Rodney Dangerfield thought he got no respect? It’s the women in comedy who have always faced the real uphill battle, says Heather Jane Moore, president of the D.C. chapter of the nonprofit Women in Comedy. Female comedians in D.C., for example, have reported being sexually harassed by male comedians, treated unfairly by bookers and even stalked by fans.
“I’ve been creeped on after shows, where someone waited around for me to leave and was in the parking lot, lurking,” comedian Franqi French says. “I’ve also been heckled by audience members in an aggressive way that they probably wouldn’t do to a dude.”
To support female comedians, Women in Comedy is staging “Inside Jokes,” a free conference Sunday being held simultaneously in four U.S. cities: New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and D.C. The roughly four-hour event will include opportunities for networking, free headshots, panel discussions and short sets by local comedians at each location.
Everyone — men and women, comedians and civilians — is welcome, Moore says.
“There are enough women in our organization where, if we aren’t happy with the status quo, we don’t have to fit ourselves into a boys club,” Moore says. “We can create a new club … where everyone’s allowed and no one gets sexually harassed.”
We chatted with some of the funny women who will be panelists at the D.C. conference to hear about their experiences.
Host of “Broad Way,” a monthly variety show featuring female comedians at Drafthouse Comedy
“The majority of the men and women I’ve had the opportunity to interact with in the comedy scene have been pleasant, but there are exceptions. I won’t work with people I know to be toxic, no matter how successful they are. I want to create a place where everyone can feel comfortable and safe around each other. And it’s probably made things take a little longer for me, which is fine. I’d rather have success come gradually rather than quickly because I’ve made friends with the devil. I’m bringing my daughter who is 12 and openly gay [to the conference], because I want her to see and be around strong and thoughtful women. I want her to know that as a black gay woman, you’re not at a disadvantage. You have people and resources and women you can look up to.”
D.C.-based comedian and co-host of the podcast “Tagg Nation”
“I would love to see more people that are underrepresented in comedy — more queer people, more women, more trans people. Any kind of creative collective is going to benefit from having an influx of different perspectives. There have definitely been times where I have had bookings rescinded in ways that seemed suspicious, but it’s hard for me to know why. They aren’t going to explain to you why they are being discriminatory: ‘Hey, it’s not ’cause you’re gay, it’s because you’re a woman.’ Stand-up comedy can be isolating. I think it can help if you build a community with the other performers, especially people that are like you so that they can validate your experience. I think it’s important to expose yourself to other viewpoints, but it’s also helpful to have a community to support you.”
Baltimore-based improv comedy performer and co-founder of Charm City Comedy
“The great thing about comedy is that it does help people connect and say, ‘I identify with you on that. You’re a totally different person from me, but what you just described is something I relate to.’ We need to make a concerted effort to amplify that connection. There’s been quite a lot of discussion over the years about how we can get men to be more respectful to us, and how we can lift each other up. When women run into constant disrespect, it can make comedy seem like it’s not worth the trouble. Women running comedy shows is an up-and-coming thing. In general, I think that female comedians are more motivated. We want to get stuff done. We don’t want to stand behind a man. As a result, we’ll take more risks, and sometimes those risks pay off.”
Mary Jane French
Richmond-based comedian and star of the comedy special “Bearded Woman”
“One of the things that’s nice, as a visibly trans woman going out to bars most nights of the week, is that I know most of the people here in Richmond and I know that at any given open mic if there was an issue, there are people who would stand up for me, who would have my back. There are definitely venues that are like, ‘We are not going to book that,’ and I’ve experienced audiences where I can tell, as soon as I mention being trans, they sort of tense up. And that is one of the reasons I am big about doing DIY things. Because more established spaces are where I most frequently experience an audience that is uncomfortable with the fact that I exist. I want to make my own space where people don’t feel empowered to be assholes.”
Drafthouse Comedy, 1100 13th St. NW; Sun., 2-6:30 p.m., free (with required RSVP via Eventbrite).