Given the momentum in American society over the past year, from the Women’s March in 2017 to the #MeToo movement exploding out of Hollywood and into public and professional settings everywhere, it felt appropriate if not long overdue to gather all together and check in with several of the funniest women in Boston comedy. It also so happens that the Women in Comedy Festival is coming up this weekend. All things considered, in addition to covering how they started and their day-to-day routines from club to club, we went a little further, talking about hurdles these comics have had to climb over to perform on stage.
What was Boston comedy like for female comedians when you started?
Carolyn Plummer: I came to the Boston [from Portland, Maine] already knowing a lot of the people that were in the upper echelon of the Boston scene. I’ve always had a very good reception in the scene. I did get frustrated with the business part at some points throughout my career, but I think everybody does.
Kelly MacFarland: We started driving down to Boston pretty quick. Back then I feel like there weren’t a lot of women, like the only women we were seeing really working were Patty Ross, Julie Bar, and Sherry Davey. We would meet these women up in Maine, and we’d be like, there are others. It was a really fun time.
CP: You just felt like you’re a part of this club that was just hanging out. You weren’t excluded just because you’re a woman.
Nonye Brown-West: Six years ago, there was like a mass exodus of female comics. They weren’t around the open mics as much when I first started. That was my inspiration for starting my own show pretty early on because I think there was a lack of comfort and there weren’t many women. I felt a little uncomfortable, but I started my own show within six months of even starting comedy, which was a mistake. That was trial by a lot of fire.
Tricia Auld: I didn’t feel very welcome in the scene when I first started, and I definitely had an outward arrogance that I’m sure was not, you know, very friendly either. I thought I was funny. I knew I was funny. I knew I was going to be a comic. I was just so proud of myself for starting to do comedy. It took me so long to like actually do it. So there was definitely a pride thing for me for actually pursuing it finally, after years of wanting to.
Christa Weiss: It sort of was the Wild West, I think. I think we were in a kind of a weird transitional period when I started. It was like 2010. So like the Comedy Connection had closed at that point. And then there’s still sort of a weird sentiment between like alt comics versus club comics, which I think sort of dissipated now.
There was definitely a certain degree of the inmates running the asylum in certain places. There’s the comic-run shows and you had to kind of do a little bit of everything, but essentially there’s really just no structure. It was sort of difficult at times because there was a bunch of testosterone-filled 20-year-old dudes. There was definitely like a certain degree of, “Oh, you’re going to fuck the new girl?” Which is why a lot of girls quit, because they’ll make a bad decision. I’ve been doing it for a while, so I don’t know if that still happens; I think it probably does to a certain degree, but I don’t think it’s as bad because you’re supposed to respect women now.
Sarah Martin: Providence is absolutely tiny. Boston is a pretty small city in general too, but I think there definitely is a difference. … With less people you’re going to have less women too, so then people naturally are like, “Oh, well, the only funny women … ” And it’s like, just stop.
Who were your comedy icons growing up?
SM: Wanda Sykes, I grew up watching her for sure. I was addicted to Comedy Central.
CW: I used to watch Comedy Central at the time too, so I saw Janeane Garofalo. I remember seeing Maria Bamford when she was on Premium Blend.
TA: It probably comes as no surprise that I love Chelsea Handler. I read all of her books; I fell in love with her through reading her books and I’ve followed her career. When I started actually really getting into stand up, Amy Schumer, obviously, and Sarah Silverman.
NB: The first comic I remember ever seeing when I was maybe like four was Richard Pryor, but I love Joan Rivers too. I grew up watching her. She should’ve gotten the Tonight Show. I love Sommore and I love Whoopi Goldberg.
CP: I’m a little older. We didn’t have Comedy Central right away when I was growing up. We would watch VHS tapes of comedy specials and Robin Williams: Live at the Met. Eddie Murphy’s Delirious. We still listen to that cassette in the car and quote it all the time. Chris Farley just for his comedic timing and movement. Also women like Roseanne Barr came on the scene and just changed the game for women. …
As far as like straight comedy influences, I would say Steven Wright, because he’s so dry. … Kathleen Madigan was another influence because her writing is so good and she was telling stories about her family. Kevin Meenie was a huge influence on me because I didn’t know what to talk about for comedy and I really wanted to do it.
