Monday, February 22, 2010

Do we really care who's making us laugh?

Improv is still, for the most part, full of dudes.

Want evidence? Based on the photos of ensembles for the Chicago Improv Festival, there are 6 all-female groups and 22 all-male groups. Of the coed troupes with photos, 22 had more guys, 11 had even numbers, and 3 had more chicks—pictured, anyway.

Saturday at the Fishtank, the first two troupes—Not A Great Gorilla and Babel Fish—were all dudes. Spite is all chicks.

I'm not on a soapbox about this anymore—I've even gotten to the point where I find the "are women as funny as men?" debate tiresome. (The answer is "yes." Next.) You see more girls in the improv world these days. Hell, Exit 16 had more girls than guys last year, and usually runs even. Girls today don't seem to have the funny socialized out of them like we tended to (unless some asshole is sneaking advice like "laugh at his jokes—even if they're not funny" to them, too).

What I find interesting now is the way we sell it. Spite and Olive Juice (featuring funny improvisers who happen to have boobs from Roving Imp) are getting ready to do a show together, and we're marketing it as a "girlie show." Spite calls ourselves "an all-chick improv à trois."

What I'm wondering: Is that a gimmick? Is it passè? The comedy equivalent of luring people in to see a bearded lady? Are we limiting ourselves to being compared only to other female groups, taking ourselves out of the running of just being a good, funny troupe?

About the kick-ass improvisers in Children of a Lesser God, the Chicago Reader said, "Despite competition from Sirens, Children of a Lesser God is the best all-female improv group in Chicago."

Somehow, I doubt Sirens are this troupe's only competition—or that the women of Sirens compare themselves only to Children of a Lesser God.

Guys don't (usually) refer to themselves as "all male troupes." And I know that when we watched Babel Fish on stage Saturday, none of us thought, "They're not like us."

We saw other improvisers, kicking ass, and it made us want to kick ass, too.


  1. My honest opinion? You focus WAAAAAY too much on the fact that you're female. Focus on the fact that you're funny.

    I've got more, but no time to say it.

  2. spite is a little different, I think, because it originated as the 'the girly parts of Tantrum'. Spite has moved past that, but I think focusing on that just has to do with marketing. There have been TONS of bearded ladies over the years. Only the ones that want to make money off of it, market it. The rest shave. I don't know if that analogy makes sense... :D

    And no. I don't really care who is making me laugh...

    P.S. Thanks for noticing my boobs.

  3. Women and men (in aggregate) play differently. This starts at a young age and it continues throughout our entire lives. We sometimes have *very* different cultural backgrounds, thanks to the gradual Balkanization of mass media (Spike for boys, O for girls, etc). So yes, men's scenes are far more likely to include comic books, hunting, and sci-fi and women's scenes are far more likely to include proms, children, and deeper conversations about relationships

    Furthermore, if you put men and women in scenes together, you're more likely to have men playing men and women playing women than vice-versa. Which means traditional gender roles are fairly likely to emerge. And if you put women in scenes alone, they play out (on average) differently than if you dropped a big-ol-man right in the middle of the scene, right?

    So what's wrong with advertising the fact that you're doing something different than the other troupes in town, something that changes the chemistry and the composition of your scenes? I can confidently say, there is no male (or even mixed-gender) troupe that could be confused in my mind with Spite. A Spite scene is a Spite scene. You play a completely different game than anyone else, and I think gender does have something to do with that. So what's wrong with owning that, and selling it as the differentiator it is?

  4. A couple things: knowing many of the women in Sirens and Children of a Lesser God, I can tell you confidently that neither compared themselves to the other. It's just that Sirens was the definitive all-female group long before COLG ever was formed.

    That said, I think the ladies in improv discussion has sort of jumped the shark. The better question is: where are the black (asian, hispanic, native american, etc. etc. etc.) improvisers?

  5. I don't think I can adequately express how tired I am of this. Using the phrase "all-girl" or any variant is a marketing gimmick. Unless there's an implication of nudity associated with that phrase, who f***ing cares?? It has no bearing whatsoever on getting me to a show or preventing me from seeing a show. I will go out on a limb and say that the general public doesn't care either. Are you entertaining? Will you make them laugh?

    I will side with Josh on this one, you focus way too much on that. Focus on kicking ass (which, for the record I think you mostly do - kick ass that is), the rest will fall into place. I have too many things racing through my head and not all of it is polite to the improv world. If you want to hear it, let's sit down and talk to avoid miscomunication.

