It's so tough for [insert group here] in standup

Interesting note there. So NBC "prohibits discrimination" based on race and sex. Yet I'm assuming if you're a white male, your odds of getting picked for this are, well, not so hot.

I know, I know. White guys can't complain about not being eligible for shit because we're white guys and things are, overall, pretty damn rosy for us.

But sometimes it feels like EVERYONE in standup complains about how tough it is for their group. White guys feel they need to do something in order to avoid being "just another white guy." Girls say comedy feels like a misogynistic boys club and shows don't like to book multiple gals on one show. Minorities feel underrepresented because there's no diversity at alt shows (and 'cuz there's racism everywhere, including in comedy).

Can everyone be right here? Since everyone's complaining, is that a sign that things are kinda fair? Is it harder or easier to get industry to pay attention to you when you're a minority?

Labels: ,

76 Comment(s)

Blogger Josh Homer said...

There is a white guy in the showcase every year.

5/11/10, 1:26 PM  
Blogger Josh Homer said...

Furthermore, this competition is not "strictly" about being a funny comic, it's about casting. So even if you bomb at the showcase, to the point where you get zero laughs, resort to saying things like "this guy knows what I'm talking about", you can still get picked to go to LA. It happened last year.

5/11/10, 1:28 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

First of all, everybody has to complaining about not getting free breaks and just focus on being funny. Being funny conquers all.

Secondly, it is true that some minorities get special treatment. But it is not just about being a minority. It is about being a certain type of minority that fits into the stereotype that you are supposedly fighting against, and being a minority who has no shame and will do the requisite "I'm an Arab so I get harassed at the airport" or "I'm an Indian and I don't work at a gas station" or "I'm a Mexican so I will yell some shit out to my Latinos in Spanish" joke. So if you are a minority who is ready to sell out and do a certain type of comedy, you do have certain advantages.

5/11/10, 1:35 PM  
Blogger Gonzalo said...

Personally, I believe racism doesn't exist and is just a lie created by the white devil to keep us minorities in our place.

Furthermore, I don't think being in a minority really affects your comedy career (HA! I called it a career!) Funny is funny. If you are funny, people will recognize it. If you feel like your race or sex is hurting your chances in comedy, it probably actually comes down to your act. Although I personally like to blame racism every time I bomb.

5/11/10, 2:35 PM  
Blogger myq said...

Josh is right about the casting aspect of things.

NBC doesn't discriminate based on race, but if there's a part available and the part is a certain race, I don't believe it's discrimination to not consider people who aren't of that race. (Though also, look how they got Fred Armisen to play Obama. Seems like white people are doing just fine at NBC.)

The issue at hand is also just that white men are the numerical majority. That does make it more difficult for an individual white man to stand out, all other things being equal. And it does make it difficult for non-white non-males, because they're swimming in a sea overflowing with white males.

It IS difficult for everyone.
And the system is most biased against the unfunny. If you're not as funny a white guy, you have less of a chance.
If you're not as funny a non-white/non-guy, you might get an opportunity like this diversity thing, but if you get it before you're ready, it might hurt you, and give people cause to point and complain.
It's unfortunate, but all that said, as a casting opportunity it doesn't necessarily even have that much to do with your standup.

Like someone said, in standup, funny is generally what rules the day.
This diversity thing isn't a strict contest of funny.

Good luck everyone!

5/11/10, 2:38 PM  
Blogger soce said...

Whoo hoo that's Jen Kwok in the screen grab!!

I will say that as someone who books shows, I tend to fill my four weekly slots with 2 straight white guys, 1 ethnic person (ie black, hispanic, asian, gay, older than 40 etc) and 1 lady. Sometimes I'll do 3 ladies and 1 guy etc, but that's the general model. There are around 300 straight white guys I'd like to book for 100 slots per year (2 slots x roughly 50 weeks).

Whereas there are 50 women for 50 slots per year and 50 ethnic people for 50 slots. These numbers are all estimates, but basically it means that even though I give out more slots to straight white guys, there are also many more to choose from, so it may take me 3 years to book someone of that group, even if I'm a big fan of his comedy.

And on the flip side, I am more likely to fast track in someone who's diverse or a lady. And like all the other commenters, I will generally only book someone if I think they are very talented, regardless of their makeup.

5/11/10, 3:21 PM  
Blogger myq said...

Aha, but you admit, they must wear makeup!

Now the straight guys have the secret.

Booking time!

5/11/10, 3:49 PM  
Blogger Josh Homer said...

I was recommended to do a show by a white comic. The producer tells him, "we already have a black guy on the show. Can you recommend someone white?"

A producer also said in front of me, "I like to have a black MC, that way I don't have to have another black comic on the show."

There can be a million white guys on a show, and it's not a problem. However, if there is more than two black people, it's a problem. More than 2 women, and it's a women's show.

The thing is as white dude you don't even see how you treat people differently. One of my friends who is an amazing comic, who happens to be a woman was introduced at her Montreal audition with the following, "So you ready for another woman?"

In the end being funny is what matters, but when clubs and private producers look at your sex and race, you don't even get a chance to prove you're funny. You're judged at the door.

With that being said, when Starla ran the Strip auditions she told a friend of mine, "Why should I pass you? You're generic white guy number 739. I got other white guys that do what you do and I know them."

Funny wins out, but if you're a minority you have to be twice as funny to get the same recognition. Just look at Live at Gotham and Comedy Central Presents. White guys galore. Look at the ECNY Awards. Hannibal is a writer for SNL, Baron is in countless movies. Their "peers", who they were up against, did not accomplish anything on that level.

5/11/10, 10:09 PM  
Blogger myq said...

Josh, if circumstances were ideal, what would you like to see as far as the proportion of white men to non?

Would it ideally be proportionate to the number of white men and non in comedy? (Which would mean the numbers would skew towards having more white men, because they are the numerical majority. This is assuming that all other things are equal, and that any race or gender has the same chance of being just as funny as any other, which I think is reasonable.)

Or do you think that because there are so many white men, to be fair, more of the non category should be included than is proportionate?

Looking at the first season of Comedy Central Presents, there are eight episodes: five white men and three non (specifically one black woman, one black man, one white woman). This seems like a more than fair percentage.

Premium Blend, as I understand it, always seemed to have two slots for people who were not white men (usually one non-white man and one woman). Also more than fair, given the proportions.

Granted, the most recent season of CCP has 7 out of 24 who are not white men, still more than a quarter, which I imagine fairly represents the numerical proportions of comedians out there. (If you have any numbers or thoughts to the contrary, please share.)

Our season of Live at Gotham, Josh, seems to have 17 out of 48 non white men, which is again a seemingly reasonable proportion.

Even your ECNY example rings false to me--two out of five Best Male Comedian nominees were black. In a world chock full of white men.
And I reject your assessment that everyone was not as accomplished as the black men. Pete Holmes, specifically, has done NUMEROUS television, voiceover, cartoon, commercial, and all kinds of comedy work.
I think that your sarcastic quotation marks around "peers" are uncalled for, and that these people really are all peers in standup, which is what the category regards.
They're all funny and deserving, and I really don't see how an argument here showing anything relevantly racial is occurring.

Like Soce points out, even with booking more white men than others, there are still way more white men NOT getting booked than others. So I honestly don't think it takes more funny to be noticed as a non white man.

I do agree that it's unnecessary to put a cap on the number of non-white men on a show, and that the people who do so as a rule are foolish and wrong.

(I also agree that it's ridiculous/unnecessary/horrible to introduce a woman with "And now, shift gears for a lady!" or "This next comedian is beautiful!")

But I think what happens in the clubs (or shows like we're talking about here) and what happens in TV type showcase is completely different, and I feel like the TV industry often goes out of their way to include MORE of the non white guy category.

(One more relevant example--when I did the Comedy Central Open Mic Fights in Boston a few years back, there were 8 contestants, only THREE of which were white men. Two black men, two women, and one Latino.)

And I honestly think that sometimes this can be to the detriment of comedians who might get seen before they are as ready as they would be if industry didn't want to see certain races or genders represented... This can be to the individual's detriment, to the detriment of the show or project in question, and potentially perpetuating stereotypes that certain demographics aren't as funny as others (because the comparisons aren't being made fairly between comedians of comparable skill levels).

In standup, funny should be the determining factor of one's success and one's accomplishments.

Obviously, there are comedians of all colors/genders/orientations/etc. that are hilarious and deserving of whatever TV credit or club booking is in question.

And the more people in charge that share that mindset (which I believe is the case in certain situations), the better.

A Jewy Type

5/12/10, 12:10 AM  
Blogger David Angelo said...

I always considered myself a minority in the comedy community for not having the emotional development of a 7 year old.

And you guys will never understand how much of an outsider I feel like for filing my income taxes annually.

5/12/10, 1:59 AM  
Blogger Abbi Crutchfield said...

I bet every white male comic reading this comment thread would love it if for once they were introduced by their good looks.

Myq said, "Our season of Live at Gotham, Josh, seems to have 17 out of 48 non white men, which is again a seemingly reasonable proportion.

I think it's the "seemingly reasonable" description that points to the underlying race issue in comedy. American culture measures black participation in white-dominated events by levels of acceptability.

There's a reason for this. If all ECNY candidates were non-white, wouldn't that be unusual? And if no one drew attention to this fact, wouldn't that be even more unusual? Yes, because we are used to whites being prevalent and we are used to openly identifying when whites are not prevalent (either in a positive or negative way).

Like Richard Pryor said on racism, being human is hard enough. There's no point in making it even harder. Today, things aren't as hard for non-whites as they used to be. American culture doesn't deal with overt racism as much as aftermath from the difficult times of yore. (i.e. casting of black women in commercials that are lighter-skinned with long hair is still enough to piss non-whites off. It's not mean, but it's a subtle indicator of the rate of white Americans' collective acceptance.)

Imagine how hilarious it would be for there to be nothing but Thai people on television selling all products and setting the standard for beauty in all media? It doesn't represent the majority of consumers. It was equally bizarre when white imagery dominated.

The ideal scenario would be that all races and genders are entering stand-up proportionately, that all cream rises to the top in proportionate ways, and that all the funniest ultimately get equal financial success. That wouldn't be likely even if we were all blue, unisex and competing for the same goal. So everyone has a right to complain. But for different reasons.

Also, I'd like to take this time to point out that Josh is hilarious.

5/12/10, 1:24 PM  
Blogger myq said...

