Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Rape Joke Roundup

h/t to Sonnet

Rape jokes are a hot topic on the blogosphere right now.  A few excerpts:

Harriet Jacobs on why rape is joked about:

There is very little in casual, accessible culture that depicts rapists or rape victims as multi-faceted, complex human beings — and they all are. They are not depicted as people who survive, who go on to read trashy novels and get angry in traffic and learn a new hobby and think about volunteering sometimes but never actually do and get their degree in marketing but actually go into accounting because the job market these days, you know, and if they had never left that one significant other their lives probably would have been different. And rape is not depicted as an event that has complex meanings and consequences for men or women. Rather, it’s depicted as sex to advance the plot, define a (male) character, and/or be a super sweet hidden porno in the middle of your movie. 

The Guardian's Brian Logan on The New Offenders of Standup Comedy:
[Jim] Jeffries tells me: "You can't do a joke these days about black or Asian people – and rightly so – [but] you can do rape jokes on stage and that's not a problem." Why does he think rape is now less of a taboo than racism? "I don't write the rules," he says. Nor, it seems, does he seek to challenge them. Capurro told me, with some distaste: "For a lot of comics, it's OK to talk about raping women now. That's the new black on the comedy circuit."

To which Jessica responds at Feministing with What's So Funny About Rape? 

What I truly don't understand is how anyone could possibly think that joking about rape is being edgy or somehow fighting against the mainstream - which seems to be what the comics in this Guardian article are arguing. They say they're taking taboos head-on. But the thing is, rape jokes and mocking violence against women are mainstream. They're not a taboo at all - they're the norm, sadly. So all of these comedians giving themselves a pat on the back for being sooo controversial - when all they're doing is upholding the status quo - really fucking irk me.

Because if their rape jokes were actually challenging the mainstream, they'd be subversive, not holding up what American culture already perpetuates - that rape is a-okay. I think what is particularly telling is that so many of the people arguing that jokes about sexual assault are fine are dudes - the demographic that tends to be ones who, well...rape. (And who get assaulted at much lower rates than women.)

On a related note, last fall I had a positive experience talking with a rape-jokey comedian after a show.  An excerpt of what happened: 

...So, the headlining comedian was doing fairly well. Not exactly my cup of tea, but whatever. And then he gets to a rape joke. Ugggh. 

For the first time, I was determined to say something. Immediately after the show, I went up to him. It went something like this:

me: "Hey- great job."
dude: "Thanks a bunch!"
me: "I'd really like to give you some feedback about something that really bothered me"
dude: "Sure thing, what is it?"
me: "You know, that rape joke was really off-putting"
dude: "What rape joke?"


me: "The one about a girl drinking too much at the bar..."
dude: "Oh. Yeah."
me: "Well, I just wanted to let you know that it's probable that more women than you think who are here tonight can actually identify with that happening, and it's not a pleasant experience to come out to a comedy show and have that be laughed at"
dude: "Yeah... uh... thanks for saying something."
me: "Thanks for listening."

Nice enough. Maybe he'll take that part out. Maybe he won't. At least I didn't feel powerless as an audience member. 

Saturday, July 25, 2009

The Rejection Show: Elna Baker

Mormon comedienne and storyteller extraordinaire Elna Baker talks about rejection.

(You may remember Baker from her incredible This American Life story about working as a doll nurse at FAO Schwartz.)

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

"Comedy is feminist when it helps me understand how power works and how it can be fucked with": A Chat with Jessica Halem

Jessica Halem can do incredible things incredibly well. She was named one of the "Queers that Make Our City Great" by Timeout Chicago and was nominated for "Best Female Comedian" at the 2008 Chicago Comedy Awards. She also served as Executive Director for the Lesbian Community Cancer Project in Chicago for five years, overseeing record levels of fundraising and expanding the organization's mission into one that was trans-inclusive. I first saw her perform at the Lincoln Lodge last spring, where she brought the house down with joyously raunchy tales of dildoes and fisting. Jessica left Chicago for the Pacific Northwest last year, and I needed a Jessica fix, so she was kind enough to answer some of my questions about activism and comedy.

