Comedy: All Jane No Dick Festival, Day 1

At this festival, women don't have to fight the odds (just make you laugh)

By A.L. ADAMS

Run, Jane, Run!

It’s two hours to showtime on the opening night (Thursday) of the All Jane No Dick, Curious Comedy Theater’s 4-day festival of female comics. A stack of lanyards hangs ready on a chair-back, a DJ in a Rosie-the-Riveter headscarf tests her turntables. Across the courtyard at Elevated Coffee, the theater’s Artistic Director and the night’s host, Stacey Hallal, gets hands-on with last-minute party planning, dispatching staff on a run for more water bottles (“Not those sh–ty plasticky ones!”) and a cheese plate, and urging sensitivity to one guest’s alcohol recovery. Knowing that the success of Portland comedy fests (like the ever-burgeoning Bridgetown) rides on showing visiting talent a good time, Hallal sweats the details.

“If this goes well,” she exudes,” we’ll be able to go bigger and better next year; we’ll get the Alberta Rose Theater and a headliner that can draw 400; we’ll do a festival tour of North America.” She greets the first comics with a squeal and a hug.

Program Director Katie Michaels—busily curling the last few ribbons on gift bags that will offer out-of-town comics (Ninkasi beer, Portland maps, and Luna bars)—explains the necessity of the fest: “The ratio of men to women in comedy is staggering,” says Michaels. “When you see prominent women like Amy Poehler and Tina Fey running their own shows, you forget that in the comedy clubs and on the road, there are still 10 men for every woman.”

This is an interesting example, as even Fey and Poehler’s recent success seems like the latest pull in an ongoing comedy tug-of-war between patriarchs and progressives. The last wave of sit-com successes—Ray Romano, Kevin James and Bernie Mac—played lovably bumbling heads-of-household with implausibly hot and patient wives a la ’50’s Jackie Gleason. And their installment could easily be seen as an attempt to wrest the role back from Roseanne Barr and Brett Butler, the roost-ruling redneck mammas of the ’90’s, and re-assert machismo after watching “thin and neat” bachelor Seinfeld get pushed around by his platonic friend Elaine. A decade later, Poehler and Fey seem to have forged a compromise, taking the single, neurotic, Seinfeldian roles for their own, while casting macho monuments Nick Offerman (Ron Swanson) and Alec Baldwin (Jack Donaghee) in the roles of advisor. Funny.

But all that is macro. Back to the task at hand: Portland’s first all-female comedy festival.

Jackie Kashian headlines the festival Saturday night.

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Let’s talk preconceptions. What do you think people who aren’t coming, would expect from this festival?

Marcia Belsky (Portland comic): A lot of talk about periods, high heels, and fingernails. Maybe not so much from around here, but where I’m from, Oklahoma, people think of a female comic as “the lady in high heels who says things she shouldn’t—’cause she’s SASSY!”

Whitney Streed (Portland comic): I’m gonna say they’d have a lower expectation of skill in general. They’d probably think we’re only here because we’re women, when really all the people here are hilarious.

Hallal: Shockingly, there’s still a big comedy audience that assumes that women aren’t funny. I’m not worried about that at all; we kept this festival small, and we only invited the best of the best. Another big one is assuming all female comics are the same. But this collection of comics is full of different distinctive styles. I want our audience to see how big of a range there is in female comedy styles.

Belsky: Yeah, they might think that it’s a “by women for women” vibe, when really it’s just evening out for some of the chances we miss by not being part of the boys’ club.

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…and what do you expect?

Belsky: Crowds that turn out for female comedy tend to be more educated and open-minded. I’m excited to do my smarter material, ’cause if they’re coming out for women, they’re probably up for it.

Streed: I’m so thrilled to see Susan Rice [the night’s headliner]. She’s a Portland comedy legend; she’s been in it for 30 years in Portland. She was around during the first boom in the 80’s and she’s still going strong. In her essence, she’s a comic. It’s completely integrated into who she is.

Belsky: Absolutely. And she’s so nice, but she’s so brassy.

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What kinds of comedic bits do women pull off better than men?

Belsky: We can say more about gender, sex, abortion—since these issues are important to us as women, it’s obvious that we’re kidding. Also, I think any joke that’s aggressive comes off as safer. It grabs people’s attention more, too; they like the anomaly of the less physically threatening sex acting aggressive.

Streed: It depends how you use your gender. If you use it to lower your status, you can get away with more extreme, more radical politics, because you’re not seen as a threat. I have a character that’s a weak, small girl, and I use her to say awful things. If some angry dude was saying the same things, it would seem horrifying.

Hallal: Darker topics, and more intellectual material. Two examples spring to mind: Annie Rimmer and Nicky Glaser. I love a female comic who is smart, sharp, and dark.

With 26 comics, a panel discussion, and four workshops filling the weekend ahead, the women laugh off last-minute jitters, Belsky (who’s double-gigging at Curious and Mississippi Pizza for the evening) conjuring her best pre-show steel. “If we biff it? Well, that’s comedy. We’ve all been through that. You just see how it goes.”