Just to clarify, Abbi, when I use the term "seemingly reasonable proportion," I mean a proportion that seems to align with the racial breakdown in the population, or in the comedic population.

That is to say, since white men are the majority of comedians, it "seems reasonable" to have them represented as such, in a season of Live at Gotham.

As far as the question of whether it is reasonable that white men are SUCH a majority, that is a different question that makes sense to talk about.

5/12/10, 1:54 PM  
Blogger Abbi Crutchfield said...

myq, Thanks for the clarification. With all this public arguing about Erik I feel like we owe him an ice cream.

5/12/10, 2:42 PM  
Blogger Josh Homer said...

my point Myq, is that minority comics are held to a different standard than white comics, at least at my low level. Let me expound on this point.

"I don't think women comics are funny." Really? Have you seen every woman comic? I mean Ellen and Roseanne are pretty much living legends. Moms Mabley changed comedy. Joan Rivers is a walking joke now, but she was a pioneer (I know comics who do her jokes and pass them off as their own). But women comics are put in a bucket based on bad comics who happen to be women. Are white heterosexual males held to this same standard? No. Because there are more white men doing comedy, there are more white men doing comedy who suck. Yet, no one ever says, "Man, white dudes suck at comedy." "Oh boy, here comes the rape and penis jokes."

Now on to people with brown skin. Like my example I mentioned earlier about a booker actually telling my friend he didn't want me on the show because I was black, people assume the type of material your going to do based on your race, especially if you're black. They assume I, and any of my black brothas and sistas, are going to do the exact same type of material so they can't have more than one on a show (I'm assuming this less racist view, otherwise they are assuming that too many black in one place is just bad.) There is no assumption for white guys. Even further, if the white guys are doing the same type of material, it is not even questioned.

This season there were only two black comics on CC Presents, Chris Rock's brother and Doug Williams, a man who has been doing comedy longer than most of us were alive and who had numerous development deals (If Jammie Foxx had not destroyed him at that roast, he'd be a household name). Yet the white people on Presents do not boast such a decorated history in comedy. This is too much of a coincidence to be a coincidence. There is a bias in comedy, sometimes, like in the casting of CC Presents it is blatant. There are many great black comics who are working, who are not doing the Def Jam style of comedy that people assume we all do. Yet they were not given the chance or they were not cast (it is casting, one of the producers said to a friend that they were funny enough, just too old). Do the people who cast CC Presents or LAG even go to urban rooms? I've never seen them there. Do they even ask about black comics? The results seem to say they do not.

As a black comic getting booked on private shows, I have to do extremely well or risk not getting booked. My white male counterparts do not have to live up to this. They can experiment, they can be given time to grow and develop. In fact every spot for developing comics at Stand Up NY is filled with a white male. Are they the funniest comic trying to get on in that club? No. Can I name black, spanish, or female comics who are funnier and not even given that chance? Yes I can, more than one.

5/12/10, 3:03 PM  
Blogger myq said...

Josh, I agree with you in general...

Yes, the fact that there are the most straight white men in comedy means that there are also the most UNFUNNY quantity of straight white men.
Completely agreed, and it's unfair to say "women are unfunny" based on the kinds of things we've both been talking about.

A couple other things though--you didn't mention Don Glover, the third black CCP gentleman on this season. And he's been doing standup LESS than most everyone else. And he's hilarious, but just wanted to point that out as well.

And your point about someone being funny enough but too old, isn't that a complaint about age discrimination, rather than racial? (Which is also worth complaining about, certainly.)

Also, I would point out that The Awkward Comedy Show just debuted on Comedy Central, with Victor Varnado, Baron Vaughn, Hannibal Buress, Erik Andre, and Marina Franklin all being featured prominently. These are all people who certainly COULD have had a CCP instead, but going this direct route allowed them to bypass the casting route entirely.

And when you ask where the casting people are going to look at comedy, I believe for CCP, they get a lot of video submissions, so anyone CAN submit. No one is at the mercy of the nightlife habits of the industry necessarily. (In fact, Victor's creation/production/pitching of the Awkward Comedy Show is a perfect example of how that's true.)

That said, I'm not disagreeing with your general thesis that people of color or gender or what have you are not judged differently. Certainly that is the case. And I'll grant you, I'm not as familiar with the club practices at all the clubs (I only have two that I really perform at with any kind of regularity, and Standup NY has been one that has seen me, liked me, and not booked me thus far, if that makes you feel any better.)

One other thing--as far as people not caring when white guys seem too similar... no one complains about it? You are. I am. Others here would agree I'm sure. And I've heard audiences complain about such things as well.

Again, these might be minor points of contention. I agree that it can be tough to get booked for certain reasons as a person of certain demographics.

There are certainly different standards, what you're saying is true, I honestly just don't know in which direction they're different all the time. (You do agree, yes? That white guys might have a hard time getting passed at a club because there ARE "too many similar white guys." While that's not saying "white guys suck at comedy," it can certainly be equally discouraging to one's career, practically speaking.)

Sincerely though, you didn't specifically answer the question that might not have an answer--but, in a world where 75% of comedians are straight white dudes, say, and funny doesn't depend on gender/color/orientation, then should the clubs or TV shows ideally reflect that proportion? Or should there be a higher rate of diversity, for diversity's sake?

(I also understand that the current state of affairs isn't necessarily at exactly that proportionate rate, but at certain levels, I'd say there is reasonable proportionality.)

A straight white guy who recognizes he has caught some breaks, but still trying to discuss the issue rationally and objectively

5/12/10, 3:56 PM  
Blogger Josh Homer said...

I forgot about Don Glover, as his CCP was not really based on his comedy but this popularity and TV credits. I'm not even going to get into a guy who's been doing comedy for about a year and whose strongest joke is an "homage" to a signature Chris Rock bit doing a CCP.

Now to speak specifically to your question of should the numbers be a direct reflection of the ratio of white to non-white or should there be an affirmative action initiative in comedy. Funny is funny. Based on the law of averages, if the number of comedians break down to 75% white males and 25% other, then the bookings in the club should reflect this. The TV spots should reflect this. They clearly don't.

There is a need for some type of affirmative action, and I don't mean "give a certain number of spots to black comics, female comics, gay comics etc." There should be a certain number of audition spots for minority comics.

Why you ask? I'll tell you. This business is about friendships. White guys hang with white guys. White guy gets a break and who does he recommend? Another white guy. Even Matt Ruby, as unracist (not a word) as I know, an all around great guy, posted his list of Sandies; all white men. Did Ruby say, "No darkies or rag riders allowed!" Never. He did say this though, "Kath, haven't seen any of those guys so can't say. That's another rule I guess: I need to have seen you. So factor that in." Well if you hang around white guy comics, you do a bunch of shows with white guy comics, you book white guy comics, when it comes time to recommend a comic, guess what? It will be one of the people you "have seen" who just happen to be white guy comics. Not direct racism, but the results show a racial bias.

The industry is no different. There was a time when the people from Comedy Central where in the clubs, on the scene. Seeing what's what. That time has gone. Now the CC people (former comics) just ask their friends, who happen to be white, who to look for. They ask a club owner who to look for, and guess what? He happens to recommend the people who support his bringers, or take a $75 class with his resident in-house comedy teacher. Guess what? This discriminates based on income level. Guess what? There is a correlation with income level and skin color. I mean if I could afford to take a bunch of classes so I could host shows at a club, I would. But I can't afford to.

Conan showed a very strong bias towards Boston comics (not black or white, even though they happened to be mostly white, hey it's Boston), so he put a lot of Boston comics on. Shane Moss had three spots. Are there comics who are equally as funny as Shane, but did not get any spots? I say yes. It's about friendship and affinity, the results show this. The friendship, or shall we call them cliques, have a strong racial divide. All these things lead to racial bias within the comedy community.

My very convoluted point is this; it's not about being the funniest anymore. It's about what you do off stage more than anything. Who you know, what show you run, what you can do for someone else.

When we make it past all that, then maybe we can book the best comics. Then the only bias will be against the unfunny. Maybe then the ECNY Awards might have some women of color, some gays, a person over 30 and maybe a person in a wheelchair.

I so wish Lucian and Manny were still alive. Between the two of them, they made sure that comedy was about merit, at least at the club level.

5/12/10, 4:33 PM  
Anonymous ECN said...

That, to me, is the crucial point that's left out -- not so much the actual booking/festival audition process. Treatment at shows, etc. I've seen it happen to women more than to ethnic minorities, but the kind of bigoted attitude a lot of women comics have had to deal with from some (far from all, probably less than half, but some) male comics...

...well, I'll say this right now. If I were a woman, I probably would've quit comedy at some point. I might not have gotten any kind of momentum going in Boston to begin with, though I feel like Boston (some parts of Boston) is relatively welcoming to women comics. (No first-person experience here, of course, but still.)

And if I did get that far, I would've probably given it up upon arriving in Los Angeles. Between the casual sexual harassment and the general sense -- still out there, probably not as bad as it once was, but still out there -- that women have to "prove themselves" as comedians in a way guys simply don't, it's just not an environment I think I could have been happy in.

It's not the bias -- which is tough to prove -- it's the openness of the bias. I mean, I don't know what it's like for black comics. I do know that I've never heard anyone say, even ostensibly jokingly, "black people aren't funny."

Of course, all comics have to be resilient, but it's a different kind of resilience.

5/12/10, 5:55 PM  
Blogger myq said...

Erik, as another straight white dude, I agree that women seem to face the worst of the discriminatory brunt, at least on the openest "they're not funny" mentality front.

And Josh, I believe we agree about what SHOULD be. I think we just disagree on what IS currently the case, at least as far as the television channels go. With the clubs, I am with you; from what I've seen and what I believe of your experience and knowledge, definitely. But with CCP or Gotham or what have you, I've always seen Comedy Central reaching out to various diverse reaches.

But certainly, minorities of all kinds should be given as many opportunities as possible, just as white dudes have.

Let's do it!

5/12/10, 6:05 PM  
Blogger Josh Homer said...

No ECN, they don't say black people aren't funny. They just keep them off the shows so the audience doesn't have the chance to see if they are funny or not. Example: Last Comic Standing auditions. 23 comics. 2 had brown skin, very light brown skin. Lots of women, even more white dudes.

Not saying one struggle is harder then the other, they are just different.

