Meet The Women Behind NYC's First-Ever Conference On Women In Comedy

New Yorkers enjoy the privilege of living in a city full of things that couldn't exist anywhere else. A man who makes a living by walking around with a cat on his head over by Port Authority? "Only in New York!" A morning breakfast rave to get pumped for the work day? That's so New York! A conference about women in comedy? Well, this is awkward, because NYC has a profitable animal-on-head enterprise, but no official gathering for women who want to talk about the comedic industry.

That's why Shaina Stigler of ?What If! Innovation and Natalie Wall of Awkward Sex and the City joined forces to create Bad Assery, the first-ever conference about women and their relationship with comedy to ever hit NYC. They were sure an event like this already existed. After all, it's New York. Not a festival or a showcase, but a meeting of the minds where women could come up with solutions, advocate for equality, and meet other funny women. "I was surprised at how desperate the women were for this kind of interaction within the community," Stigler told me. "We all exist, we're all in this together. Why aren't there more places for women to come together, create, and be inspired by each other? Why wasn't this a thing before?"

It may surprise you to learn that comedy has become something of a boy's club. GQ's 2014 list of the funniest comedians in America had just three women. In 2013, Forbes' list of the 12 highest-earning comedians had no women at all. 

These numbers, though now a year or two old, are rooted in a sad truth. In Stigler and Wall's opinion, all comedy is defined through the male experience. "We as women have allowed ourselves to adapt within the man's world," Stigler said. "We've allowed our art and careers to be defined and viewed through the male perspective, instead of relating to ourselves through a female lens." Stigler says this is the unfortunate reality about how women get jobs in the industry. "We think you have to be able to play that game in order to get in front of the male bookers or to get in front of the guy who books the opening act for Jimmy Fallon."

And, women have gotten pretty good at this — too good, according to Stigler and Wall. "That world doesn’t serve women — never will serve women." The conference's aim is to define comedy through a female lens. "We have to stop exhausting our energy trying to change that perspective, the way men think about women being funny or not. It's never worked like that, and it never will work. We have to start defining what the female perspective is, specifically in terms of comedy," Stigler said. 

So, how do you do that in a three-day conference? "First we define that and say what is our voice, our statement, how do we use that to create a space for women to play? How can we create a world for female comedians that's driven by that female perspective, as opposed to trying to inhabit a world that doesn't serve us at all?” 

To be clear, the female experience doesn't mean women shouldn't dabble in the bathroom humor that so often occupies the male comedian's set. Stigler says the female experience can be fart jokes and poop jokes. "Not even can — it is," Wall interrupted. "It's penises and dicks. It's no longer adapting. It's not women in comedy. It's women and comedy." Indeed, the duo's looking to remove the word "in" entirely. "It's saying comedy is inherently male and we need the qualifier. You're still saying we're the outsider." 

It's not just a problem with stand-up comics and the jokes they tell, either. It extends to improv and the characters we see for women in sketch. "I'd love to see change for younger girls who are just starting out doing improv to not have to play those stereotypes. The Valley girl, the ditz or the whore. I'd love to see that destroyed," Wall said. Both Stigler and Wall agree that women tend to go for those characters because sometimes we can't think of what to say, especially in improv when you have a matter of seconds to make a character decision. Stigler says she sees roles for women as a deck of cards. "We're trying to expand that deck. Yes, you can play the ditz. That is a character. But, play it in a way that's empowering and real and female and not a two-dimensional thing men told us we're supposed to be playing. Do it with some power. Do it with your ovaries screaming," she said. 

Stigler and Wall want to be clear, though. This isn't an "us vs. them" situation. Are they afraid of getting backlash from women who see this is as some extreme movement that will further alienate women from identifying as feminist? "It's sad that it's very possible," Stigler said. "This may be selfish to say, but if you're a woman living in a city like New York and you're not hip to equality of sexes, then we have no energy to waste on you." Wall agreed, echoing the sentiments of Amy Poehler. "'Good for you, not for me.' I don't wanna deal with it. We're gonna do us." Stigler says she has emails upon emails of girls reaching out who are excited. "I know this is what the community needs. It's not just the two of us. It's the whole community pushing us forward. We're gonna do it no matter what."

What about women who say stop addressing the thought that women aren't funny, who say acknowledging that thought only feeds it? Wall compared that thinking to a Sarah Silverman quote she saw: "Don't tell kids 'Girls can be anything!' They wouldn't have thought otherwise. Just raise them strong, dummy." For Stigler, that argument has no place in the Bad Assery conference. "We can't act like [that attitude] doesn't exist. But, we're not gonna indulge it. We're not gonna spend three days talking about it. We're gonna spend three days talking about what we're doing moving forward."

For Stigler and Wall, women have not yet tapped their full potential. "Women are a sleeping giant who's yet to realize the full weight of our power. Why would we tell our jokes through the male perspective when we're literally a powder keg ready to explode?"

Bad Assery takes place March 27-29. You can find more information here.
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