When did you first know that you loved doing standup?

1995, Beijing, China during the Young Women's Talent Show at the UN Fourth World Conference on Women. I was given the job of emcee and had to keep thousands of feminists from all around the world laughing. I felt the surge of bringing laughter and light to those who needed to let off some steam. I don't remember doing jokes per se but I remember the energy of being an enthusiastic fool for the night. That's when I knew I could be both an activist and a stand-up and in fact, it was a powerful tool to be both.

What does feminist comedy look like? Do you have any guidelines for what you will or won't make jokes about?

How about this for feminist comedy: A bloody tampon, wire hanger and Sarah Palin walk into a Rape Crisis Center...

It's hard to say what feminist comedy looks like...I know what my comedy looks like as a feminist living in this world and talking about my experiences and perspective. But just like women comics, or black comics, or gay comics, there are no two same feminist comics or one way to do feminist comedy. I'm not interested in pretending the categories of men and women (or straight and gay, etc.) are stable, constant identities that can be summed up or understood easily (or stereotypically to be more precise.)

I like comedy that helps us understand that there is, in fact, no stable category or binary or identity. I like comedy that plays with notions of what lesbian means, or female means, or feminist means. For me feminist comedy is a way to talk about power and how it operates. On an everyday level in big and small ways. Comedy is feminist when it helps me understand how power works and how it can be fucked with.

The topics that I cover are easy to choose because I stick to my personal experiences (with some embellishment of course) as an antidote to how hard life is for everyone. You can't go wrong as a comic if you find the funny in your everyday life. Everyone can relate to that. Or if not relate then really value insight into what life is like for you. I hope I get on stage and folks think "oh, this is gonna be good. I'd love to hear what this cute, short, Jewish, queer girl thinks about XYZ and I wonder if that could help open me up to a new way of thinking." Ok, really, I just hope they think...damn she's hot.

You perform for a lots of audiences that are queer or queer-allied. Did you start out seeking out these audiences, or did you do the mainstream open mic/ comedy club circuit at first? Has finding venues that attract queer-friendly audiences been a challenge? How important has exercising some control over the kind of audience you perform for been to the development of your onstage voice?

One of my main goals is to bring funny to those who need it most. Who has a voice or experience that is not getting voiced on stage or on screen enough? My hope is that folks who are working hard everyday living their lives on the margins or differently or in fear or struggling in some way will find a chance to laugh with me. So, that means I need to perform in venues or shows where they know it is for them. They don't show up at their mainstream comedy club on a regular night thinking they will find their life being valued on stage. And they are probably right.
Yes, I've done open mics and comedy clubs with no special advertising and done fine. I approach every audience with love and compassion and that comes through. But my goal is to uplift my brothers and sisters who need it most. So, I end up being picky and finding the right venues or getting involved with advertising so a "mainstream" show can be a chance for the queers to come on out for a good time! Some of my best shows have been mainstream venues where I've got a few queers in the audience who have just had the whole night flipped for them! I love that!
My dream audience to entertain for a night would be full of sex workers, artists, trannies, leather daddies, bears, butches, femmes,
teenagers, old lesbians, HIV+ folks, non profit workers, politicans, cancer survivors, and my ex-boyfriends. Let me be THEIR fool!

I might need to put that answer on my wall. Have you ever felt torn between "serious" activism and devoting time to your comedy? What performers do you look to for inspiration about how comedy can be meaningful in people's lives?

I am inspired when I make my friends laugh who are working in the trenches everyday as politicans, activists and social workers. Nothing like knowing your activist friend has her iPhone on as she waits for an important meeting with a Congressperson. Or a politican who appreciates dirty comments on his Facebook status updates!

I also love keeping up with my comedy heros like Margaret Cho and Marga Gomez via their Twitter and Facebooks who make life on the road look like so much damn fun! They and others have been doing comedy work a lot longer than me. As someone who has only recently switched to more comedy from more non profit work...I love learning how to do this well!