Ok, maybe it's harder for women. I know personally of two female comics (there could be more) who were told by the same booker that 'if you don't f#$k me you can't get up in my room.' The dude is a scumbag, but he runs shows so he will continue to be forgiven by the community.

5/12/10, 6:10 PM  
Blogger Dan Cartwright said...

Josh and Myq,

I have been following this thread and appreciate the very thoughtful and candid analysis you both have given this issue. I think you both have raised valid points; Josh for your reference to the ‘cliques’ and Myq to your percentages argument.

I do recognize that there is a problem, so I would like to offer my take on this whole thing. Full disclosure I am a white male comic, so take this how you will.

Personally, I think people in general should put more focus on things that they can actually change. If someone is going to be racist in their booking/recommendations, or gender bias or just an all around dirt bag, there is very little you can do to change that. But what everyone has the capacity to do is change themselves.

The reason I bring this up, is because of a Steve Martin quote that I have always liked. His response on how to “make it” was “Be undeniably great”. I like that.

Be so great, that no one can ignore you anymore. Be so powerful that that they can no longer pretend you don’t exist. If you are great on a level that transcends your art, than nothing can hold you back. Racism, bigotry, gender biases are nothing compared to watching someone that is awe inspiring.

This may seem hopelessly optimistic but it is true. Reggie Watts is a prime example of this. People would see him and he would literally blow their minds. Sean Patton I feel does the same thing. So why we can’t change the worst of our peers, we can change the best of ourselves to be undeniably great.

All due respect both Myq and Josh whom I have both seen and think are excellent.

5/12/10, 7:31 PM  
Blogger Mo Diggs said...

"Did Ruby say, 'No darkies or rag riders allowed!' Never."

I believe the preferred term is "rug rider," thank you very much!

Great points all around seriously!

5/12/10, 7:49 PM  
Blogger Kath said...

My brother, who loves me, tells me weekly that women just aren't funny.

Great points, all. Especially Josh. It's well known that for a woman to get any recognition in standup, she has to be as funny or funnier than the funniest generic straight white guy in the room, whereas a mediocre generic straight white guy will get spots because he's somebody's drinking buddy. Them's the facts. Love or hate Tina Fey (admittedly not a standup but the world of comedy writing for TV is just as skewed as standup), we lady folks NEED her.

Seeing the same rotating list of five straight white dudes doing shows in the indy scene week after week gets awfully old. Those guys are funny as hell but if there are so many white dudes to choose from, why do I keep seeing the same ones? I don't know what the fix is or anybody else thinks this needs fixin'.

5/13/10, 10:08 AM  
Blogger myq said...

Kath, minor point--you say you see the same funny white guys on show rosters all the time, but also that every mediocre white guy can get all the spots they want. Which seems a bit incongruous. But your points are taken (other than the fact that Kumail and Hannibal and Baron aren't white).

Certainly, white dudes are over-represented amongst comedy shows and amongst comedians in general, but I just wanted to throw it out there again that that doesn't mean every individual white guy reaps the benefits*. Mediocre white guys have to work hard to know a lot of drinking buddies with shows.

* Of course, every individual white guy DOES reap the benefits of being a white guy in a society ruled by white guys, so it evens out. Or better.

PS Why would anyone hate Tina Fey? She's awesome and hilarious and demonstrative that a woman can be WAY funnier than most men. (Oh, is that why some might hate her? Gotcha.)

When people say "women aren't funny," they're just doing math wrong. They're seeing that the majority of successful standups are men and disregarding that the majority of unsuccessful standups are also men, because the majority of standups are men. They're also seeing that some female comics starting out might not be the best yet, because no one is the best when they're starting out, and they're disregarding that WAY MORE men starting out are also not the best. Society's bias in favor of dudes gets amplified, probably because of the sheer disparity in numbers of female to male standups (compared with the rest of society, where the genders are about equal). So I'd say, encourage more females to get into standup, and that can help on the numbers side of the discrimination front.

(Plus a joke about women and math. Am I right, ladies? You love math! You're welcome.)

5/13/10, 10:28 AM  
Blogger soce said...

Who are these mythical white guy drinking buddies who offer multiple spots, and how can I become friends with them??

5/13/10, 10:58 AM  
Blogger myq said...

Sorry Soce, you're not mediocre enough to find out.

Grrl power! Womyn unyte!

5/13/10, 11:30 AM  
Blogger Kath said...

Myq -
I didn't mean to suggest that ANY mediocre white guy could get spots due to being somebody's drinking buddy but it does happen. Often. And I know that Kumail and Hannibal and Baron aren't white.

I was painting with broad strokes and you caught me. Point taken.

Regarding math, I've rattled off the name of every successful/famous female comic I could think of and some men have responded with "no, nope, not funny, not funny, not funny." Really, dude? You've never laughed at ANYTHING Sarah Silverman has said? Must be that damn vagina.

5/13/10, 12:10 PM  
Blogger myq said...

Kath, regarding your broad strokes, not a problem. (Plus a joke about a broad's strokes. Done and done!)

I certainly don't mean to say that cronyism doesn't exist, nor that white dudes don't benefit from it.

As far as the guys who listen to a list of every female comic and disagree that they're funny, that's just wrong-headed and societally brainwashed bullshit.

Maria Bamford is one of the funniest people there is. Period.

Sarah Silverman's act might not be for everyone (just for people who enjoy things that are good), but read her book. It's much more revealing, open, personal, truthful, raw, and it's also hilarious.

And of course there's Ellen, Paula Poundstone, Roseanne, etc.
(Though sometimes you'll get the equally ignorant response that some funny females are "less feminine" than most women, and thus because they're more mannish or less womannish, they can be exceptions to the "women aren't funny" bull. Which is just more heterosexist/homophobic/anti-feminist nonsense.)

A Man

5/13/10, 12:21 PM  
Blogger Gonzalo said...

I think there's an important distinction to be made between the alt scene and the mainstream scene. When you talk about the ECNYs, it seems like a weird argument, because it doesn't even seem like there are as many minority comedians interested in breaking in that scene, right? I agree with Myq that it seems like the ECNY's fairly represented minorities percentage wise. It also seems super weird to say Pete Holmes, Sean Patton are in any way inferior to Hannibal or Baron Vaughn. They are totally equals, all at the top of their game. You have to remember also that the ECNYs are a niche award show, and aren't particularly attempting to cover the entire comedy scene.

When you talk about the comedy clubs, that's obviously a different story. I guess that can be fairly segregated at times, with "urban"or latino shows made specifically to cater to certain audiences. But I still think part of the game is proving to people you can be an integral part of any show. Inversely, sometimes a minority comic can get on a show just because there is a quota a booker is trying to fill, and it may not be directly connected to quality.

I guess I agree with a ton of Josh's points, but I also feel like you may have simplified a thing or two. Obviously there is racism and sexim in comedy because there is racism and sexism everywhere. But at the end of the day, I do think funny is funny. We all have obstacles to overcome (some of us are ugly, some of us have lisps, some of us are comic book nerds with comic jokes, etc. etc. etc.) and all we can really do is just get funnier and not worry about the rest.

5/13/10, 12:26 PM  
Blogger Kate Hendricks said...

To be honest, I'm not sure NBC is including "women" in their definition of "diversity" here. The purpose of Stand-Up for Diversity (as I understand it) was to put more people of ethnic backgrounds on television. (Then it stopped being televised, or something).

I did this in San Diego, was one of two white women called back for the first round, and NO white people were called back from there on. Which made sense to me. I went out for it to be cheeky because they didn't come out and SAY "No white people" so I figured as a woman, I'd qualify.

Anyway. As a woman, sure, I think stand-up is harder for women. But, this is what I've chosen to do with my life, and all the bitching and moaning in the world isn't going to make audiences collectively accept women more openly as comics, and it's not going to make my material better. So let's just get on with it.

(P.S. - not saying anyone here is bitching and moaning)

5/13/10, 1:54 PM  
Blogger soce said...

I think there's a difference too between diversity-encouraging experimental cheap / free shows in downtown manhattan / brooklyn vs the expensive club shows that mostly book white guys.

When you are running a free show and not making money, it's much easier to focus on honing your craft and encouraging a variety of comedic voices to participate.

When you are running a large, pricey club, the key is to cater to your audience, who are mostly tourists looking to see people who are just like themselves. That's why clubs will generally play it "safe" and book lots of white guys. They are nervous about audience expectations, and that's why they're fearful that audience members might say "I paid all this money to see a [various minority group] show?!"

It sounds bad saying that, but I feel that's a big reason. Same reason why most movies and tv shows feature casts that are generally white, because money and profits are the bottom line, and that's what producers believe audiences want to see (and in most cases, it IS what audiences want to see, whether they admit it or don't).

I personally would like to see more movies with diverse casts, especially ones that don't focus on their particular background, and that's one of the reasons why I love the Harold and Kumar movies, since it features two minorities, but simply treats them as random stoners instead of focusing completely on their ethnicities.

5/13/10, 2:27 PM  
Blogger Josh Homer said...

The point we've all touched on is this, as a minority you are put in a group and painted with a broad brush. Female comics are going to talk about their period and how they can't get a man. Black comics are going to talk about the 'hood and of course bitches.

Is this true? Some women do talk about hacky stuff and so do some black comics, they all do not. Somehow the bookers of shows, be they club shows or they little alt Williamsburg shows believe this on some level.

White guys are not held to this standard. They are looked at as individuals. Pete Holmes is different than Sean Patton, everyone can see this. But when the booker said to my friend, "we already have a black comic" he was thinking "Josh Homer is just like every other black comic, so no need to book him cause we already have one of them on the show." Did he even se my clip? Nope. He knew with a certainty, once he saw my picture, that I was going to be talking about bitches and how hard it is out here for a pimp.

White guy comics are allowed to be individuals. They are given the benefit of the doubt. Whereas women and blacks comics are defined by the thing they have absolutely no control over; their race and gender.

@MoDiggs - I meant rag rider, as in a person who has their period. No one gives a crap about rug riders as all Desi comics suck and talk about gas stations, 7-11s and being profiled by the FBI.

5/13/10, 2:35 PM  
Blogger Josh Homer said...

@Kate - women do count a minorities for this NBC thing. Like I mentioned earlier, they have a white guy on the showcase in NYC almost every year, last year being the exception. The year before the white guy on the show had to open with a bit explaining why he was on the show. (side note: if you can find it, Danny Lobell took a camera with him and pretended to be from South Africa and went to the auditions as an "African America". He then went on stage and did apartheid jokes. hilarious)

@Soce - basically you just said that the clubs are justified in being racist in their bookings. Regardless if the comic going o stage is funny, is doing material that is smart and thought provoking. That thinking is the whole problem.

