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Erin Judge

Erin Judge
Location
Brooklyn, New York, USA
Birthday
January 28
Title
comedian, writer, performer
Bio
Erin Judge is a comedian and writer living in Brooklyn. She writes funny things and then posts them here after they get rejected by the New Yorker or somebody who works in Rockefeller Center. She was born in 1981, but the birth years on Salon's pull-down menu only go up to 1976. Visit http://www.erinjudge.com for more.

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JANUARY 14, 2012 12:18PM

Authentic Female Comedy

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After the New York Times article about Eddie Brill, complete with his quote about female comics, I started this:

authentic female comic

On a more serious note, upon reading the article and seeing the subsequent internet shitstorm, one of my dear friends in the New York comedy scene asked a group of us if she should just quit. The following is adapted from my response to her.

I went to a women’s college. It's a different, strange world, and a wonderful one. I spent four years in a place where women were the president of everything and 100% of the math majors and 100% of the comedy troupes, and so after that the idea that women can’t do any one particular thing isn't angering or offensive, it's just dumb. Like, I think people who believe that are stupid. They're simply not as smart as people who realize women are, you know, fully-functioning human members of society.

There is a huge amount of this kind of stupidity in the comedy and entertainment world.

It really wasn't that long ago that people said women couldn't be lawyers or doctors, at least not in equal numbers. Now more than 50% of law students are women, and the med school gap is closing quickly. (Be sure to check out the graduation rates.) Whenever a clear set of expectations (MCATs, pre-reqs, lab experience) are put in place for a particular career path, women can simply do that shit and get in on the action.

Our business of comedy and entertainment, however, is all about nepotism and protection of the status quo by the people who guard it.

Anybody who's read even a speck of Malcolm Gladwell or Jonah Lehrer knows that we often make judgments with our gut, then justify those after the fact with our intellect. Bookers, agents and contest judges like Eddie Brill are constantly making gut judgments and then retroactively coming up with an imaginary set of rules and ideals that they follow. My favorite part of the Brill article is when Zinoman (the writer) gives examples of famous comics, like Steven Wright and Seinfeld, and Brill has to somehow fit them into his all-encompassing vulnerability matrix. The truth is, Eddie Brill just goes with what he likes.

The first time he saw me, he told me I wasn't genuine at all, that I was completely not vulnerable and just doing my impression of a comedian. In his defense, the second time he saw me, he changed his mind. Of course, I was terrified of him by then and probably seemed more frightened on stage than ever before. After that second performance, he also told me that I shouldn’t give a fuck about what people in his type of position think. Mission accomplished.

In my comedy, I talk about how I don't hate myself despite the fact that I'm plus-sized and queer. Maybe it’s difficult to fathom that, given my circumstances, I wouldn't just be weeping and cutting myself all day. I can't tell you. I don't really get why somebody wouldn't get me. Most male audience members and my male peers in the stand-up world don't seem to have any trouble picking up what I'm putting down.

And that's my point. The current root of the gender problem in comedy seems to be precisely with these gatekeepers and their commitment to the status quo. When you have one  or two spots designated for women (as many late-night writing teams and high-profile comedy showcases do), you create this idea that you're struggling to find the talent to fill that spot when there is none available. What you're really doing is disqualifying half the population from 90-95% of the jobs.

The current statistics on women in entertainment are grim. The percentage of women writers in television recently dropped 14% (from 29% down to 15%). That could be evidence of discrimination in hiring, which is actually, you know, illegal in this country. Roseanne’s piece in New York Magazine opens with a comment that so little has changed. The culture behind our popular culture is full of broken institutions, but there are still ways to make an impact and have influence.

One thing that helps me to keep going is remembering how relatively easy I have it in a global and historical sense. I am so upset by sexism because I was raised to see myself as a full person, as equal, like everyone else in my generation. We were brought up believing we were equal to boys, that our tastes and talents were just as important as theirs, that our contributions to society were on the same level as theirs. Being told repeatedly that we're not as good by our industry is unacceptable, but it shouldn't defeat us. It should just motivate us to prove what we know to be true. And we have to come up with creative means to do so.