Most importantly, I'm inspired to do comedy as a tool for social justice everytime I make a 17 year old queer youth laugh or a long
time HIV+ gay man laugh or a gray haired lesbian from the rural part of Virginia who drove an hour to see me. I make them laugh through a story filled with equal parts love and misery from my life and I know I've lightened their load just a little bit for a little while. That's justice. That's change. That's comedy.

What should we look forward to from you in the next 5 years?

I've recently joined PhinLi Bookings, an agency for LGBTQ and sex positive talent. I'm excited to work with folks who get that I'm not looking to make my material easily palatable for TV or host a gay marriage rally. So, in the short term, I'm looking forward to being on the road more hearing from and talking to a new generation of queers in colleges and smaller towns. That and some regular yoga and meditation, I'm trying not to get too ahead of myself. I'm open to allowing the universe unfold in front of me. I'm working on being able to hear what it has to say.

Monday, July 20, 2009

The Heyday of UkeTube

Molly Lewis as "Molly: Kickass Destructo-Cyborg Thing" by Len Peralta

By Russ Rogers

We are on the cusp of a new Ukulele Renaissance. The Ukulele had a short fad popularity in the 50's. This was inspired by The Arthur Godfrey Show and the availability of inexpensive, plastic ukes. Seriously, millions of ukes were sold. Then, Tiny Tim had a hit with Tiptoe Through the Tulips in 1969 and set the Ukulele back as an instrument by 40 years. Playing the ukulele became synonymous with being strange and fey.

Thanks goodness for strong Ukulele Godesses like Danielle Anderson who are at the forefront of a growing popularity for the much maligned and misunderstood Jumping Flea, the Ukulele.

Now, there are many factors that are leading to a resurgence of the Ukulele. The instruments are cheap (which makes them ideal starter instruments in these tough economic times). They are easy to play, with smaller necks and fewer strings than a guitar.  And the nylon strings on ukes are easier on the fingers than the metal strings on guitars!  But all the skills you learn, the fingerings, picking and strumming techniques will translate directly to playing the guitar.  It can be a gateway instrument.

But I don't think the influence of YouTube (or as I like to call it, "UkeTube") can be overstated. In this age of DIY entertainment, the uke lends itself to being filmed in videos. It's small size fits in the frame! It's tone lends itself well to funny songs that are a bit cynical and snarky. And that's just perfect for YouTube!

There are a TON of cool Ukulele Channels and players to be sought out and discovered. But I do think that because of the ukulele's small size, it lends itself especially well to accompanying both women's voices and silly songs. So perhaps it's natural that many of the women who have gained fame playing on UkeTube are also funny.

Now, if you are listing UkeTube sensations, yes, you might start with Danielle Anderson, aka Danielle Ate The Sandwich.  She's phenomenal, quirky, charming, smart and funny.  Plus she has a beautiful, evocative voice.

A few more on my list:

Julia Nunes is the Queen Bee of UkeTube.  The Madonna of the Uke, both for her popularity and versatility!  She has over 100,000 subscribers. She recently played the music festival Bonnaroo. She is selling a couple of independently produced albums. And I think she's very funny.  Her covers are great and she has some fine original songs too!  Here's "Maybe I Will":


Julia has a huge fan following, has toured the United Kingdom twice, has recorded two albums and opened for Ben Folds several times!  And this has all been done while she still attends college!  Highly recommended!

Of course, Garfunkel and Oates are Wisecrack favorites. And their uke player Kate Micucci, has some great solo songs too!  Here's "Dear Deer." 

But I don't think any discussion of women, humor and UkeTube could be complete without mentioning Molly Lewis (aka SweetAfton23).

Molly Lewis isn't as professionally experienced as Julia Nunes, Kate Micucci or Danielle Anderson. She hasn't recorded an album, not yet. But her YouTube channel already has 16,000+ subscribers. Molly sprang to fame two years ago with a wicked ukulele cover of the Britney Spears hit, "Toxic."  And Molly has a bunch of great cover songs and a handful of very funny originals. She's a rising comedy, music and ukulele star.

