Blog

The Rise of the Female Heckler

A foolish woman is clamorous.  She is simple and knoweth nothing.” – Proverbs 9:13

Rest assured avid readers of this blog and listeners of the Righteous Prick podcast.  This is not some screed against women in comedy.  Well, sort of.  It is not about performers of comedy.  I just finished what can only be called a triumphant series of shows at Helium Comedy Club.  I received a great response from the six crowds, sold more CDs (and Live Angry wristbands) than any single week of my career and not one person out of roughly 1500 audience members offered me a suggestion on how I could improve a joke (they must have read last week’s angry post).  So what could I possibly have to complain about?  Well a great week does not mean a perfect week and both at Helium and at a bar show I did Sunday night upon returning to the city there were a few blemishes.  For the last couple of years that has been a debate drummed into the ground about whether women are funny (or in all honesty, and more specifically, if women are as funny as men).  Rather than divide the comedy community on a gender-related issue that has been exhausted, perhaps it is time to acknowledge gender in a comedy issue that comedians of both genders should be able to agree on: women are talking way too much sh*t at comedy clubs.

I do not know enough about the history of comedy club etiquette to know if mouthy women were always the norm in comedy club audiences, but I feel like in my decade in comedy I have seen a big rise in women sharing their opinions, sound effects and “making it about them” recently.  Now I am in a unique position as a physically imposing comedian in that like a nuclear missile, my size mostly acts as a deterrent.  I am no fighter, but I could still throw a few punches and smother most people to the ground with Dunkin Donuts-fueled mass.  Early in my career I only remember being heckled twice by men.  One was at Medgar Evers College in Brooklyn, which was basically punk college kids having a goofy time at a lightly-attended free show.  The other time was way back in 2004 at the DC Improv where some guy yelled as I got on stage, “That’s a big bitch!” (my hair almost grazes the ceiling above the stage at the DC Improv).  But since those early (and not material-related) heckles I find women in comedy club audiences have become almost the sole source of heckling, talking and commentary.  Much like an Al Qaeda argument, I am not saying all women heckle. In fact women made up a majority of all the shows at Helium this weekend and 99% of them were great audience members.  But of the 8-10 moments of interruption during my 6 sets, 1 was a drunk man, 9 were women.  And at the bar show I did in Brooklyn there was one heckler and she was a woman.  Before I continue describing this new, or at least growing trend, allow Bill Burr to posit one theory why women have become  so free with their voices and opinions at clubs (he is discussing society at large, but it applies):

I have determined that there are different categories of female audience members that are waging war on the comedy club experience.  You never know which one will show up or if it will be several at once, creating a Game of Thrones-like chaotic war of loud-mouthed women.  But thankfully, this weekend, I got to briefly experience a little bit of each group of  The Five Female Hecklers.

THE FIVE FEMALE HECKLERS

1) The Bachelorette Party Member(s)

This is sort of a cliche in comedy clubs that these parties generally suck, but cliches ring true for a reason.  This can actually be broadened to any large group of young women at a comedy club.  There can be one member of the group who is loud and or drunk, or it can be the whole group, but sadly, no matter what the number, they always seem to rally around the people in the group being jerks.  I witnessed this at Helium this weekend.  I was sitting in the back watching Rachel Feinstein’s set (the headliner) and a table of 6 women under 27 years old were talking nonstop.  An employee of the club went over and asked them to please stop talking, or if they needed to talk to please go out to the bar area.  Well, emblematic of their “I walk and text without looking around on busy streets assuming people will get out my way” generation they began mock laughing saying “we are allowed to laugh, right?”  They then left a few minutes later and drew a penis on the back of their receipt.  These women will be mothers one day, God willing.

2) The Black/Latin  Loudly Passive Aggressive Woman

I do not like to divide things on race, but this one is required.  The black or latin female heckler has a different approach. For example when I shared with the crowd that my father is Haitian on Saturday’s early show, one black woman sitting close enough for me to see and hear gave me a  “uhhh hmmmm… sure sure” indicating her non-belief.  Other comments that I have heard in my history from black and latin female audience members have been things like “He ain’t right”, “he ain’t funny” and “he don’t know me!” In other words, when it occurs, the heckles are usually loud and almost always passive aggressive as they are not stated directly to the comedian.