5/13/10, 2:39 PM  
Blogger Kate Hendricks said...

@Josh, I agree women, but not white women. At least not in my experience. Of course, you've seen something to the contrary, so I'll defer to you, also because I'm not arrogant enough to think they aren't taking white women just cause they chose not to take me! ;)

I'll have to look up the Danny Lobell bit, sounds fantastic.

5/13/10, 2:44 PM  
Blogger soce said...

@Josh, I'm not saying clubs are justified and have a free pass to be as racist as they want to be. I'm not saying that I support their decisions. I'm simply trying to provide some reason and insight as to why they may do what they do.

I would love for things to be different and more diverse in the mainstream entertainment world. The main thing we can do now is support diverse comedians who perform in those clubs by attending their shows and watching their movies and tv shows in order to show the club managers and casting directors that booking more diverse acts will make sense financially.

And of course we should only support people who are really funny and talented.

5/13/10, 3:10 PM  
Blogger WWW said...

Wow.. First thank you for taking up a good hour of the work day with really well rounded, well organized and well written commentary.

I have no idea what its like to be black, but I can speak to the female perspective. Even looking at the blog comments, to my knowledge, there are only four female comics (including myself) part of this conversation. While I dont think NBC is looking for white girls, outside of this NBC showcase, being female in comedy has personally worked both to my advantage, and against me, however I do feel like the issues females face more generally do not help for us to develop in the same way other comics are able to, and therefore, a vicious cycle of "theyre not funny" begins.

While I may get a spot by being female, there is a pressure to be 'better-than', and a perception that 'im not as good as' - which as a developing comic, is a tough spot to fill. Also, to say "just be great", or "funny is funny", in the female world is not necessarily cut and dry. Our act, while heavily dependant on what is coming out of our mouths, is also influenced by what we look like, what we're wearing, what size are we wearing it in, big boobs, small boobs, do we have brown hair, blond hair etc. because there are perceived sociatal notions about all of the aforemention attributes - and while that may short term get us the "female quota" booking on a show, long term - i think we may be equally as hindered by those great spots that can be too good to turn down that your frankly not ready to do and next thing you know, you're that "other unfunny female comic".

All this aside, I tend to agree with Kate re: the usefullness of feeling victimized (not that anyone here is doing that). Stand Up, at least in the profitable sense, is an oversaturated market and finding your niche is as much a part of the job as being funny. There are limited outlets, for what seems like an unlimited amount of talent and to suggest that there should be any sort of "affirmative action" booking is somewhat selling yourself as a performer short.

5/13/10, 5:04 PM  
Blogger Rae Sanni said...

"But I just wanted to throw it out there again that that doesn't mean every individual white guy reaps the benefits. Mediocre white guys have to work hard to know a lot of drinking buddies with shows."
Fair point, Myq, but I also think it's important to note that minorities and women are going to have a much harder time becoming drinking buddies with these (often white male) folks with shows. A group of white males is super hard to infiltrate when you're not one. That's not to say every woman or ethnic minority or woman of color should be coddled or given especial treatment when it comes to friend-making, but it would be a mistake to not consider how certain atmospheres can be, though likely inadvertently, exclusionary. As a negress, I'm definitely intimidated when in a room full of people who stand around in cliques comprising solely white males. That's not to say some folks can't hang and escape all the trouble of "tokenism" or "being one of the guys". Some can, but many can't, and in an industry wherein who you know can make all the difference, well, it blows for a lot of folks.

To answer Matt's question: Just because everyone is complaining, doesn't mean that everyone's complaints are equally valid nor does it mean that things are 'kinda fair.' Complaining that it's hard to stand out amongst a bunch of folks that may or may not be similar to you (which, as a good stand up, you're supposed to be aiming to do--stand out!) is simply not as valid as complaining that even if you do stand out, ppl will only allow for one of two of your kind at a time.

I've only been doing comedy for about 10 months, so I can't speak to things like CCP or Live At Gotham, but on the few shows I've done, I've often been either the only woman or the only negro, and most definitely the only woman of color. And even then, I've gotten most of those spots by being invited by either women or ppl of color to do them-- none of whom have been close friends. These ppl havent been my drinking buddies. I think they've recognized that for minorities, it's especially hard to grab the attention of the white males who dominate the different scenes if you're not like them. (Yes, there's Hannibal and Baron and Kumail and other names you all have thrown around, but it is my opinion that those comics are aberrations and, I'd like to point out, all males.)

I find complaints about showcases like Standup For Diversity by "privileged" parties to be rather tone deaf, and, to some degree, pretty darn insulting (not accusing anyone here of being an ass, just speaking in general). When privileged parties are unwilling to acknowledge their privilege, and create situations in their head wherein they're being "denied" something because of what they are rather than understanding that showcases like these are meant to include talented people who actually are being denied something because of what they are, well, I find that laughable. I'm alway impressed when privileged folks make up ways they are being excluded, forgetting that outside a showcase here or there, they're the ones doing all the excluding.

5/14/10, 1:57 AM  
Blogger myq said...

A couple things.

Firstly, no one here is saying that minorities have it easy, or complaining that Standup for Diversity might help deserving funny comics who otherwise wouldn't get the recognition they deserve. (Some people ARE saying that it might not really be about standup as much as casting, which is another animal completely. I know people who have done great at the showcase, but then been told they couldn't be used because they didn't fit any preconceived casting boxes, basically.)

Matt DID start this discussion by asking, "Is it harder or easier to get the industry to pay attention to you if you're a minority?"

And I think we've found that there are several levels to the issue (depending on how you define industry). There's the Comedy Central type industry, which may not go to all the urban rooms, but which I submit DOES go fairly out of their way to promote and showcase non-white dudes (cases in point, all the proportions I went through earlier, including the one CC contest I was in that had only three white dudes out of eight; and my Live at Gotham, which had 6 people including one Asian man, one black man, and one woman).
Is it perfectly fair? No. Should CC be soliciting more minorities? Don't know.
But I honestly think that, YES, at this level, being a minority CAN benefit someone, if they're just as funny as a white person of the same level.

And Rae, I'm the first person to call people on their shit when they're all like "Where's WHITE history month" or "There's a war on CHRISTMAS!" or other examples of the powerful class complaining about shit that they're actually in control of.
(I'm not complaining. I think diversity is great, and I'm a fan of equality, and I honestly don't care if it's harder for white guys to stand out and shine, because like you said, it's part of the game, to stand out and shine. If no one will look at me until I'm even funnier, then that's even better for me when I get there.)

That said, the next level, let's say, the NY club booking level, can be identified as perhaps the most unfair. If Josh's experience and the experiences of others here is common, it is certainly unfortunate that a person might not even get an audition because of their race. (That said, we've seen that being "just another white guy" AFTER an audition can leave you frustrated as well, but of course, it's better to be given that chance than not.)
It is certainly unfair to have every negative stereotype of anyone that looks like you hanging over your head when you're auditioning or showcasing or what have you.
I agree. Discrimination is happening in the minds of some people with power, and that's bad.

(Of course, I don't think we're talking universally about every club in the city, and also I think it should be noted that we are JUST talking about NYC, yes?
In Boston where I performed for six or seven years, there are plenty of hilarious women of all levels given stagetime, often on the same show. The Comedy Studio is a very welcoming club and encourages EVERYONE, and certainly doesn't rule anyone out or not give them a chance based on anything other than talent, I would say. And same with racial and ethnic minorities, of which there are a good number in Boston comedy, especially compared to how many there are in Boston period.
I can't speak for other cities, but I can't imagine places like San Francisco or other similar scenes being that different.)

To be continued. (My apologies that this is so long, the computer wouldn't let it be one comment.)

5/14/10, 8:32 AM  
Blogger myq said...

(Continued from last comment, part of a giant thesis that I apologize for.)

But this is NYC. And New York is different. It's where nearly all comedians "graduate" to from those other cities. Which means the competition, in general, is fierce, no matter what your race or gender. Are there a lot of white male comedians here? Yes. Because there are the most white male comedians everywhere in this country. It may not be even, it may not be fair, but I assure you, on an individual basis, it is difficult for white dudes also (though a separate fairness, and not necessarily an equal one).

The business of standup is difficult.
Rae, with all due respect, I submit that if you're not being booked as much as you'd like, it's because you're less than a year into this. ANYONE who is less than a year in SHOULD have a hard time being booked.
It's a grind, it takes hustle, and I assure you that a white dude who's in it less than 10 months has almost as hard a time becoming "drinking buddies" with people who can help them with meaningful spots.

I would say that Hannibal, Baron, and Kumail are NOT aberrations either. Hannibal and Baron, along with Victor, Eric Andre, and Marina Franklin, all just had a special debut on Comedy Central, and Amazon just emailed me to tell me to buy the DVD because I might like it (and I do).
And if you want women of color, there's Marina, there's Michelle Buteau, there's Calise Hawkins. If you just want women, there's Morgan Murphy, Brooke Van Poppelen, Claudia Cogan, Jamie Lee, and an assortment of others who are respected, booked on shows (whether or not they drink with the white dudes booking them), and accomplishing things.

I know that pointing out individual successes doesn't mean that the system isn't rigged. YES, society is biased towards women and racial/ethnic minorities. And gays. And little people. And the deaf and handicapped. (Imagine if you were all these things. You would get a development deal in a second.)

Sincerely, I am pro-the idea of trying to implement change to get closed-minded bookers to open up their audition protocols at least, and try to eliminate the idea of quotas as an upper limit to how many of a certain type can or should be on a show (and replace it with the "funny is funny" mindset that all of us here revere and appreciate).

But I just wanted to point out that while, of course, standup (and life in general) is an old boys' club, JUST being a boy standup doesn't help someone as an individual. It certainly can help not get the door slammed before we even get in, but it doesn't help prevent from the door slamming in our face after.

Everyone in standup faces difficulties. Some of them are unfair and should change. But some of them will turn you into a better comic before you get seen. And that's good.

There are places to get on stage and do standup, no matter who you are. In this city and others. Let's do it, everybody!

A White Guy Who Loves Non-Whites and Non-Guys*

* I don't like to use the word "woman," I prefer "non-guy," because everything is guy-centric to me.

