How the Institutional Racism of Yesterday Still Reverberates Today
Okay, here's a dangerous thing. I, the owner/operator of a penis, am going to weigh in on how many funny women work at Helium. But what I lack in ovary-based perspective, I make up for by having been hired at a couple dozen comedy clubs in the last two years.
There is no question about there being funny women in Portland (two that haven't gotten enough shout-outs in these pages recently are my friends Bri Pruett and Barbara Holm who are two of the funniest humans, period full stop). But there are a bunch of questions about individual people's readiness to work as a host at a comedy club.
Is she showing up to the open mic every week? Is she growing as a writer and performer? Is she clean? Is she getting cleaner or dirtier over time? Is she consistent? Does she try her hardest at every open mic? Did she submit an audition packet to the management? Did she enter the "Funniest Person" contest last year? How did she do? The gatekeepers are watching and they care about all this stuff.
Great, she's got all that stuff down. Now we also have to wonder about her style and how she'd work as a host. The opener at a comedy show is a very specific type of job (job, not hobby) and some incredible comedians aren't good at that skill. Is she high energy? Is she professional? Does she stick to her time every time? Is her stage persona likable? Is she too political? Does she just talk about something besides pot? Challenging comedians work well in a lot of shows, not as openers.
And that's the easy stuff, the stuff she can control. Now we have to ask questions about the club. What do they need? Do they even have any openings right now? Do they have a mix of styles that will allow them to staff the different types of shows they have? Helium only hires a handful of openers out of the hundreds of open mic-ers wanting to become comedians and they usually stay in those posts for a year or two. The question isn't how many funny women there are now, it's how many funny women were at the open mic two years ago, because that's when the hiring happened. Now all the open mic-ers in the city are competing for zero to one spots.
Helium, Harvey's, and other comedy clubs around the country, they don't just sit around going "If only somebody funny would walk through the door." Shit is complicated, and just seeing names on a list doesn't tell us anything. I want so badly for my friends to get hired at the clubs, but the path for them is the same as it is for men: long, lonely, unfair, and full of indignities. But if you work your ass off, and you really love what you do, you could make a couple hundred bucks and be told by a commenter that you're worthless and that women aren't funny.
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