  6. I had to look up gimmick, because it's one of those words that's thrown around a lot and I wasn't quite sure of the dictionary definition.

    Here it is: (verb w/an object) to equip or embellish with unnecessary features, esp. in order to increase salability, acceptance, etc.
    (noun) an ingenious or novel device, scheme, or stratagem, esp. one designed to attract attention or increase appeal.

    The difference here is "unneccessary" or "ingenious".

    As a fellow female improviser, I think it's cool that Spite and Olive Juice are all-girl. Is it unneccessary to market it that way? Maybe. I'm no marketing expert.


    The fact that it's rarer to see an all-female troupe than it is to see an all-male troupe makes it market-worthy IMHO.

    It's always nice to see a funny troupe, and for me it's a bonus to see a funny female in that troupe. IDK, strength in numbers, I guess. And the ever-present, very competitive, and SUPER FUN battle of the sexes. :)

  7. I agree, Corey—I definitely meant this more as a "should we play the chick card in marketing" than a "chicks v dudes" post.

    Wonder if it's a targeting issue:
    — Chick shows can be sold as a "girls night out," but maybe only in chick-specific media.
    — In general media, the all-chick thing could be alienating (are they militant? all about periods? the red hat society?). For general release, maybe just focus on the funny.
    — At smaller fests, it might be better to steer clear of the chick positioning. While no one seems to think "We've got too many all-guy groups!" I wonder if some of the newer producers think, "We've got one chick group—we don't need another."

  8. In terms of marketing, it is still a relative oddity, it terms of the general public. At least something to set you apart from the general wash of improv groups out there. Hell, go back to your original reference to the Chicago newspaper and COLG and Sirens. If in a city as saturated as Chicago is with improv groups, and the paper knows your name? Hell, that's huge. If it's because you're an all-female group? So be it. Whatever gets you the press, right?

    As for festivals, who knows? Mo and I didn't get accepted to the CIF in part due to a glut of 2-person improv groups that submitted. At least according to Pitts. Maybe he's blowing smoke. But I don't think so. I've seen a ton of 2-person improv lately. It's the trend here now, so I get it. If it sets you apart, I think you have to play that up.

  9. I definitely meant this more as a "should we play the chick card in marketing" than a "chicks v dudes" post.

    Right...which is why your original title for the post is "still not so much about gender equality". So, what male conspiracy is holding women back in improv? Am I unwittingly a part of it?

    I've even gotten to the point where I find the "are women as funny as men?" debate tiresome.

    Umm...I have never once heard a male under 50 years old even mention this subject. I have heard countless women in improv carry this shoulder chip for no good reason.

  10. JJSKCK: Yeah, that's why I changed the title. I write 'em when I start, and rethink 'em when I'm done. Posted, then realized the title didn't reflect what I'd thought/talked about.

  11. "Unless there's an implication of nudity associated with that phrase, who f***ing cares??"

    There is not nearly enough nudity in improv.

  12. I've been told by a few people in my recent memory that girls aren't as funny as guys (or funny period).

    KU's first all-girls long form troupe had their first performance last night amidst a three-hour comedy fest at a bar in town. Multiple people said we were the funniest part of the entire show. It was because of our abilities as improvisors that made it so.

    People here still get really, really excited when we talk about the all-girls troupe. We have Those People who are great and are essentially an all guys group (their only lady is on hiatus at the moment), but people get SO excited about us girls. I think it's because we're different than anything that's come out of the improv scene in Lawrence, not JUST because we're girls. But being girls helps haha

  13. Maggie: I saw that in your post and it killed me that I wasn't able to see it! (Old. Worked late. Life is lame

  14. I'm curious, Maggie, do you recall if the comments were made from someone in the improv community or was it from a random bar patron/audience member? I suppose it doesn't really matter either way as it merely showcases their ignorance. Just curious.

    Inky, maybe it's best if we put "There is not nearly enough nudity in improv." in the "Be careful what you wish for" category.

  15. Spite: Oh, don't worry. We'll be around. I think we've been invited to a night at the Fishtank sometime soonish

    Steaming bowl o' Calderone: Comments came from both audience members and members of the KU improv community (lots of Those People are very excited).

    I'm not really sure what to think of it in terms of this blog post. We girls at KU all wanted to do long form and banded together. We have a lot of fun, we're developing great chemistry and things like that really show up on stage. It shouldn't matter what the gender ratio in a troupe is as long as they're good at what they do. But, in the grand scheme of our society, it does because people are drawn to new and different things and in the improv scene (at least in KC) all-girl troupes are new and different, if for nothing but the gender ratio.


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