5/14/10, 8:32 AM  
Blogger Josh Homer said...

You're a good guy. However you have to stop using the Awkward Comedy Show as an example to prove your point, because it does quite the opposite. Yes it got 5 black people on CC, but the story behind it, how it was done proves my points.

It was a privately produced show. Comedy Central had nothing to do with it (from my understanding). Victor shot it, financed it, directed it, produced it etc. Then he went to CC with a finished product. They bought it. Then they sat on it for a while, giving Victor dates it would air. Pushing it back as they tried to figure out how to market it. Then they finally aired it, Friday night at midnight. Great time slot.

How many white males have to put together a comedy show from nuts to bolts and then go to CC with a finished product in order to be seen on that network? I honestly can't think of one that every had to do such a thing.

Like I've said before, like Chris Rock said in one of his specials, we have to fly to reach things an average white guy can just walk to.

read this:

this woman articulates the point I've been trying to make better than I ever could.

5/14/10, 9:02 AM  
Blogger myq said...

Josh, I think you're a good guy also.

I also think a couple other things--
1) You're ignoring the other points I've made, demonstrating Comedy Central in particular's goals of being racially inclusive (e.g. Premium Blend's standard of having two of four slots generally going to a non-white or non-male, an impressive percentage compared to the massive ratio of white male to other in standup in general).
2) The Awkward Comedy Show was shot and sold in pretty much the EXACT same way one-hour specials are shot and sold to Comedy Central. That's the standard these days--often it's only one person making a one-hour special on their own and then selling it to CC, but that's how it's done a lot. And 11 or midnight on a weekend is when nearly ALL the standup debuts on CC. We can debate whether THAT is ideal or not, but that's the standard as well, so if there's discrimination there, it's against STANDUP, not any race or gender.
(Check out to see that Paul F. Tompkins' new special airs at 11pm, Juston McKinney's airs at 11pm, Whitney Cummings' airs at 11:30pm, and Kevin Hart and Steve Byrne actually have specials airing at 10pm, so the woman is slightly later, and yes, Awkward Show was at midnight, but Kevin and Steve are both not white dudes, and they're an hour EARLIER than others.
This link also shows Lewis Black's new special airing at 9pm, which suggests that perhaps the timing is more of a meritocracy than anything else. Lewis is the most senior, followed by Kevin Hart and Steve Byrne, then PFT and McKinney, followed by Whitney and the Awkward Show folks, who are the freshest of the bunch, industry chronology-wise.
That's IF you want to make something of CC's start times. Which I'm fine with.)

Additionally, I did read "Unpacking the Knapsack," and I appreciate and agree with it. I KNOW I'm fortunate in life to be a straight white dude in a world/country run by straight white dudes.
And I know that minorities are painted with the same brush in a more harmful way than a white dude is (one of the many places that I agree with you).
And I love Chris Rock's bit about the people that live in his neighborhood, and the occupational discrepancies between his black and white neighbors. Absolutely. I agree with you.

But even if the Awkward Comedy Show is exceptional (which it is, everyone check it out), the way in which it was produced and sold to CC is not necessarily so. (And of course, it's a big deal, congrats to Victor for making it and getting it done. I certainly don't mean to detract from that. Congrats to anyone creating an hour of television that makes it to the air.)
It's just that, if that show hadn't existed, we might have seen any number of the comedians on it submitting that material to get a CCP this year (speculative I know, but let's see if any of them have specials NEXT year).
I'm just saying that I stand by my assessment of Comedy Central as folks who DO care about good comedy, and aim to represent as much diversity as possible.

Question--what can or should white dudes (or anyone) do?
Apart from recognizing your valid concerns, obviously, identifying the problem where it exists (in many NYC clubs, certainly, elsewhere probably).
What can Matt Ruby's blog readers and writers and commenters do?
(And I don't mean this to be rhetorical. Anyone, suggestions? I agree there is a problem, what is the solution?)

PS I recognize also that this might sound a bit silly, and that the answer to the problem is not simple, and it's certainly not a white dude asking "How do we solve racism?"

5/14/10, 9:32 AM  
Blogger myq said...

PPS Here's a link I found while googling "Premium Blend episode list"... It's a sampling of episodes from season 9 of the show:

Four people in each episode, with six episodes listed.
In those 24 people, there's 5 women (one in almost every episode), at least 5 black people (of the names that I recognize), at least one Asian, and several Hispanic folks as well, totaling what appears to be more than half of the comedians listed.

(I'm not doing this to try and be some white dude defending the status quo of white dudery. I'm honestly trying to give an objective assessment of what Comedy Central does, and it honestly looks to me like they do a good job of recognizing and showcasing diversity, and this is just another example of that, it seems.)

5/14/10, 9:47 AM  
Blogger Rae Sanni said...

Myq, you misunderstood where I was trying to go with what I posted. I wasn't complaining about how often Rae gets booked, I was merely using my experience to show what things might look like for someone at the bottom looking up, and how, even for a beginner, race and gender already seem a mountain that will be especially hard to climb. What I was hoping my comment would contribute is that even for novices, there's a disparity. Yes, a white dude who's been at it 10 mos will have a hard time becoming drinking buddies with folks with shows. My point was that for a woman, for a person of color, for a woman of color in general it will be much harder. I only wanted to address your point that mediocre white dudes don't get booked unless they're drinking buddies with someone with a show, because it seemed you were using that piece of information to explain to Kath why it seemed that a lot of mediocre white dudes get spots. I was just pointing out that your explanation didn't really account for all the problems brought up in Kath's point. Surely no one should aim for mediocrity + friends in the right places (surely!) but it looks like it's much easier for a white dude to fall into mediocre but friendly than it might be for a POC/Woman/WOC to fall into based upon the social dynamics I mentioned in my previous post. And, until we can all fail up the same way, it aint equal!

5/14/10, 9:54 AM  
Blogger myq said...

Rae, I understand what you're saying, and I also understand there's no way I can truly know what you are experiencing.

But I think you misunderstood me as well.
I wasn't the person saying that a lot of mediocre white guys were getting booked due to drinking buddyhood. Or if I did, I was merely responding to the first person who brought that up, and in a more tongue-in-cheek way. Honestly, I don't believe that drinking buddyhood is a huge part of comedy booking. I certainly believe that funny trumps it for most. If it's a choice between two equally funny folks, one of whom is your buddy, certainly cronyism will be the decider. And maybe if it's not EXACTLY equal... but is there an objective assessment? And if we're talking about people who are starting out, then they're less likely to be as experienced at all, and then of course knowing someone will be the deciding factor over not knowing someone.
There certainly are cliques and cliquey folks, and I will grant you that the overall "women are not funny" mentality may prevent a woman from having an easy time of breaking in, but I submit that there is an even more powerful "new people are not funny" mentality that is perhaps more rational (based on one's talents expanding with experience), and more the issue at play.
(Not meaning to address your experience personally, of course. I don't know if we've met, but please say hello if we're ever in the same place.)

All that said, there ARE comics and bookers to whom your race/gender WILL be an advantage. From things like the Standup for Diversity Showcase down to Soce, a commenter on this very site who pointed out his booking habits, which include trying to get on as many funny racial/gender minority folks as possible on his shows, and providing better numerical support for them than for white dudes, if his numbers are in the right ballpark (which they seem to be).
Also, my apologies for not mentioning his show-running partner, another female of color and commenter on this very blog, Abbi Crutchfield, who is also out and about and a vibrant member of the community.

And Rae, my main point was that starting doing comedy in NYC is especially difficult for anyone, and I honestly believe the difficulty of starting as a black woman compared to starting as a white man is minimal* compared to how difficult it is to start, period... in a city FULL of already working, already successful, already experienced comedians, and even fuller of people trying to get there.

In conclusion, have we solved it yet? Discrimination over? Or more suggestions needed?
Maybe when this blog reaches one hundred comments.

* Not to minimize your specific experience, which again, I have no access to. If there are white dudes that you know that started out around the same time as you that are getting many more opportunities than you at this point (perhaps due to joining the Organization of Mediocre Drinking White Dudes), I will certainly alter my theorizing, as I am open to learning and shifting viewpoints accordingly.

5/14/10, 10:14 AM  
Blogger myq said...

PS Possible second thoughts...
Regarding the "women aren't funny" mentality and the "comedians just starting out aren't funny" mentality--I grant the likelihood that when a new female comedian is starting out, she certainly might have more expectations against her.
And as someone who didn't start out in NYC (with Boston being a more encouraging environment to start out in general as a comedian, and for women at certain places in particular), I only have the experience of starting here as someone who'd BEEN doing standup for six years already. And THAT was hard. AND I'm a white dude.
Finding places to perform, getting people to care that you're here even if you ARE funny, etc. I don't even really know how ANYONE does it.

Thanks for anyone who puts anyone on stage at all, period.

(And apologies for this segment being slightly unfocused. Lost track for a sec. Racism over? Sexism close?)

5/14/10, 10:22 AM  
Blogger DanIel said...

Hi Myq,

I wanted to expound upon my earlier comments, in response to your question of “how do we address this problem.” This thread has had a tendency to look at the success or white men in comedy as an example of a peak level of having all the opportunities. We have gone back and forth discussing the discrimination that keep us from getting there.

But we really haven’t discussed white people that are not having success, which I think will illuminate this issue to a degree.

Take myself for example, I am a white guy and I have some beer drinking buddies in comedy. So clearly I should be all set in this comedy thing.

In reality though, I seldom get booked on shows, do open mics almost everyday and the only achievements in comedy I really have to show for is what I have created myself. Both in a podcast and a weekly stand up show and this is after 4 and half years of standup.

My good friend in comedy who has been doing it 6 years, has all but given up. And he is a white guy from Connecticut. Two more of my friends have been doing it for around 4 years, they are white and have not much to show for it either in terms of credits.

Now I could say that this is because we are all “just another white guy” and point to the color of skin and say that is the reason. I could say that because they are so many white guys doing comedy the industry sees us and thinks, "oh great another 20 something white guy here comes the masturbation and comic book jokes."

But this is not true, other white male comics have had great success in the same time period. At the end of the day, what it really comes down to is that we (my friends and I) are not offering something that is undeniably great.

Reggie Watts from my earlier example was going to make it no matter what. There is no way a guy with that much talent and that much to offer is going to be left out. His talent is jaw dropping, and you watch him and say “I could never do that”. Which is not the reaction people have when the see okay comedy or even good comedy.