3) The Table of Cougars

This is a more recent phenomenon given all the empowerment society has bestowed recently on neglected women in their late forties.  I was not actually personally bashed by the cougar crowd this weekend (though I witness them exhibiting some general sh*t talking), but every comedy show seems to now have a group of women – a mix of divorced, married and whorish –  who roll into the club and are going to recapture their youth, no matter who is saying what with a microphone.  What happened to some dignity later in life?

4) The Disapproving Woman with the Weak Husband/Date

This is the defining group of the women heckler phenomenon.  From being a prosecutor in the Bronx to dating women in adulthood I have noticed that bad people tend to gravitate towards someone who tolerates and/or is comfortable with their flaws.  This does not mean happy with, but means comfortable with, because it satiates some primal instinct or conditioning.  Abusive men I observed in the South Bronx did not seek out or find themselves attracted to doctors and lawyers, unless their encounter resembled the beginning of the plot of a snuff film they saw.  They found women who came from places where abuse was tolerated or normal, thus creating a hellish symbiosis of abuse.  Well, much like the Real Husbands of the South Bronx, the Real Housewives of American Comedy Clubs have apparently found boyfriends and husbands that like to be yelled into submission as if they’re dating Dirk Diggler’s mother.

I once went on a date with a woman to see Dane Cook (2004 – Caroline’s).  She was late – strike one; she gave me a look of disapproval when I laughed at a Dane Cook joke about vaginas  – strike two; and then she did not do anything after the date – strike three – game over.  Fortunately, she did not vocalize her disapproval, but her look was enough to turn me off (that and her lack of consent after the show).  But had she spoken out or yelled at Dane Cook I would have told her to be quiet, stop embarrassing us or leave.  This may sound harsh, but it just means that I only want to date people who know how to conduct themselves in public and that I am not desperate enough to put up with inappropriate bullsh*t from a woman because she is the only one I can get.  Now unfortunately, there is a class of men who date and marry loud, inappropriate and embarrassing women because they either can put up with it, or more likely, feel that they have to.  And there is a couple like this at every show.

She is the woman yelling “That’s not funny!” or “Men do it too!!”  or some other stupid and unnecessary opinion about a joke.  And almost always you will see a guy just happy to have a spot on her life roster sitting right next to her.  Just sitting there quietly knowing that he is powerless to stop this monster.   In short, she is the worst person in the comedy club.  Assuming Lena Dunham’s nutritionist is not in attendance.

Or as another example – at the bar show in Brooklyn last night – the loud woman was near the stage, intoxicated and with a large black boyfriend (second biggest dude in the bar after the miserable sloth on stage). She kept yapping and I just told her “I’ll be done in a few minutes.”  Now, as tradition would have it, large black guys don’t usually have a reputation for putting up with mouthy women, unless they are the voices inside of Tyler Perry’s mind.  But as I gave them a look of fatigued disappointment he said to me with a smile and what sounded like an African accent, “Hey man, you got to keep it real, right?”  And then I realized this woman had found a third way to find a man who would allow her to be a moron in public: date a foreigner who does not yet know the custom. Downside – when her guy does learn the custom, he may circumcise her for being insolent.

5) The Woo-er and the “I Don’t Know How To Respond To a Funny Joke” Lady

This last one is almost not a heckler, but has found a way to become just enough of a distraction to be a loose cousin of the heckler.  This is the chick that “woo”s way to much, because it is not about supporting the comedian, rather, it is about letting the comedian know that she is there.  This is the same woman that when she thanks someone she goes “thank you soooooo much,” just to somehow make the thank you about her as much as it is about the person being thanked.  This person is usually drunk, sometimes attractive and always useless.  They can often be the same person, or at the same table as the person who looks at their table and either repeats every tag (in 2006 or 2007 at a show at Gotham Comedy Club I heard a woman repeat every Pablo Francisco punchline for 35 minutes) or just keeps saying “that is so funny” while barely laughing.  Instead of teaching classes on stand up comedy, maybe clubs should start teaching audience how to react (3 appropriate responses to jokes – claps and laughter or silence – end of class).

But once again, women made up a majority of the people buying my merchandise and laughing at my jokes this week and I am very appreciative.  But now it is time for that great majority to start cleaning house and letting these dummies know that they are doing wrong.  Except for #4 – that one will probably never learn.  I am just keeping it real, right?