NOTES

Adams is spending the weekend at the festival. Stay tuned!

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What the comedians said… about Portland

On Thursday, Arts Watch played fly-on-the-wall during last-minute prep for the All Jane No Dick comedy fest, noting Artistic Director Stacey Hallal’s claims that the women she was bringing were the funniest she could find. Well, guess what? Friday night’s double-header clinched a packed house and killed with hilarious headliners Cameron Esposito and Jackie Kashian. The comics’ gender notwithstanding, the show was all thriller, no filler.

For those who missed it, Arts Watch can’t reproduce the laughs—and it would be a disservice to write out these craftswomen’s best bits in dry print. Instead, this Arts Watch agent opted for a private drinking game, taking a dainty sip of whiskey each time one of the comics mentioned Portland. Here—in order of delivery—are the night’s PDX shout-outs, a sendup to our city’s healthy, hippie, druggy, foodie, hipster, liberal, unisex culture:

Amanda Brooke-Perrin (Calgary) gave a nod to local color by reframing one scenario from her routine in Hipstervision: “It’s like when you go to Fred Meyer to get an ironic family portrait taken with your roommates and your pet chicken. You know what I’m talking about, Portland.”

Joselyn Hughes (Los Angeles) asserted her boundaries: “We all know Portland has a reputation as a bit of a hippie Mecca, but there are moments when it goes too far. Earlier I was at a coffeeshop and I saw, I kid you not, a three-year-old with dreadlocks. It’s like, ‘That’s enough, Portland. We get it. Enough.'”

Cameron Esposito (Los Angeles) celebrated how her own look (a t-shirt, tight jeans, a jean jacket and a boyish, asymmetrical haircut) helped her blend in with the locals : “Sometimes it’s nice to visit Portland, because everyone in Portland looks exactly like this, like me. Even straight women! Which I am not.”

Jackie Kashian (Los Angeles) ribbed PDX on its overt leftist politics: “Hmm…I wonder which presidential candidate Portland is for. I just can’t imagine which way that’s gonna go.”

Katie-Ellen Humphries (Vancouver, BC) gave a lengthy description of a sauna-sitting contest in which the “winner” who sat the longest actually perished, adding, “I think if you slow-roast yourself until the meat is falling off the bone, ’til you have a smoky mesquite flavor, we should be able to eat you. No, Portland? I thought you had a big foodie culture.”

Rhiannon Archer (Toronto) congratulated the region on its overall health, but quickly added, “…we should all stop, because it doesn’t matter!”

Lauren Bishop (Los Angeles) had clearly taken the pulse of local stoners, mentioning: “I know that mushrooms are considered a super-cool hippie drug to do in Portland…”

Gee, Ladies—tell us what you really think! Hope you enjoyed these, and read them with a wink.

Final Thoughts

All Jane No Dick. Bitch Magazine. Siren Nation. All-woman mentorship networks. Who needs ’em! Am I right, guys?

Many guys, even the modern sensitive kind, try to say, “aye.”

Ladies?

Women who’ve been around the block a couple times reluctantly pipe up: “We wish we didn’t need them, but we do.” Most fields still aren’t giving women a fair deal—and entertainment is no exception.

In a panel discussion on Saturday afternoon, AJND comics got a rare chance to air their indignation and share coping tips for drunken come-ons from boozy bookers, leering derision from fellow headliners who hold them accountable for being hot (or not), and sexual rumor-mongering by jealous colleagues of both genders. If even society’s most sarcastic, laugh-it-off lasses can’t find sexism funny (and boy, do they try), then it’s emphatically not.

The worst story, though—and the best justification for an all-female fest—came from one of the younger comics: “One time, my (male) comedian friends and I went out for drinks with [an established visiting headliner] after his set. They were asking him questions, and he was giving them tips for how to improve. But every time I asked him a question, he just said, ‘Give me a kiss.'”

Sure, she suffered a little humiliation in the moment—but the more troubling implication was the lost opportunity to improve her craft. This performer’s femininity effectively prevented her from being mentored into better performance.

Right after the panel discussion disbanded, a workshop convened. Cameron Esposito, a house-wrecking headliner from the night before, guided a group of women through some writing and speaking exercises, shared her own personal comedy philosophies, and indulged an eager flow of Q&A. In a mere two-hour stint, the amateurs’ growing confidence and the novices’ new epiphanies were palpable. And most importantly, at no point did Esposito ask any of her students for a kiss.

Seasoned female comedians like Esposito (and other AJND talent) can prevail past all kinds of heat, and they don’t need a female-friendly room to be funny in. Still, an all-gal fest may be the only forum that offers female talents even a fleeting a taste of what their male counterparts enjoy every day: an opportunity to network and refine their craft with a community of peers, without having to literally watch their own asses.

One Response.

  1. This festival was a great time. Glad to have it covered.

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