It’s a level of scale. We are all comics, and comedy in general has a pretty straight forward formula setup/punch/setup/punch. And just because you do this well, or even if you do it really, really good doesn’t mean you will find success. There are simply a limited number of comics that can make it.

My point being is that everyone has their own blocks preventing them from a level of success they feel they should have or they want. And you can spend your time feeling bad about those barriers (that you have no control over mind you) or you can change yourself into something that cannot be ignored.

So the question of "Is it harder or easier to get the industry to pay attention to you if you're a minority?" really isn’t as important as “Am I worth being noticed by the industry in the first place.”

5/14/10, 10:38 AM  
Blogger Rae Sanni said...

Myq, I don't think anyone's saying it isn't difficult for everyone. But the question this thread seems to be trying to tackle isn't whether comedy is hard, but rather, whether comedy can be harder for certain types of people when factoring in race or gender.

It seems you all are focusing on numbers and representation, but that's not the only way race and gender privilege manifest. I'll use a post of Matt's from some days ago to attempt to illustrate my point.

When advertising "We're All Friends Here" Matt block quotes The Examiner's review of the show, including this: "The show has one gimmick that makes the deep and personal New York talk show particularly unique and that is the sailer cap dubbed 'the racist hat.' Legend goes that while wearing the racist hat one can make any racist remark in context and the New York liberals that attend the show cannot judge."

Now, I have never seen this here show myself, but consider how that review might cast, especially for a person of color, the show in a negative light. The description wouldn't make me, WOC, feel particularly excited to check the show out, especially if, like for the May 8th edition this post was advertising, all the featured comics and the two hosts are white males. Yes, I know, the review says racism IN CONTEXT, but as a racial minority, I've heard racism IN CONTEXT and most times it still makes me feel pretty icky.

So now, I have to decide between attending a show and possibly feeling super uncomfortable when the racism IN CONTEXT comes up and not attending a show because I don't want to feel uncomfortable as a minority when that racism IN CONTEXT comes up. I'm inclined to believe most people would choose the former. Some brave soul may choose the latter, but that person would be a lion of a guy or gal to do so. And therein lies a really important difference: some folks have to choose between seeing a comedy show and all the good things that come with that (the opportunity to see live comedy, to learn from older, more established comics, to meet potential drinking buddies), and feeling awkward or uncomfortable as a racial minority (which is a HUGE discomfort, not just a little one). Other people just have to choose to see a comedy show. When that sort of decision has to be made over and over again, eventually missing out will work to your detriment. A smart comic will eventually bite the bullet and go see a show anyway, accepting that that's something they'll have to deal with as comedian of color, but it's not wrong of them to be discouraged initially.

(For clarification's sake, my comment is in no way an indictment of "We're All Friends Here," most especially since I've never seen the show! From what I gather from several descriptions/reviews that the point of a show like "We're All Friends Here" is to take people to uncomfortable places, but I wanted to use an example that was tangible to demonstrate that there is an added layer to that being uncomfortable for minorities that some white comics may or may not consider, and that this added layer can affect how welcome/included/invited people may feel in a particular room.)

Is there a perfect solution that we will all come to from reading and writing all these comments? No, prob not. But thinking about the problem and reconsidering our actions on a daily basis will contribute overall to some change, I think. Most certainly it'll be slow progress, as progress always is. In the mean time, I'll be working my negress ass off.

See you around campus!

5/14/10, 12:01 PM  
Blogger myq said...

Rae, I agree with your point that obviously not all discrimination can be objectively quantified.
I was only offering forth evidence of a contextually relevant proportion of minorities in certain TV spots as a response to the argument at hand, which involved a claim that such minorities were objectively underrepresented.

Of COURSE, being around Matt Ruby and Mark Normand could make a minority uncomfortable.
That said, being around them can ALSO make white dudes uncomfortable.
A serious note on this subject as well--there are straight white men who ALSO feel uncomfortable at the idea of "faux" (or not faux) racism inherent in certain shows... To wit, there was a booker in Boston I stopped working for after she sincerely told a joke using the N-word, after first saying "there aren't any black people here, are there?" and this was only a year or so into my getting paid work at ALL, when we're told to take ANY stagetime we can get. But I did not like her, her joke, or her attitude, so I stayed away from her shows.
(That said, this was NON-faux racism. I completely understand your point that some faux racism can certainly be less of a detriment to white dudes, who can more easily view ineffective irony as well-intentioned, at least, without letting it feel as personally frustrating, I'd imagine.)

And Dan, I'm sorry you're white.
Sincerely though, your point is appreciated as well. Certainly, we all know that it is difficult, no one is owed anything in comedy, no matter who you are or what demographic category you fit into.
Of course, there's a difference between not being booked because there are too many comics and not being booked because there are too many comics PLUS the booker will only audition a certain number of black comics. (Though they'll only audition a certain number of white dude comics as well, due to space/time limitations, but that's getting back into statistics and such, already well covered.)
In an ideal world, everyone deserves as fair a chance as anyone else.

We're certainly not in an ideal world yet.
The country is still sexist and racist and classist and heterosexist to varying degrees.
The industry of standup certainly reflects that to a certain degree as well, and society and comedy can both benefit from some change (which is obviously happening at some rate... compare now to the time of blackface and men doing women's parts).

Obviously racial and gender inequities cause discomfort in general, which seeps into comedy. But I do think some entities in comedy (Comedy Central, in particular, as per this whole previous discussion, as well as bookers like Soce who strive to fairly treat all funny demographic categories with spots and such), at some levels do a good job of attempting to even things out.

The end!
(I'm about to get in a car where I can't type. See you later!)

5/14/10, 12:20 PM  
Blogger DaveKennedy said...

As a fairly new comic who is clearly white I don't really know about whether it is harder for non-white men (NWMs.) I have seen 2 "benefits" but I'm nowhere near qualified enough to know if they make up for anything.

First,I do think that there are some freedoms with material that NWMs have which white men do not have. If you're funny you can talk about anything you want but as a white man people are less likely to let me work on certain material to get it to the point where the humor becomes the point. That's not the biggest problem to have, but it does mean that I internally censor myself as I work on new material.

Second, there are comedy tours and nights built around one or more NWM characteristics which don't exist for the WMs. That's very much like the "where's white history month?!?" argument because I suspect that if there is discrimination in club booking (and it appears there is)that these themed events do not even come close to compensating for that.

I will say that as a dude with alopecia universalis everyone I meet and everything I read says I need to point out what's "different" about me so that the crowd can know it's okay. I do not know if NWMs are told the same thing, but if they are then any difference in people's expectations about their material would be reinforced. If comics and bookers are expecting different levels of comedy from different races/genders/orientations than that sucks.

As for the drinking clubs, I'm friends with a lot of comics who are much further along than I and drink with them frequently. To a person they all are willing to put me in a show "when I get more polished." As was said from the very beginning funny wins out and I think that our shared experiences heavily outweigh our differences. That's being said I will never introduce someone as "a very funny lady" ever again thanks to this thread. (But will keep pointing out the Inuits.)

5/14/10, 12:26 PM  
Blogger Josh Homer said...

this is a very good discussion all around.

The thing is you don't see the way being a minority affects your comedy. You also underestimate the "Drinking buddy game." Here are some examples. A friend of mine emailed a booker of a free show. My friend is good, he's not great, but he's good. The booker (white guy) tells him "sorry I can't book you. I need to see you live 3 or 4 times, then I'll make a decision." This is a non paid show and the booker puts up all his friends, some of which, IMO, are much much worse than my friend who happens to a NWM but the people he books? White dudes. And the arrogance, "I need to see you 3 or 4 times"? WTF is this Montreal?

Another friend used to run a show, when he did he was booked on all sorts of other shows (assumed spot trading). He no longer runs the show. He sends an email to a white dude whom he used to book regularly. The booker says, "sorry we're only booking people with TV credits." Check the lineup on this show and this is a lie. Maybe he thinks my friend sucks, but if you check out the show comics consistently bomb every time yet are invited back, and they just happen to be white dudes.

Another booker said flat out to me, I only book my friends and people who can trade spots! The booker just happens to be a white dude and his friends? You guessed it, white guys.

At the lower levels drinking together and cronyism is rampant. There are shows I get booked on where I am the only person of color, and before the show the other comics talk. I walk over to join and they treat me like a narc. Maybe it's not cuz I'm black and more cuz I'm just an asshole. That might be it.

Bottom line, is much like the backpack article, you can easily admit you have advantages as a white guy. Yet you seem very unwilling to see that because of those advantages it puts minorities at a disadvantage.

5/14/10, 12:53 PM  
Blogger Josh Homer said...

here is a great example of how awkward being a comic of color can be:

White guy comic whom you probably all know, been on Comedy Central and a bunch of other programs is bombing on stage. There is a group of black teenagers in the front not laughing. He gets very pissed and yells at them for not laughing. To which a girl, about 16, says, "It's because you're not funny." Comic gets super pissed calls her a bunch of names like "bitch" and "cunt". He then says "Fuck this." Drops the mic and heads out the door. The girl follows him. The comics says stop following him. She replies, "No you were talking so much shit on stage, call me a bitch now!" (Not the most mature way to handle it, but she's 16, what do you expect?) The white guy comic says, "I told you to stop following me!" Then he cocks back yells, "Leave me a lone you fucking monkey!" and swings with all his might at this girl's face. He outweighs her by about 100 lbs.

The key is he went straight to the "monkey" mat, in a club. In front of the owner. In front of the manager. The kids call the cops. The manager and the owner lie and take the comic's side.

This story is not hearsay, I was standing right there, two feet from the comic as he yelled Monkey.

If you do not think that there is not an abundance of racism and sexism in comedy, and the clubs are not in some way on board with it, then you've been doing comedy in another city.

Can any white guy comic here tell a story even remotely close to that one?

5/14/10, 1:07 PM  
Blogger Gonzalo said...

It seems to be that Rae and Josh are talking about a completely different problem. America is racist. Yes, there are tons of racist people in comedy because there are racist people everywhere.

But if you deny that the bottom line is, at the end of the day, be funny, than it seems like you are underestimating how hard it is for everyone. At the end, the only solution is to get funnier.

