Vandy Fems’ Women in Comedy event on Nov. 8 began with a picture and a question, “for $20, can you name five of these female comedians?”
The audience buzzed. Surely, they recognized someone. They knew they’d seen her somewhere. But only one person could name four of these rising comedic stars, and the emcee decided that it was close enough. She handed over a crisp $1 bill, to reflect the wage gap.
With that, a night of empowerment and stand up commenced. After a presentation outlining the possible causes of the lack of female representation in comedy and difficulties female comedians face throughout their careers, six different comedians from both the Vanderbilt and Nashville communities performed a five minute stand up routine. Then, Tongue ‘N’ Cheek collaborated with local improv artist Allison Summers to close the show.
Each of the stand up comedians joked about a wide range of topics—everything from cringy middle school crushes to experiences as an adopted child to awkward encounters at weddings. The jokes were often sprinkled into anecdotes, or just peppered off, giving the audience a sample of what a longer set might look like. The diversity in both the delivery styles and content challenged the still existing stigma that women are either not funny, or not as funny as their male counterparts.
“For so long, women were just not seen as funny. It still goes into the double standard, where any woman who is powerful or demanding as a boss or in an office is seen as bossy instead of a leader. So when any woman tries to be funny, she’s seen as rude or crude,” managing editor of The Slant Alex Wolfe said. “The more and more we have representation, and the more smart, funny, intelligent women really come to the stage, on TV or film or stand up or anywhere they can, the better it is for everyone.”
Talking to three professional Nashvillian comedians, it was clear that women are still fighting an uphill battle to be recognized as purely funny—without gender distinctions.
“I kind of relate it to racism, and this idea that other sides will come at you and it’s either overt, with people just literally saying, ‘Women aren’t funny’ out loud, and then there are subtle ways where people question you,” comedian Britt Birrer said. “Most of the time if I talk to someone about loving comedy, I feel like they think of me more as a fangirl, not like if I watched George Carlin when I was younger. He inspired me directly.”
In the same way that Birrer gained inspiration directly, it’s likely the same for other young women. The issue of access to comedy at a young age often prevents young women from pursuing comedy to begin with. These three hilarious stand up artists all became comics in very different ways and didn’t begin their comedic journeys until they found groups in or after college. Allison Summers joined an improv crew in college and followed some of her friends to the Second City in L.A., Britt Birrer started going to open mic nights in a comedy club in Sacramento and Courtney Warner decided to pursue comedy instead of music after watching an episode of “The Office.”
“I’d like to help other women save time for the things I had to give myself permission for, it took awhile,” Birrer said. “As we all know, it’s rare to see a young girl valued for being funny versus being polite.”
Listening to them describe their love for comedy in the form of witty banter made it clear why the Women in Comedy event is necessary, showing that women can perform comedy and inspire others to try it. Warner kicked off their repartee.
“I equate comedy, at least for me, to finding your soulmate,” Warner said. “It’s easy to relate it to relationships and stuff because people have relationships with other people and I don’t but like you know, I have relationships with inanimate objects but like…”
Birrer jumped in, saying “If you did love someone and they loved you back, it might be what this feels like.”
Warner replies, “I’ve never felt that before, but like,”
“That’s the only way I think of it,” Summers says, finishing it off.
If you’re interested in exploring the Nashville comedy scene, as a performer or audience member, Zanies and Third Coast Comedy Club are great places to start.