Blog

Adam Carolla’s Eddie Brill Moment

For the second time this year a major figure in comedy has made controversial public remarks about the funniness of women.  Adam Carolla, of the #1 ranked podcast The Adam Carolla Show, stated in a New York Post article that “[t]he reason why you know more funny dudes than funny chicks is that dudes are funnier than chicks.”  He went on to cite a few famous women that he finds hilarious, but the damage had been done.  Twitter and Facebook lit up with denunciations by women and a few super enlightened men.  Some sources, like the Huffington Post questioned why we would even care about Adam Carolla’s opinion. Other comedians, mostly female, were hurling the “irrelevant” label at Carolla.

Before I get to the larger point, a quick defense of Carolla’s “relevance.”  He is the #1 podcaster in the world – a format that comedians have embraced wholeheartedly and that he has done better and with more success than anyone on Earth.  Calling him irrelevant would be like calling Dane Cook irrelevant back in 2006.  Carolla, in my opinion, is also one of the 5 or 10 funniest people in America.  His ability to be funny off the cuff, which I think is the purest form of funny, is second to none.  He is also a best-selling author of “In Fifty Years We’ll All Be Chicks,” which is one of the funniest books I’ve ever read.  He may not be Louis CK or Chris Rock in the stand-up comedy community, but to call him irrelevant is a surefire sign that you are out of the loop in comedy and media.  And full disclosure – I was never in a fraternity and before I ever listened to his podcast I just assumed (wrongly) that Carolla was an unsophisticated douche from the commercials for The Man Show (which I never watched).  Of all the women criticizing him I wonder how many were regular listeners to his podcast or had read his book or had ever seen him perform live.   Now back to the issue.

My first basic question is, what if Carolla is right or at least why is the idea that men are generally funnier than women such a sin that to even think it is a capital offense?  This has become such an article of faith among female comedians (and some super enlightened male comics) that no gender is funnier than the other.  Of course, any objective marker of comedy success, from the reverence given to Louis CK, to the financial dominance of “comedian” Jeff Dunham suggests otherwise.  As I wrote in a piece in January about the firing of Eddie Brill ( https://jlcauvin.com/?p=3225), comedy may be subjective, but all objective evidence point to the overwhelming popularity of male comedians  over female comedians.  And Carolla never said a woman cannot be as funny as a man.  So each individual female has an opportunity to be a Sarah Silverman or a Joan Rivers, but he said if he were playing the odds he would bet on a male comedian.

To the point of whether a woman can be as funny as a man – why is this not enough?  Why is it so offensive to female comedians to say that men are funnier on average?  Carolla offered no reasons as to why this is the case in the short interview, but might I suggest there are numerous cultural factors within and outside of comedy that lend itself to being a male art form?  The lifestyle of comedy is one that is still more socially acceptable for men that may weed out women.  Women who pursue the long and lonely journey of stand up comedy are potentially giving up a lot more in terms of family than men who pursue it.  Furthermore, we are a culture that has long praised men for being outgoing and attention seeking by being “the life of the party.”  Women, not so much.  Without getting into the Christopher Hitchens article  on women not being funny, is it possible that our culture (even if not going back to our evolution) has stacked the deck against women being “the funny ones?”  And if all these things are true, why do we have to still go ahead and say “But women and men are equally funny,” or at least are not allowed to hold the opinion that men are funnier without being considered misogynist monsters?  To say nothing of the fact that stand up comedy has been a largely male art form so we have shaped the content and the expectations of viewers for generations.   None of these factors are saying that women can’t be as funny in individual cases and some of these factors are unfortunate for the additional roadblocks they create for women seeking success in comedy.  But thinking something is unfortunate or unfair does not make it untrue.

Here’s something that I rarely heard at any office I worked in or class I attended, “You know who’s hilarious?  (Insert female name)”  I have known more funny men that never picked up a microphone than I know funny female comedians.  Do I know funny females? Obviously.  But female comedians seem to lose sight of the fact that they are already in a self-selecting group.  They do not represent the female population as a whole. They are 51% of the population, but definitely less than 50% of the stand up comedy world.  This has been my life experience and may reflect my taste in comedy, but there is something in our culture that  encourages men to be funny, and rewards them if they are.  But it has become this article of faith in comedy, like Grover Norquist’s anti-tax pledge, that unless you say “I don’t see gender, I only see a comedian and there are funny men and funny women and that is all I know,” you become some sort of monster on the wrong side of a Civil Rights struggle.  For some reason, “Women can be as funny as men” is not good enough if you believe on the whole that men are generally funnier than women.  Even if you suggest that the root cause of this is not biological, but merely social and cultural you are still a pig.