Also, Josh, it seems like you're complaining about spot trading and cronyism. I mean, that stuff is always going to exist and there's nothing you can do about it except not support those shows, right? I don't really see what that has to do with racism, and it seems to me to be a different issue entirely. Why? Cause their friends were all white? Would it matter if they had a black friend or two? They still wouldn't book you because you aren't their close friend. It also sounds like you are dwelling on the places you haven't gotten booked rather than just shrugging it off and moving on.

I really do think it's just hard getting booked in New York. I started out here almost two years ago now but only started taking it really seriously about a year ago or so. I don't get booked too often, and you know what, I'm okay with it because I know it means one thing; I need to get better. Most of the times I have gotten booked, it's been a direct result of someone seeing me do well, which makes me more proud than anything else.

I've never once blamed my inability to get booked on anything else. I'm small Hispanic male, I'm also totally awkward and not a very social person. But there's nothing I can do about my awkwardness and I'm proud of being Latino. The only thing I can change is my experience and my skills and hope bookers find me funny.

5/14/10, 2:16 PM  
Blogger soce said...

There are certainly racist people involved in the world of comedy. I don't think anyone's disputing that.

A lot of this comes down to when and how to get booked in general. It's certainly not simply a matter of "being good" or who you are friends with. When a comedy booker has hundreds of friends, then clearly not all of them will be getting spots immediately.

I think the biggest key is to figure out what you want to do with your career and work toward meaningful progress so that you aren't just spinning your wheels. If you find yourself doing the same thing for a long time and not necessarily improving (either in terms of your performance or the types of shows you get booked on), then try switching things up, whether it's a new performance style, new topics, hitting up new venues or anything different.

Add music to your act. Take away the music. Work with props (but not in a cheesy way). Try improv or sketch. Shoot videos. The key is to get yourself out there in different ways. Figure out how to exploit people in ways they want to be exploited. Interview comedians and review shows. Run a comedy podcast. Take up acting; audition for commercials.

It's very rare that any of us will "make it" and get all the dream bookings and live directly off the art. If you are constantly grinding away and getting nowhere, you will not have any fun.

If someone locks the door on you, you can either spend the year knocking on that same door, or you can try other doors that may be unlocked. People who are minorities may face a lot of locked doors. But there are open doors out there. And eventually you may be able to get into the room using a different door from the one you originally found.

5/14/10, 2:24 PM  
Blogger Josh Homer said...

My point is the racism in America and the racism in comedy are linked.

I'm not saying I never booked because I'm not white. What I am saying is you're allowed to be an average white guy and coast in comedy, you will eventually get something. You can not be an average minority and achieve the same level of success. You will not get booked/passed at clubs because you hang around the bar if you're a woman or black, but you can do that if you're white. I would provide specific examples and names, but I need to still work in this business.

5/14/10, 2:25 PM  
Blogger soce said...

In addition to racism, there will always be people who rise up in any field who don't deserve their success. For those of us who don't have that luxury, the only way up is through lots of elbow grease.

As they always say, work smarter, not harder.

5/14/10, 2:46 PM  
Blogger Dan Cartwright said...


I think you have very much over simplified the nature of Gonzalo’s comment. I whole heartily disagree with your comment that if you are an average white guy you can coast in comedy and make it. That may have been true in the boom, but it is certainly not true now.

I brought up in my last post, a number of my comedian friends that have zero success after years of doing it, being funny and not getting anything. Myself is included in that, and again I attribute that to myself needing to be funnier. Also by saying that, you are writing off white guys that really do work hard. Take a guy like Mike Lawrence, you mean to tell me he is not working hard for it?

I agree that gender/race plays a role in how people perceive you, and it that perception is negative that it is most unfortunate. But they’re are people out there that think differently and run shows that put comedy first. CSL is a great example of this. Also, I believe you, are doing my show in a couple of weeks, so I would like to hope I fall in the category of people trying to put comedy first.

Letting this negativity racism/genderism/cryonism and letting that get you upset in turn ends up making you upset and then to some degree they win. So some guy won’t let you on his show because your black, then he can go fuck himself. That guy is an asshole and he will get what is coming to him one way or another.

But again, you can change these people only yourself. Stick to what is positive in your career and what works for you.

5/14/10, 2:52 PM  
Blogger Josh Homer said...

Depends on your idea of "make it". I mean this can be your living. You're going to be on TV doing a bunch of spots being average, even if you are white.

Like I said I can offer specific examples of average white dudes only doing comedy for a living. I'm thinking of two dudes who are actually pretty bad. But all they do is comedy.

I can't think of one woman or brown skinned person that does the same thing and they are just average.

I'm not writing off anyone who works hard. I never said every white guy is an average comic and does not work. I said each white guy is judged on his own merit, unlike women and people of brown skin. We are lumped in with our groups and then judges with things like "women aren't funny" and "we already have one black guy on the show" I've never seen the opposite where someone has said "White guy comics aren't funny" or "we already have a white guy on this show." In fact I would go as far as saying the reverse is true; in NYC you can never have enough white guys on a show. Did you see the LCS auditions? I was there. It was very sad. Even Giraldo made a joke of how many white guys wearing t-shirts where on the show. Funny he didn't make a joke about the large number of brown people or women, because he could not.

I don't dwell on the negative, but this discussion is a place where I am venting. Which I'm not allowed to do in a club setting or else I'm "bitter". I'm "angry". But my white counterpart complaining about not getting booked is "passionate". If all I did was think about negative things in comedy, I'd quit and kill a bunch of people on my way out.

5/14/10, 4:59 PM  
Blogger Gonzalo said...

Josh, I think you raise a lot of great arguments and concerns, but I have to disagree with your insistence that a ton of mediocre white guys get passed at clubs and get booked merely because they hung around long enough. Have you ever considered that the bookers just had mediocre tastes?

One instance or two of racism doesn't really mean the entire industry is racist. Just because one person is an asshole does not mean there aren't hundreds or other opportunities for us all. I'm sure if you talk about a lot of white guys in the alt scene, there have been bookers that have ignored them because they don't like comic book jokes or whatever. This world isn't always fair, but it's almost fair in it's unfairness in a way I think.

5/14/10, 5:14 PM  
Blogger Gonzalo said...

Also, I think two dudes is hardly a trend, right? I can name a ton of black comics who aren't great but are performing at clubs, just like I can name a ton of white comics doing the same.

I understand where your frustration comes from, but I think you're extrapolating a few instances that you should genuinely be mad about and saying it's an industry wide problem. Racism is a problem in comedy just as it is in American and it'd be silly to say it isn't, but I think funny is funny and people will always book funny.

5/14/10, 5:28 PM  
Blogger Josh Homer said...

Ok, you're missing my point. I'm not saying comedy is like Nazi Germany, I'm saying the industry is biased. That's all. I'm not saying every single interaction between clubs and comics is racist, I'm saying it happens. I'm saying it happens more than you think.

I only mentioned two comics because when I wrote that line I was thinking of two specific people; I can think of many many more, but at the time I was thinking of two.

I understand how the "white guy comics" on this thread can admit to bias against blacks/women but do not want to admit this provides them with an advantage (read that article I posted please), I can also see how as an artist you can be very resistant to the statements I'm making. I'm basically saying that no matter how good you may be, you are still being pushed ahead by your race and others are being pushed back, that the field is not level.

I've given example after example, but yet the reply is "well that doesn't happen. I know you've told me how it happened. How the club aided a racist comic, but I just don't believe it."

We'll go in circles forever. I know what I've seen, I know what my female friends have seen. It happens. You can say I'm extrapolating all you want, I'm not. I'm not saying that because it happens a lot it happens all the time, I'm just saying it happens.

I can offer you specific examples of my interactions with TV people, being told to "blacken it up more", or things similar. But like I said, I still need to work and calling someone out with a super specific example will only hurt me. In the end believe what you want, I've told you what I've seen and heard with my own eyes and ears. A female comic also told you what has happened to her, but we're just "extrapolating"

5/14/10, 5:53 PM  
Blogger Josh Homer said...

think about this: every single person you will ever talk to or audition for will be white. TV, festivals, commercials, etc. will all be white. Letterman, Leno, Fallon, Montreal, Aspen everyone will be white. (unless you're doing something like the Bay Area Black Comic Competition, which no real industry pays attention to. The competition is in a local rec center.)

5/14/10, 6:04 PM  
Blogger Gonzalo said...

Just to clarify, I do think you are right in a lot of ways. Mainstream clubs can be pretty racist, but I think that has to do with bookers being morons who stereotype everyone, including white nerd comics, macho sexist edgy comics, female comics, black comics, Latino comics. They don't really get comedy, so they go with the little they know.

I think my point was just that it seems to me like a lot of the things you are talking about are problems that will happen to any smart comic with a specific point of view that doesn't fit into some established pattern.

I also think it's harder to be a female comic than a male comic. I think it's stupid to refute that. But I think there are a ton of bookers actively searching for funny female comedians and ultimately there will always be outlets for funny female comics to perform.

I guess my bigger over-arching point wasn't really to discredit your experience, but to say, funny trumps everything and all those obstacles can be overcome by being funnier.

I hope I didn't come across like I was saying your experiences weren't valid, which in retrospect, I probably did accidentally. I just believe everyone has their battles with morons and assholes because there are so many out there and they will probably always be there in some incarnation or another. I don't know if that makes a bit more sense?

5/14/10, 6:16 PM  
Blogger Gonzalo said...

I posted before you posted that last comment and that is a really good point. I think clearly the television industry as a whole is pretty racist and sexist and awful.

5/14/10, 6:22 PM  
Blogger myq said...

Still not at a computer, so brief...

Many casting folks ARE women, though.
CC, MTV, VH1 (Angela Bowers is actually a black woman), to name a few...

Again, also not disagreeing that discrimination exists in life or comedy, just adding additional points that may be relevant.

5/14/10, 6:35 PM  
Blogger myq said...

PS For those that don't want the fun to stop, I cross-pollinated this thread over at The Comedy Studio's web forums, and a few more comments are there:

(Unless I screwed that up.)

Hooray everyone!

5/15/10, 6:08 PM  
Blogger the make-up artist said...

Hi it's me Erin Judge. I'm so psyched to have stumbled upon this Myq Kaplan comment blog! What's a Matt Ruby?

In all seriousness:

1. I'm SURE being female helped me get booked on Live at Gotham. I also put in my 6 years before that, had a tight punchy TV-clean 10 minutes, went through the Open Mic Fights contest, auditioned for Comedy Central talent people several times, etc. So, if I had been a white guy with the same resume, would I have had to wait? I don't know, maybe a year? But I think it's likely it would've been the same timing.

