Today someone tried to “challenge me” on the “#femalestruggle”.
Let me break it down to you about my part on equality…
I’m a comedian.
When I started there were about 20 total female comedians on the road- not counting famous ones on tv. I’m talking in the clubs, traveling by yourself with a map and a bag cell phone. Sleeping in comedy condos every week (that some clubs didn’t bother to even have keys to)with 2 other male comedians, that you most likely didn’t know. Some of those guys became my brothers, some became my friends,and some would cause me to lock myself in my room every night and sleep with a fork in my hand, in case they tried to break in my room AGAIN! (There was one particular comic, that I stayed in a condo with, who was arrested and prosecuted for a series of aggravated rapes. He violated a co-ed, while putting a knife to her throat, then came back to share the comedy condo with me.) I’ve had my entire suitcase of clothes stolen by the strippers the guys brought back to the condo. I’ve heard more “locker room ” talk than most sailors. In those early days I was chased, stalked, punched and had to learn to fight. Not just with my words either.
We weren’t embraced by most club owners, audience members or even some of our male colleagues. We barely ever saw other female comedians because we didn’t get to work together. We were told “people don’t want more than 1 woman on a show, because most women aren’t funny”. And then when we did meet up at a festival or crossing on the road, they truly became like your best friend because they knew the struggle. For every female comedian that achieved a late night set or development deal, I can tell you, I was truly happy for her ! It gave me hope! We didn’t want to be female comedians-we just wanted to be comedians.
We were novelty acts. I was 23 when I started but I had to dress like I was auditioning for ISIS bachelorette on stage because “women won’t like you up there and men won’t laugh. They’ll just look at your boobs”. There wasn’t a Friday late show for a decade I didn’t get catcalled on stage. (Now I don’t know if it’s success or age that stopped that). If you happened to write jokes good enough to make people laugh, you’d have to be prepared for the passive-aggressive compliment “I usually don’t like female comedians, but you’re funny!”. Hilarious comedian Jackie Kashian had cards made that say that to give to those people!
Even in success, there was female injustice. On my season of Last Comic Standing, when 17 million viewers were watching us, a producer came in and told the other female comedian who was left with me in the Final Five, “A woman will never win this show.” Like a rube, I said, “You never know?” And then he said, “America doesn’t want a female winner. We will never let a woman win this show!”. (YA, that’s the truth and I finally said it because the non-disclosure contract has finally run out!) Thank God-7 seasons later, attitudes changed so that the funny,rock star Iliza was able to win!!
Most female comedians either fell off or got pushed out when they got married or had their children, unless they were at a higher level. I was a 7 year headliner when I had my son and I joke about it in my act but when I told my agent I was pregnant, he really did say, “OMG! What are you gonna do? I’ve never seen a pregnant woman on stage!”. And I really did say, “Apparently, you’ve never been to a really bad strip club!”. (I was looking for my clothes, I swear!)
And now, juggling a family and my career, is hard but it’s the closest thing to being a “normal woman” I have ever done. My success, personally and professionally, is found somewhere in that balance.
I still love comedy and doing my standup! I love to give people an hour to not worry about problems like this. Now I stay in nice hotels and I make a good living- because ultimately, funny is funny- gender not withstanding. Because it was being a professional comedian that was MY dream! I did and do it DESPITE what I was told and the road blocks that were in place to stop that!
And the feeling I get now, 22 years later when I see so many beautiful, funny female comedians doing their thing, owning who they are and achieving success, despite what society would like to say, is not jealousy. Prisoners are never jealous when their fellow prisoner eludes their captive! Jealousy is for people who don’t know their own strength.
The feeling I get is PRIDE!
Pride, because I belong to a very rare breed of women. Women who rose and will rise, in spite of their circumstances!
Pride because I know that the few women who went before me and the about 20 of my comedy sisters, who I came up with on the road, are partially responsible for the new influx of the beautiful, funny, young female comedians who can do it all!
They are able to be who they are and be accepted, because we didn’t just pave the way- we built the fucking roads!