Perhaps as our society and culture change what Carolla said will not be true, but right now, if an alien landed in America and studied comedy he (OR SHE) would come to the conclusion that men are funnier.  He could go to an office, a happy hour at a bar or a comedy club and the evidence would be overwhelming.  Yes there are more male comedians than female, but I am arguing that in a larger context of our culture, not just in stand up circles.

Of course, if an alien were to turn to the Huffington Post comedy page and see their numerous lists of funny women you should follow on Twitter it might disagree. Then they might be confused by articles on the same site claiming that we need to stop taking gender into account in comedy.  And then they might look at some of those Twitter lists and say, “Wait, some of these aren’t that funny – are they simply on this list because they are women? That doesn’t seem like it will advance gender equity and respect in comedy.”

The truth is I would welcome this discussion going away, much like many of the female comics and super enlightened men who support them wholeheartedly.  But the fact is beauty and comedy are two things that are in the eye of the beholder and as much as it may sting, America largely agrees with Adam Carolla. Don’t take my word for it – look at the numbers.

Now I look forward to critics rolling their eyes at this and telling me “I am obsessed and need to let this go.” Why?  Because I wrote twice this year about it when Eddie Brill got fired and when my favorite podcaster got attacked?  Wow – truly obsessed.  I just get annoyed when I see irrational arguments bashing Carolla.  Of course every woman who jumps on this issue and bashes Brill or Carolla just gets a bunch of “You go girl’s” like she’s the Rosa Parks of comedy and is in no way “obsessed.”  It is the cyber equivalent of “support the troops.”  And then there are the female comedians who could not wait to call themselves hilarious on Twitter and Facebook as a way of sticking it to Carolla.  If you want to stick it to the Carollas of the world let someone else say it for you.  If you are funny someone surely will.

And then listen to Carolla’s podcast.

Blog

Comedy Sensitivity: It Doesn’t Get Better

First, before I address the comedy community, allow me to apologize to anyone who is a normal human being that reads my blog.  My podcast is going to be the focus of the more general pop culture and disdain for society that used to be confined to this blog (http://righteouspk.podomatic.com/).  And I am hoping that Monday January 30th will mark the launch of my weekly Movie Review show (www.YouTube.com/JLMovieLife).  So this blog will largely occupy (but certainly with many exceptions) issues with being a comedian.

And normally when I address issues in comedy it deals with the scumbaggery of the powers that be (e.g. I was not invited to a certain comedy club’s holiday party – a possible oversight, but hard not to take personally when my family and friends have probably put two children through college with all the bringer shows I have done at that club). Some examples are:

  • The struggle of feature work, the comedy parallel to the decline of the working class in America.
  • The manipulation and abuse of comedians’ dreams through cattle call auditions for shows where the writing is already on the wall.
  • The equivalent of stunt casting with regards to some TV star, non-stand up comedy qualified headliners.
  • The despair in seeing greats like Greg Giraldo and Patrice O’Neal die before getting their just due in the mainstream culture.
  • The fact that the comedy “media” is simply concerned with web traffic and would not know an actual issue affecting working comedians until it appeared on a verified Twitter account or on Comedy Central.

In my nearly nine years in comedy I have worked hard as a comedian, gone nearly broke, struggled professionally and personally, but I think most comedians that know me or read what I write know (or should know) that I have a deep respect for stand up comedy, at least what I want it to be.  I feel it is almost a calling, not something to dabble in or “think about trying” for a year or five before sacking up and doing it.  But given some criticism I have faced recently over Louis CK comments, plus the (what feels like daily) articles and comments on the perceived underrepresentation of women in comedy. I realize that there are a lot more pussies in comedy than I thought, and I don’t just mean anatomically.

