DIY for women in comedy = Bad Assery, the first “women and comedy” conference

For the coming three nights and two days, funny women will gather not only to celebrate their various styles of performing comedy but also to share their experiences in making their voices heard — and perhaps most importantly, move the conversation forward instead of rehashing old, already-decided debates about whether women even can be funny.

That’s pretty bad ass.

Actually, it’s Bad Assery: A Women & Comedy Conference, kicking off with music, storytelling and stand-up comedy shows tonight at Littlefield in Brooklyn. More stand-up, sketch, music and podcasting follows Saturday night at Littlefield and Sunday night at The Bell House nearby, with a full afternoon of panels on Saturday and a women-only think tank Sunday at ?What If! Innovation to turn their talk and thinking into action (which might have to move to an alternate location due to Thursday afternoon’s massive building explosion/fire/collapse a block away from the ?WhatIf! offices).

Performers for this inaugural event include Judy Gold, Brooke Van Poppelen, Charla Lauriston, Marina Franklin, Amber Nelson, Esther Ku, Michelle Wolf, Aparna Nancherla, Phoebe Robinson, Sabrina Jalees, Summer and Eve, Adira Amram, Reformed Whores, Camille Harris and many more.

They say they explicitly chose to title their conference “Women and Comedy” and not “women in comedy” because the latter “implies that comedy is inherently male. We’re really adamant about saying women and comedy because it belongs to all of us.”

The Comic’s Comic spoke with Bad Assery’s organizing founders, Shaina Stigler and Natalie Wall, this week.

First off, do you have to be bad asses?

“Why not? It’s in our DNA,” Stigler said.
Wall added: “I think Shaina nails it. We kinda are. So why not own it?”

Who is more of the intended target audience: The women who make art/comedy, or the men who are preventing/harming/blocking them from equal opportunities of success?

Stigler: “I would say, in our conversations and our communications, we’re trying to get the conversation away from us vs them. One, our control of getting people to change their opinions on women being funny is very, very limited and not worth us wasting our energy.”

“We do need to focus on what serves us as women, and part of that is spaces that support women,” she said.

Wall: “We want women to empower themsevles by empowering each other. This conference is an example of that. Rather than commiserate and complain about not having a space, we created it. We hope this empowers other women to say, ‘I don’t see this happening, so I’ll make it happen….rather than think of, ‘How do we get into the comedy world?”

How is this conference different from festivals such as Boston’s Women In Comedy Festival or Portland’s All Jane No Dick, or panels I’ve attended and seen just about everywhere else already?

Wall: “We want to stay away from having a festival. Make it very clear it’s a conference. People can’t submit. We wanted to make it a conference because it’d be more proactive than a festival…We wanted it to be every proactive instead of just saying how awesome we are. We want to get down to brass tacks and get down to a solution.”

Stigler: “That’s our biggest differentiator. There is a problem that we are trying to solve. We’re trying to bring the right people together to facilitate solutions.” She added: “One of our biggest things is the proof is in the pudding with this conference. If you don’t see it exists, make it! That’s the biggest thing we need to take away in the community. If you don’t see an indie improv team or theater or comedy club (that includes people like you)…if you don’t see these things exist to serve you, you need to make it happen.”

Wall: “That reminds me of how, we also want to teach women to not wait to ask for permission. Don’t wait. Just do it.”

They recall a SXSW presentation urging people not to wait until they’re finished with their ideas before putting them into motion and gathering feedback and input.

“We cant look sideways to move forwad,” Stigler said. “This idea of being frustrated by the places that don’t serve you, your place as a New York comedian — that feeling of how we have to adapt and evolve and modify who we are to appeal to our male counterparts and male bookers and male producers. We’re constantly adapting to appeal to those people, which a male comedian never has to do. We as a female community have yet to say, we’re not going to do that anymore. Our job is to focus on what our female perspective is.”

Wall cites several TV series in primetime now, created by women and starring women. “We have all of this stuff happening,” she said. “Why is it still an issue?”

Stigler cited Comedy Central’s success with Broad City (its stars, Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer, graced the cover of New York magazine this month) as proof that “women are changing that conversation” already from the “slightly backward thinking that women aren’t as funny as men or are supposed to be light and docile.” Wall noted that Broad City also proved that even non-gender-specific expectations, such as the need to receive an invite to a Harold team at Upright Citizens Brigade to ensure success, is not the only way to get ahead.

Sunday’s think tank is designed to change the conversation and the game.

“We don’t hate the players. We hate the game,” Wall said.

“Your game is stupid,” Stigler said of the entertainment industry’s male-centric viewpoint. “We don’t have to play that game to be a player. We can make our own game. We can be players, too.”

Bad Assery starts tonight and continues through Sunday at Littlefield and The Bell House in Gowanus, Brooklyn.

The Women and Comedy Conference, or Bad Assery, will explore the importance of women defining and living by the female perspective. As comedians, we constantly strive to stay on par with the “boys club” being that we are led to believe the world of comedy is inherently male. We have yet, as a community, defined this industry through the female lens. Big problem. Our goal for this conference is to illuminate the flagrant sexism in this industry, how we as women subconsciously contribute to the problem, and what active steps we can take towards creating content through the female perspective. Bad Assery is partnering with ?What If! Innovation, a leader in the innovation space, to help us solve this problem through a 3-day conference at the end of March. This conference will bring the community and their leaders together to discuss the importance of comedy as a means to find joy in our humanity, the importance of women in this industry, and how to create a mental and physical space to call our own.

Sean L. McCarthy

Editor and publisher since 2007, when he was named New York's Funniest Reporter. Former newspaper reporter at the New York Daily News, Boston Herald and smaller dailies and community papers across America. Loves comedy so much he founded this site.

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