Back in October 2017, I attended a show at the Village Underground featuring Judy Gold and Jessica Kirson. I learned a lot at that show, not from just seeing Judy and Jessica perform (good God are they talented), but from their interactions with audience both on and off the stage.
One interaction I remember was with an audience member who asked “what’s the most frustrating thing about being a woman in comedy?” I was expecting Jessica and Judy to respond with the classic argument you hear consistently: “comedy is a man’s world.” However, I was hit with something completely different. Jessica took over in this instance primarily asserting that women in comedy face completely different struggles when it comes to being a woman in comedy. Sure, it’s hard being a woman in comedy in general, but comedy has become increasingly looks-centric. Opportunities for women are going to girls that are ‘attractive’ and clubs are booking these girls based on their looks:
"...the girl does 15 minutes of ‘okay’ material and bombs for 45 minutes and then they say women are not funny."
Now I can only speculate as to who Jessica was referring to, but this has been something that always stayed in my mind; however, this became increasingly apparent for me this year and it’s been somewhat of a confusing revelation on my end.
Being “attractive” apparently gives an edge
I attended a show this year where some of the comics ended up being passed and all of these comics were the typically attractive types. In my opinion, only one of the comics in that lot deserved to be passed strictly based on talent. The others? Not so much.
There was one comic on the same lineup who in my eyes deserved to be passed. She’s an exceptional talent and performed better than most of the comics on the lineup. She was memorable and entertaining, yet she didn’t get passed? This comic is by no means unattractive, but it was clear compared to those who got chosen that she didn’t fit the bill of typical attractiveness.
Seeing this instance left me quite flummoxed; it even crossed my mind that maybe I’m just being too sensitive. It is comedy so maybe my theory of looks being so important isn’t valid?
Then I ran into a comic friend who recently began some real industry projects in comedy. He looked very svelte since the last time I’d seen him and after one comment made about his slimmer figure he eluded about the “pressures of showbiz” keeping him in check. I guess it’s not isolated to women how important looks are?
I debated with a friend on this where examples like Louis C.K., Roseanne Barr, and Gabriel Iglesias were given for success and that the importance of looks might not matter, but the truth is they all came up in different times.
Prominent newer comics like Dan Soder, Michael Kosta, Iliza Shlesinger, etc. all look good. Yes, they have talent (some more than others), but there are very few newer comics today that can be considered unattractive. Coincidence? Probably not.
Twenty, even ten years ago, this probably wouldn’t have been spoken of, but as stated before, it’s a different time in comedy and it’s playing a role in whether some are booked or not.
Superficiality is becoming a common theme in comedy
It can be really frustrating how with comedy, even the content many comedians are bringing to the table is just so superficial. There’s such praise given to the girl (sometimes guys) who talks about being a complete whore or will talk about how great they look. If they are scantily clad, then it’s somehow seen as more marketable.
We even experienced one comic at our open mic just talk about how great she looked. Her set had a line in it that made me cringe: “yeah, I know my butt’s so great…”
That “joke” literally gave me diarrhea for how awful it was to listen to and another comic and I exchanged glances of disgust during the performance. How in the world can anyone see that as comedy?
Both genders are culprits of this, and if they are too afraid to talk about their attractiveness they go topical, which gives no depth whatsoever.
There’s almost this expectation nowadays of “if I look good then you should be on board with what I have to say.” However, it doesn’t work like that and if you can’t command attention with what you have to say then you shouldn’t be on that stage.
So what do we do?
It can be very disheartening to realize that the facet of an industry that you thought was so open to all types is becoming more and more restrictive, but it is a reality we have to face. Our looks really can play a role in the opportunities we either receive or don’t receive.
My advice is something Jessica Kirson said to me and a room full of other comics: “be so undeniably good that no one can say ‘no’ to you.”
What does this mean? It means focus on your talent and the quality of what you are putting out there. Work on your writing and perform like it’s your life on the line.
You never want to receive an opportunity just because you look good and then not be ready to receive that opportunity; it’s ultimately the audience you have to please. An audience can assess pretty quickly how good of a comic you are and ultimately your looks might work against you if you expect that to be your edge. The worst thing you can have as a comic is a dissatisfied audience.
When it all comes down to it, focus on being a good comic. It’s perfectly fine to look good and feel good about yourself, but always ensure that your talent is what those with opportunities want from you. Being talent focused will establish the necessary respect to make it in this industry.
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