If I were rich, I'd start a production company/agency to tap into the unbelievable creative potential of young comics, particularly young women. There is a ludicrous (and LUCRATIVE) amount of unrepresented female talent in New York, LA, San Francisco, Austin, Boston...and I'm not even terribly familiar with Chicago.

Finally, after hearing an extremely talented fellow female comic say she's ready to give in to the gender wars of comedy, I’m no longer willing to refrain from weighing in on these periodic assessments of women and our collective comedic worth by the male gatekeepers who have tremendous influence in the comedy world and, consequently, our entire culture. Keeping my mouth shut in hopes of getting one of the few token spots for women is a failed strategy.

And I didn't become a stand-up comedian in order to bite my tongue. 

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Hey Erin,

I came to this post, through Jason Zinoman, who posted it on his Facebook page. Just wanted to let you know your incredibly well articulated thoughts are not falling on deaf ears. Keep up the good fight.

I too went to an all girls school, where we were all free to be as vulgar, and bitchy and ourselves as we wanted or needed to be. So yeah, I think the idea that women aren't funny is dumb.

Then I wonder sometimes if too many women do censor themselves in this discriminatory world. Eddie sounds like a dinosaur, but I think it says something about both of you that he gave you a second shot, and you were fair enough to write that he did. I think that these shows have to be called out on discriminatory practices, but women have to step up, reach down and find the confidence to be as funny as they would be if the world were a place they felt they could be themselves. I think Eddie expressed himself badly, and I think his practices are sexist. But there might be a seed of truth in what he said, about his feeling that women are coming across as less authentic in stand up. Hopefully it's one of those teachable moment situations that will at least force Letterman to book more women if nothing else. And with more women on the stage, more women will feel natural there.
Hi Juliet,

Several things:

1. I went to a women's college. The term "girls' school" doesn't really apply. It's not about being vulgar and bitchy. It's about the fact that we were a community of adults that conducted every activity of a college campus and filled all the roles, from leadership to non-traditional fields of study for women.

2. I did not get a second chance from Eddie Brill, exactly. Eddie Brill sees hundreds of comedians a year, and he sees us over and over. Eddie's seen me at least five times. Three of those times were for Great American Comedy Festival auditions which were not booked by him but rather by the club owner. The second time he saw me, a friend who was very upset by what he said to me the first time he saw me urged me to take his seminar and insisted that she pay for it. I accepted her gift, and, under the onus of being my instructor, he had nicer things to say. He's never given me the Great American Comedy Festival, and I am certain I am NOT in contention for Letterman.

3. Women in stand-up run the full range, from confessional and very personal (like Margaret Cho) to brilliant one-liner performers (like Wendy Liebman) to absurdists (like Kristen Schaal). However, it seems to me that a lot of the women who've risen to prominence in stand-up over the past several years have distinctive characters that are not supposed to be genuine or realistic. One example would be Natasha Leggero, who is definitely performing a very over-the-top character. I think I'm very genuine on stage, and my persona on stage is pretty close to the way I am in real life.

4. I don't think this is a teachable moment so much as a revelation of the behind the scenes mechanisms that maintain the status quo. I really don't think Letterman will book more women because of this. I don't see what the motivation would be.
True, Letterman doesn't have much motivation to open the gates. But you, and women comics have the motivation to break them down, or at least get a foot in the door, for a gig, something on your C.V., or just the joy of breaking what you can, whether or not you succeed.

And this is the time to do it...with a gatekeeper who has just apologized publically for what he said.

Or don't. I guess you can always find work on the women's college circuit.
Juliet, I didn't mean to be snippy, I just think that if you don't see women out there being just as funny as men and giving just as much to the practice of stand-up comedy, it is because we are underexposed. I did a wonderful show a couple of weeks ago called 50 First Jokes, produced by John F. O'Donnell and Sachi Izura, and the range, honesty, and humor of the many young female comics represented was equal to that of the men. The point is, television programming -- and therefor most people's exposure to comedy -- doesn't currently reflect who's out here and what we're doing (in terms of female comedians).
I don't know who Eddie Brill is, but I notice Seinfeld made some rather inane and clueless comments recently along similar lines regarding women's underrepresentation in comedy. But as you suggest, the Seinfelds of comedyville are the gatekeepers, and their idea of funny is the filter through which women must pass. Not that there's nothing wrong with that.

I look forward to visiting your website.