Write a script to run circles around the comic blow-hard who’d hoped you’d do the same.
You have righteous destiny behind you, and they have jokes about White girls in Uggs. Put a shoe, or a boot, or a stiletto or sneaker up their ass just the same. Because it’s not about what you wear, it’s who you are.
Crush some skulls. Cut some throats.
Write some jokes. And when you stand, stand-up tall.