I just recorded a podcast on Louis CK where I had an excellent conversation with another comedian about Louis’ place in comedy, his writing process, the quality of his specials, etc.  Now of course I mockingly summarize his specials by saying every one of them should be called “Working It Out,” and that every track could be called “Jerk Off,” “I Hate Kids,” and “I’m Fat.”   However whenever these comments go up on Facebook, comics quickly call me a “hater,” “bitter,” that I should “work on my comedy career.”  Now of course if I called Tim Tebow a cooky Christian in some clever way, or ripped GOP candidates or bashed the Kardashians, Dane Cook, Carlos Mencia or hundreds of other public figures I would be greeted with “likes” and “LOLs.” But I cracked wise about a spiritual figure for comedians so I got showered with career advice and adjectives.  It is a cliche that comedians are insecure, but much like all the kids who need bullying to stop it appears that comedians are really become a legion of pussies (possible book/movie/late night Cinemax title).  These are the same people who will spend their time calling religious figures vile names, regardless how other people may take it, defending the usage of hate speech or hateful terms in the name of comedy, but as soon as you get near the glass house based on another comedian’s authenticity that they have built for themselves you are a hater.  I am all for full free speech in comedy, as long as it is funny.  But some of my wiser colleagues I suppose feel differently (in case you did not pick up on it, I do not believe any of my colleagues are wiser, perhaps some are as wise).

In the name of the Louis, The C and The Holy K.

Then there is Twitter, which is downright disturbing how unfunny so many comedians are on this medium.  Genuinely unfunny.  But we engage in an ass kissing venture called “Follow Friday” on Twitter where people show support for their friends, many of whom are unfunny and kiss ass to those in a higher station in comedy life than them.  It is just mutual masturbation.  Buy your friend a candy bar or a coffee if you want to be a friend.  But respect the art and the content for Christ’s sake.

But I have saved the best complaint for last. In a discussion about pussies in comedy, I would be remiss to leave out a discussion about the degradation and shame women have been put through in the comedy world in 2011.  A typical Huffington Post/NYTimes/Twitter weekly cycle appears to be: “Women Are Funny Too!” “Are Women Funny?!” “Don’t Judge Women By Their Gender!” “Why Aren’t Women More Represented in TV Lineups!?” “Check out these 20 Hilarious Female Comedy Festivals!”  Way to play against the stereotype of indecisive, frantic and emotional.

An article in the New York Times featured Eddie Brill, the Letterman booker.  In it it was disclosed that:

  • Only 1 of the 22 comedians on Letterman this year was a woman
  • Eddie Brill finds most female comedians less authentic and that many of them are trying to act like men

In another article, this one from the Huffington Post, Judd Apatow’s Critics Choice Award speech was highlighted because he told 197 year old Jerry Lewis to fuck off because 13-14 years ago he said he “I don’t like any women comedians.”

And let’s not forget that Comedy Central only has one television development deal for a female comedian, but a bunch for men.

Well I am not sure how these Taliban have infiltrated the comedy business, but I for one would like to see some marines urinating on their corpses immediately.

Booker for The Evening Comedy Hour in Afghanistan

The fact is, without getting into the “who is funnier” as a gender (I own 20 comedy CDs, all by men, but I am sure it is open for debate), which gender comprises the majority of the top tier of comedians? Men.  I mean in a men vs. women comedy all star game it’s the Harlem Globetrotters vs. the Washington Mystics (the Generals had men and were better than the Mystics of the WNBA).  And as far as Letterman goes, he is very particular in his bookings.  And he only booked 22 comedians and a lot of them were A listers?

I complain plenty about quality of comedy and treatment of comedians in the business, but other than facial hair on Live at Gotham I never break it down into a “there are not enough of me” represented in stand up.  But women in comedy keep playing both sides – “STOP TREATING ME DIFFERENTLY AND CAN YOU PLEASE PUT ME ON THE SHOW BECAUSE THERE ARE NOT ENOUGH WOMEN.”  And Jerry Lewis and Eddie Brill never made absolute statements – they merely stated their personal preferences, but like a “Support The Troops” applause line, telling guys like that to fuck off is red meat for a gender that so often is stereotypically portrayed as misconstruing messages (watch any CBS comedy and you will get what I am saying).

There are funny women.  There are just a lot more funny men.  And the funniest men are the funniest people on the planet. No matter how many times you watch Bridesmaids.

But between being more sensitive to non-traditional challenges (Fuck the Pope = OK, Louis CK is overrated = heresy), mutually masturbating on Twitter and defending women’s honor against an onslaught of sexism, comedy might as well have its own anti-bullying slogan: It’s Getting Worse.