KM: Stand-up Spotlight was huge for me because they showcased a lot of women at the time. Rosie O’Donnell was the host, and she was brash and hilarious and wonderful. …
My parents had albums, and I would listen to Richard Pryor, Bill Cosby, Eddie Murphy. It’s just crazy how much comedy there is out there and you had to find it. I remember I went to see Carlin when I went to Vegas and it changed my life.
What were the reactions from people when you started running female-dominated comedy shows?
CW: One of the venues that I wanted to use did not want me to use the word “broad.” And I was like, “Sorry but this isn’t going to work out, because we like having fun.” You have to understand this is a comedy show.
I liked the idea of just sort of doing like a gender-flipped kind of thing. It is a sort of way to get guys to understand that being the only chick in the room does get a little uncomfortable sometimes. I like the idea of trying to put a guy in our place to be like, “Oh no, no, this is our time right now.” I’ll give him a little bit of shit when they get on stage; they all know that they’re going to get it, just playing around a little bit.
Even though I run like a female-heavy show, I get more men asking to be on it than women, because women aren’t really taught to ask. Which I always think is interesting. And then there’s always like some guy who’ll ask to be on the show, and I’m like, “Uh, have you seen my show? Because your blowjob jokes aren’t going to work here.”
TA: I don’t think any of our shows are all female.
NB: They all have like a token man.
TA: See how that works, men?
SM: We already filled our man spot.
NB: When I signed on to associate produce Boston Comedy Chicks, they had just switched over to having men on the lineup, and there was a lot of Facebook drama about that. People [said it] should be just an all-female show. The reason that happened is because the Women in Comedy Festival acquired Boston Comedy Chicks, and it’s their mission to be inclusive. So for WICF to be inclusive that means that there should be at least one man on a show to make it all inclusive.
Do you feel there are similar issues for women in other fields similar to comedy?
KM: Everybody’s had their problems. I could tell you every incident that’s happened to me since 1998, and then it’d be similar stories around the table. I also used to work sales and there was misogyny in the sales arena. I am going to get up every day, and I’m going to come out swinging. And so bring your nonsense this way and I’m going to keep coming back every single time. So now with that mentality, I feel like I don’t even notice their bullshit anymore. Like I hear it and and I see it and I am going to refuse to be impacted by it. I’m going to keep coming out. I can inspire other women to just keep coming out swinging, that’s all I want to do.
CW: I feel like if you don’t do well on a show, you’re not bombing because you’re doing a bad job, you’re bombing for your entire gender, and that sucks. Because I just want to own my own shit. That’s fine, but I don’t feel like I’m necessarily representative of every other woman who’s ever done comedy. It’s a kind of a big thing to put on your shoulders. Nobody calls me a “female graphic designer,” I’m just a graphic designer. I do my job and I go home. Once you step on stage there’s always the pressure of, Well, I gotta represent myself, but also everyone else.
CP: Once an emcee mentioned eight times that I was a woman. First of all, when I walk out and they see my boobs, they’re gonna know.
KM: I’ve never been on a conference call when I worked my day gig and had them go, “Just so you know, this next person talking is a female, I want you to all know she’s female.” No one’s ever done that. Why? Because in the workplace and corporate America, you would get your balls sued off your body.
CW: The large part of why I think it’s taken so long for comedy to kind of catch up to the rest of the working world is it’s very much unregulated. There’s no HR Department. Nobody’s being sued because something got weird.
TA: I probably would’ve won a lawsuit and quit comedy by now.
Check out the Women in Comedy Festival all this weekend across the Boston area. Tickets and more info can be found at WICF.com. Listen to the full audio from the round table at deadairdennis.com/podcast.
Deadair Dennis Maler is a comedian, actor, writer, & podcaster who has been heard on radio stations throughout the country including SiriusXM, DC101, The Party Playhousewith Jackson Blue and more. He has been featured on comedy festivals throughout the country, founded BostonComedyShows.com, is the Comedy Editor for DigBoston, and hosts the iTunes podcast So What Do You Really Do? He’s funny, loud, abrasively social, and allergy free since 1981.