2. Like Matt suggests, I think it's hard for everybody. I've seen comics of every demographic combination experience early breaks and disappointing setbacks. But I can tell you it's definitely not automatically easier for women and minorities. We get shafted in bookings and robbed at contests, and we have to wait our turn for opportunities. One NBC showcase a year where they don't even really judge you on the excellence of your stand-up is not evidence to the contrary.

3. The target demographic for much of the established comedy industry (TV shows, networks, websites and movies) is 18-to-45-year-old straight white men. I think it's everybody's job (women comics, queer comics, heavy metal comics, whateva) to figure out how to reach our respective audiences, our theoretical fans. The industry's built-in opportunities and milestones (Comedy Central credit, late night credit, Montreal, etc.) give ALL of us tunnel vision on how to build our careers. I haven't yet figured out how to reach all the bad-ass smart-ass sexually liberated politically radical people who I hope my work speaks to, but I keep reminding myself that reaching those people is my ultimate quest, not showcasing at Montreal.

Hooray everyone!

5/15/10, 11:56 PM  
Blogger the make-up artist said...

Just to clarify, above I meant that we get shafted on bookings and robbed at contests JUST LIKE EVERYBODY ELSE.

5/16/10, 12:46 AM  
Anonymous ECNielsen said...

But the problem with "it's everybody's job... to figure out how to reach our respective audiences" is that it degenerates to "self-promoters win."

To the extent that it didn't deliberately BEGIN as "self-promoters win."

The placing of that burden on comics is the response of an industry that has failed to do its job -- it's the mass-media equivalent of the bringer show. And the self-promoters further promulgate this line of reasoning as though it's some kind of moral law. It's not -- it's the opposite.

Now, I'm not saying that all good comics have no talent for self-promotion, or no willingness to do it... though it does seem antithetical to the ethos that drives a lot of good comics. Not all, but a lot.

I am saying that the talent for self-promotion has at best a tangential relationship to actual merit. Encouraging people to self-promote, to the extent of chastising people for refusing to do it or for being unable, lets the people whose entire BUSINESS is promoting off the hook -- the people who certainly aren't contributing anything else -- for the one thing they ostensibly do.

Comics shouldn't buy into that garbage... they should hold the damn industry accountable. Or if that's too idealistic, they should at least treat it like an indignity and an injustice, rather than quoting it with approval.


5/17/10, 12:18 AM  
Anonymous ECN said...

Just to clarify, Erin, I'm not saying you're a self-promoter. As far as I know, I have no issues with the way you've chosen to pursue comedy -- by focusing on the quality of the act, and proceeding outward from there.

I'm just saying that I don't agree with your apparent assent to the notion that self-promotion is somehow part of being a comedian.

To me, it's (at best) connected to being a comedian the same way doing laundry is connected to being a comedian: a grim, endless necessity that you can't get out of until you're successful enough to pay someone else to do it.

Of course, the nuances are a little worse; you don't have bad comics failing upwards because their shirts are really white.

I guess what I'm saying is, I really have to do laundry. I think I'm out of towels or something.

5/17/10, 12:24 AM  
Blogger Ratbas said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

5/17/10, 7:59 AM  
Blogger Ratbas said...

I understand that the basic discussion here is mainly geared towards the tv-pro level and New York scene, and a post about a small city diversity showcase might not feel entirely relevant, so feel free to skip over.

A year ago I ran a small midweek monthly showcase (show & go open mic followed by three gas money spots). This was in Lowell, a city in Mass that's closer to New Hampshire than Boston. It was a diversity showcase and each month the paid spots would be given to a group. There were your traditional diversity groups, but added to the mix were over-50, military vets and one other (bookers I think). Women were mixed in as part of these groups. Despite the fact that this is a fairly diverse town the shows still didn't draw a diverse audience. Truth is, they didn't draw much of an audience at all. This is because I suck at basic marketing. Could I have done more to promote the show to its strongest potential audiences or any audience at all? Obviously yes.

My problem with making this type of show was that I was afraid of coming across as either patronizing a group or somehow taking advantage of them (no comic expressed any level offense). I tend to suspect that the concerns of a real booker or national cable network would be significantly different.

But my reason for bringing any of this up at all is that Myq asked what comics and blog readers can do about it. I'm not sure how many comics are going to sacrifice a spot in the name of diversity. It really does seem to need to come from promoters. That said, and despite my own personal lack of ability on the matter, why shouldn't there be more promoters developing different name brands? Here's an example nobody wants to think about: Blue Collar. Yup, four white guys. But it's four white guys with three different styles. By grouping acts traditionally seen as similar (and I'm not saying that's a proud tradition), does that make the differences more obvious?

Also, let's get rid of headshots, or at least just make them all neck-up sillouettes.

Sincerely, some naive white guy from an irrelevant geographical region

5/17/10, 8:02 AM  
Blogger soce said...

@Ratbas if no one's coming to your show, I wouldn't necessarily blame it on diversity. It takes a while to build an audience for a show, especially in a town that may not normally have comedy shows.. You gotta promote the heck out of it and give it time to grow.

I will say that I've never been to a show where the audience complained that it was too diverse :-)

In terms of self-promotion, one of my comedy friends said that if you spend too much time on promotion, you won't be able to spend any time working on being funny. You definitely need to find a happy medium though, especially when you are just starting out, and no one cares about you until you make them notice.

Once the ball's started rolling, and you're getting booked all over town, then you can sit back and let everything else take over.

5/17/10, 1:02 PM  
Blogger Abbi Crutchfield said...

"If all I did was think about negative things in comedy, I'd quit and kill a bunch of people on my way out."

LOLOL! This should be the name of the next new post. For years I didn't believe it was possible to "have fun on stage". I had never experienced it and was starting to think it was a myth like "a runner's high".

5/17/10, 3:16 PM  
Blogger myq said...

Related article of interest:

Mainly about Chelsea Handler's career, touching upon the larger issue of women in comedy.

5/18/10, 11:53 AM  
Blogger misstrionics said...

Hey guys-
What a fantastic discussion.
A couple things:
1) I definitely agree that there is a boys' club mentality and a large group of straight white boys in the NY indie (or any other) comedy scene and that that can be hard to break into. The "faux racism" thing that Myq was describing really pisses me off-- e.g. the racist hat, white guys onstage making fun of other cultures, etc. Some of it came out of this movement to be more crass, to have no boundaries, to be able to say anything because as comedians, we are taught to push boundaries. But "faux racism" and other comedic discourse on race needs to come out of a nuanced, carefully considered place. Otherwise, it is just offensive. Being jokingly racist often still contributes to an exclusive mentality that makes certain people feel unwelcome.

2) I do disagree with a lot of what Josh is saying about the industry. I think a lot of the industry is interested in making the comedy scene a diverse place in whatever way they can. It's not perfect, but it's certainly not helped by the fact that the majority of people trying to be comics are white males. When I'm booking, I do find myself putting up lots of white guys. But I am always open to seeing new people and I go out of my way to see comedy in a variety of different settings throughout the week- clubs, indie shows, online, at festivals, etc. and I do get that vibe from tons of other industry as well. I don't think self-promotion gets you everywhere. I think comedy's in a really good place right now with a lot of NY's best talent getting recognized and pursued. It's not about just being seen by one booker from one comedy club and getting passed anymore. People make their own success. Whether it's by making a blog that turns into a book deal, hosting a free show at the back of a bar, or producing web videos and putting them on YouTube, there is always something more you could be doing to showcase your own talent. I do not think there are a ton of people, black, white, male or female, who are consistently writing intelligent, hilarious material and being ignored because they're not hanging out at Kabin or what have you. As a booker, I find it offensive when people feel entitled to spots just because they've e-mailed me or told me to put them on a show. If you're not getting spots, make your own spots. Or find another outlet. You are allowed to feel like your race or gender is playing a part in not getting you spots or jobs-- I don't think any of us can prove that that's not the case. But I agree with Cartwright's point about being undeniably great. We can all do our part to keep talking up people we think are fantastic and keep being fantastic, and I think that will help the cream (be it black or white) rise to the top.

5/20/10, 3:10 PM  
Blogger Michael said...

Just a small note: Two white comedians just off the top of my head that financed their own specials and then pitched them to Comedy Central

Christian Finnegan "Au Contraire"

Mike Destefano's most recent (yet to be aired) "Comics Anonymous" Special.

5/20/10, 3:35 PM  
Blogger Dee-Rob said...

I'm here by Myq's cross-posting. Having never done NYC (and probably never will), not to mention struggling with writer's block, what I have to say is largely irrelevant.

However, I just wanted to sign on to what I'm hearing from Rae and Josh and take umbrage with Myq's view of the warm fuzzies in Boston. As a middle-aged white woman, who actually gets a long with a fair number of young, white male drinking buddies, I had a love/hate relationship with the Boston comedy scene and the club Myq mentioned. I could get on stage a fair amount, but even in the club most likely to book diversely, I had too many references or conversations about my age and my gender to have ever felt at ease. Before I moved to SF, I actually stopped going to that club for almost a year, because I didn't want to listen to that booker (who also pats himself on the back for diversity shows, while shit talking about many of the acts).

My personal bitterness aside, I was relieved on the very first open mike I did when I moved to SF, because it was the first intro in a long time where my gender wasn't mentioned.

One thing that I think Rae and Josh touched upon is that the folks in the majority might get annoyed at a show and unfunny people, but it's seldom personal. For example, one thing that has been keeping me back from open mikes of late, is not wanting to spend my night listening to the kind of sexism I avoid in my normal waking hours. One night, I had enough of a white host, who is about my age, going on about his ex-wife, women our age, bitches and shrews all, and his trying to get laid on Facebook, that I opened my set with an outline of how his paunchy, sad self wasn't a draw to his female peers who can do better. It was funny. At least the audience laughed, because they weren't digging his stuff any more than I was. However, I would lay money down that for women and minorities, we sometimes have to go into a club with a battle mindset that the majority doesn't. It's rare, I think, that even for guys who are self-aware and non-racist/sexist that thy are viscerally, personally affected by assholes in the same way.

Sorry this post isn't more coherent. I'm struggling to find the words, because like bad art or pornography, I know it when I see it. There's more than just comedy is hard, counting black or female faces, or acknowledging societal racism that makes the "affirmative action" of diversity showcases still very necessary.

5/25/10, 2:03 PM