How to survive working in the male-dominated comedy industry without losing your sense of humor

I often think about that time when a male peer—someone I’d wanted to learn from and exchange ideas with—told me, to my face, these exact words: “You aren’t funny because your comedy is too queer and might offend some people.”

You may be thinking, “Emily, did you punch that doofus in the face?” No, I did not. I’m not a connoisseur of confrontation. And if I want to get on stage and workshop some jokes about queer dating in the greater NYC area, then SO HELP ME OPRAH I WILL! 

But that doesn’t solve the problem back at work. Being told you’re not funny because of who you are: it’s maddening, but not uncommon. Especially if you’re someone other than a dude.  And it’s no secret that the comedy industry is heavily male-dominated. It’s hard to remember when you’re deep into the utopia that is this website, but even today, only about 10% of comedians are women. The wage gap is still prevalent with women making less money hustling just as hard as men, it’s no wonder that we have A LOT to say. All jokes aside, it just isn’t fair! We’re so freakin’ hilarious!

While it’s not on us to fix everything for everyone, we do have to find ways to do our part—to get seen and heard, to make the most of opportunities to collaborate with everyone, and even just to survive. After many discussions with my female colleagues and friends was that I certainly could find ways to handle those doofus situations. And I did start to learn how—which is good, because in the comedy industry, stupid stuff like that happens on the daily. It’s so easy to lose your sense of humor, but guess what? I SURVIVED/ AM SURVIVING, and you can too! We have to!

Here are some of the sexist/anti-queer things that I experienced and—once I got the hang of it—how I dealt with them.

THAT TIME WHEN… I was asked to separate the male and female comedians for a show lineup by my superior.

Here is a quintessential example where I knew I had a voice and was entitled to use it. Confused as to why this seemed to be an issue with my boss, I retorted with, “Separating comedians based on gender doesn’t showcase anything but ignorance.” (YASSSSS. Crowd goes wild.) If you plant the seed for conversation in this type of situation, it prompts a discussion and may even slowly shift the framework in individuals who feel there is still a definite distinction of what’s funny between men and women. (#SPOILER: There isn’t.) In the end, my boss kept the lineup the way he wanted it. Sometimes your superior listens and that’s a start, but even if they do not, know that you tried to make an effort. You can’t win every battle!

THAT TIME WHEN… someone asked for my opinion and someone else immediately someone started talking over me.

OMG SO RUDE. You have every right to be up front and honest with the person that cuts you off. In a collaboration, all ideas are welcome, but there is a time and a place for contributing your own ideas. I made a point to wait for my colleague to finish talking, proving that I was not going to cut him off as well. I then politely, yet assertively let him know that cutting me off mid sentence was rude (in front of the entire group) and carried on leading the discussion. If you don’t feel comfortable confronting them in person, speaking to them privately about how it made you feel is 100% acceptable as well.

THAT TIME WHEN… I was told to “tone down” my sketch material because it was “too gay.”

Yup, this crappy lightning struck twice. Never ever get into a situation where a cisgender man tells you that your comedy is “too gay.” It’s sacrilegious! Knowing your audience before a show can immensely change the reception of your material. So that’s exactly what I did. Heeding those biased words with a grain of salt, I sought out more queer and female audiences that would better understand the jokes I was trying to make. They loved it, and in return I felt proud of my sketch baby who initially wasn’t receiving the proper love and care they needed. Always be proud of your metaphorical sketch baby!

THAT TIME WHEN… a coworker in a professional setting said, about a colleague, “Forgive me, but she’s too cute.”

Hard PASS. Anything you experience, or know of someone who has experienced this, REPORT IT. Inappropriate behavior is inexcusable in any sense. I sent an email to my superior’s superior, detailing the interaction we had, making it known that this was the behavior taking place and how uncomfortable it made me. Even though it wasn’t directed toward me, we have an obligation as women to have each other’s backs; to support each other no matter what!

THAT TIME WHEN… someone stole my jokes!

I mentioned a joke of mine to a guy friend of mine in private. Cut to: I see him perform THAT EXACT JOKE, to a crowd that ate up the LIES. People believe that women are vulnerable, naive beings and that’s just not true! (That, or he steals jokes from EVERYONE.) Never let someone else take advantage of your sense of humor and label it as their original joke. And wait until you hear the super clever and withering way I dealt with it! Well, we’ll all be waiting a while because I wussed out and avoided it. Basically (for some reason), I feared losing his friendship. It took me a long time to realize it’s okay to cut someone out of your circle if you can’t agree or at least compromise on the ground rules.

It was my best friend, Cher, who said in her 2013 contemporary hit Woman’s World, “Said I’m stronger, strong enough to rise above, this is a WOMAN’S WORLD…” and ain’t that the damn truth! It’s 2019 and women are funnier than ever. You never really believe that you’ll come across such adversaries in your career, but when it does happen, you now have the tools to combat the murky male-dominated waters! It’s a symbiotic relationship between your confidence and your comedy, and no dudeor anyone for that mattercan take that away from you.

How have you dealt with THAT TIME WHENs like these? Let us know @goldcomedy!

Photo via: Babbletop

Read Emily’s bio here.