I Was Fed Up With Misogyny In Comedy, So I Started A Women's Open Mic

I’m a comedian, which is a male-dominated sport. And, no matter how accepting of men I’ve become, I’m still convinced that whenever a bunch of guys get together at once, things get a little dick-swingy.
Publish date:
July 5, 2013
casual sexism, reverse sexism, female comics, standup comedy, UCB, M

I need to make one thing clear right now: I don’t hate men. I mean, I went through an Ani DiFranco phase, like any other angsty teen from the 90s, but now I have a good guy in my life so I realize Tim “The Toolman” Taylor redneck douchebaggery isn’t as prevalent as I’d assumed.

I’m a comedian, which is a male-dominated sport. And, no matter how accepting of men I’ve become, I’m still convinced that whenever a bunch of guys get together at once, things get a little dick-swingy. I’m talking about open mics.

Open mics are a place where anybody, LITERALLY ANYBODY, can show up and get a couple of minutes of stage time. Usually, there are about 15-20 men and maybe two women. You can’t imagine the shit that goes on in a room where men are all trying to make each other laugh. Here are some horror stories:

  • At one mic, I heard a guy talk about wanting to rape his teenage stepdaughter. I wish I were lying.
  • At another, a tiny elderly man with a speech impediment told the most vulgar “jokes” about having sex with black women. I wanted to be like, “Buddy, you probably haven’t gotten your dick hard for 30 years. Why are you degrading a whole race with your lies?”
  • Men comment on our appearance. All the time. Wear a dress that’s a little too short and no one will listen to your jokes. Hell, I even wore one that was KNEE-LENGTH and the guy after me spent half his set talking about my body.
  • The worst story: last week, a friend of mine was the only girl at an open mic. Two of the other comedians looked her in eyes and called her a cunt and a bitch while they were onstage. She didn’t know what to do and ignored them. Afterward, the other comedians who had BEEN IN THE ROOM AT THE TIME Facebooked her to tell her how messed up it was. But no one defended her in the moment.

And that kind of shit happens all the time. I wish I could think of some other stories for you but I’ve blocked them all out.

Essentially, it’s not their bad jokes that bother me. I don’t think people should be censored, but that kind of material creates a hostile, sexualized environment where women like me have a difficult time feeling safe and comfortable. How can you be funny in a place like that?

Listen, I don’t think men are bad people. I’m not the Prude Police but I think sex, race, and vulgarity are easy jokes. It’s much more difficult to find other things you think are funny and explore them, no matter who laughs.

But maybe these guys are just being honest. We all have fucked-up thoughts. I look at my cat and think about how sad I’m gonna be when she dies. Maybe some people want to murder or fuck theirs.

Those thoughts have never crossed my mind, thankfully. (Until right now. Yuck.) But if they did, I think I’d run them by a therapist instead of talking about them onstage. Because nobody says, “Hey -- the fact that you think about raping your stepdaughter makes me scared. Cut it out,” this stuff continues. Or, “HEY, PLEASE DON’T COMMENT ON MY APPEARANCE OR CALL ME A BITCH.”

Why go? Welp, I love performing. I love writing jokes. And open mics are, sadly, one of the only ways to get good at telling jokes. I’ve been performing comedy for years, but always improv, sketch, or characters. I’ve been too scared to commit to standup because I’m so sensitive and these open mics are tough environments to deal with. I feel like the girl in high school who wants to join the boys’ football team.

But I think we are pulled toward things for a reason. And for whatever reason, I kept wanting to do standup.

So I created an environment where I could feel safe. I emailed the Artistic Director of the Upright Citizen’s Brigade, where I’ve performed for the last six years, and asked to start an open mic for women. I asked a hilarious friend to help me host. And that’s how Open Michelle was born.

Michelle’s great. She’s every parent’s dream. We have her every Thursday at 5:30 at the UCB in the East Village. There are snacks.

I had a lot of insecurities when I started it. Who did I think I was? I wasn’t well known enough. The truth is, no one else is doing it. I hate responsibility, so I waited and waited to see if anyone would, but they didn’t.

The thing that’s totally different about Open Michelle from any other mic is that it’s supportive. The other comedians laugh. A lot. And everyone is really interesting! The jokes are all very FUNNY. Surprise! You’re much funnier when you stop talking about your dick.

However, we can talk about sexuality in a way that doesn’t make the rest of the audience see us as objects. Last night Julia Solomon told a hilarious joke about not having an orgasm until she was in her 20s and wondering if her body was broken. I was like, “Oh my god! Yes! This is the kind of comedy I’ve always wanted to hear!”

Unfortunately, I know the community shits on the mic. It’s pretty unbelievable, but there is some backlash to a supportive, accepting, atmosphere for women. Some guy said it's reverse sexism. What an idiot. Is that even a thing? Some have emailed us asking, “Is it really a women’s open mic? Can I come?” And I want to say, “Buddy, there are dozens of other mics for your people. Let us just have this one.”

Despite what the “reverse sexists” out there might say, we’re not just hanging out and shitting on men. It’s a room where women feel safe doing standup for the first time (which is a huge compliment.) We also get bigger name comedians trying out new material, elderly women who want to cross standup off of their bucket lists, new mothers and transgender women.

I still have to go out into the world and sit through those other mics. But they’re much easier for me now, because of this roomful of supportive women. Slowly, I’m able to tune out all of the horrible shit that bothers me and just focus on having a good set. Thanks to Michelle.