Check out "MyHope":

Molly's made a deal with Hank Green's Label, DFTBA Records. And recently she won the internet songwriting contest, The Masters of Song Fu!  

I've only mentioned four visionary female voices on UkeTube and pointed out a few of their videos.  If there is another Ukulele Godess or an even better ukulele video that has been overlooked, please put the link in the comments.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Tweet, Tweet!

All the cool kids are doing it. Wisecrack's doing it (@wisecrackzine), I'm doing it (@lpark1984), and even some of your favorite comedians are doing it.
Tweeting, that is. It's the newest craze but it's actually a pretty interesting way to see change happening and stay connected to people in 140 characters or less.

Thanks to this list of "85 Comedians to Follow", I am following some funny ladies:

She talks about everything from her new show Drop Dead Diva to the everyday observations that we've come to love from Cho.

Likes to geek out and recently talks about her love for affordable hotels.

This Midwestern stand-up's most recent tweet says: judged a childs beauty pageant today and stole the souls of a few would-be Jon Benet's. Their Moms were crying tears of blood. Hilarity ensues - a must follow!

Stand-up lady and co-creator of takes time out of her day to update us with her funny thoughts.

AT let's her tweeple in on secret shows, her projects and when her back massages take a turn for the worst.


Even the "Executive Transvestite" is tweeting it up!

This is just something to start you off. There are so many others to follow on Twitter. Let us know who you're following and who we should add to our list.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Weekend Wuv: Danielle Ate The Sandwich

By Katherine Bradshaw

Ukuleleist and YouTube sensation Danielle Anderson, AKA “Danielle Ate The Sandwich,” frequently pairs light and whimsical sounds with darker, melancholy lyrics (think poptastic Garfunkel and Oates meets sardonic Jessica Delfino). Her songs tackle topics from transexuality (“Born In The Wrong Body”) to everyday human angst (“Afterwards” and “Another Day”). Her homemade music videos, featuring her quirky smile and antics, are irresistibly enjoyable.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

British Coumediennes

The extra "u" is because they spell things wrong.

So, bored with American accents, I have begun watching British comedy on Youtube and Hulu and other content-thieving internet mainstays. It's refreshing to discover an entire world (well, country) of humor (humour? huomor?) I had been mostly ignorant of. Yes, I'd seen The Office and Monty Python and Hugh Laurie on House, but there's an entire industry of sitcoms and panel shows; from the immortal Are You Being Served? through my current favorite, QI.

But that's not why you're here. You're here to learn about female comics in the UK. And they are legion and awesome. So I'm going to start, as a minor blogging project, and as my introduction to you all (first post! yay!), a rundown of some of my favorite funny girls (sorry, Caitlin) across the pond.

But first, to wet your beaks, here's Jo Brand, who I will write about more in my next post:

Target Women: Hair

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Letter from the Editor- 101st Posting: Wisecrack Goes Meta

How about that?  100 posts.  Bust out the Boone's Farm, this calls for a toast.

Conversations about gender and humor happen all the time. Especially if you're a comedienne. Doubly so, if you're a feminist comedienne. Scholars like Regina Barreca and the late Nancy A. Walker have published many books on the subject; these conversations aren't anything new.  We'd just like to bring them beyond the bus ride after improv rehearsal, into the public sphere... the one in your laptop.  

Have we done it? Well, we haven't exactly gone viral. But we do have a steady stream of regular visitors and a healthy core of writers, campus liaisons, and allies.  We've sniffed out our own and discovered that at least half a dozen people hold degrees in comedy and gender studies.  And through hours of dedicated "web research," we've stumbled upon the likes of Marina Franklin, Amy Andersen, Garfunkel and Oates, and many, many other incredibly talented comedians. 

Perhaps most importantly, we've created a space to reclaim feminism in the context of comedy... or is it comedy in the context of feminism? (Cue mind explosions.) Either way, we've created a space where the marriage of feminism and comedy can simultaneously be taken seriously and thoroughly enjoyed. We hope to continue dispelling myths of feminism along the way, as well as encouraging greater intelligence, truth, awareness and intentionality in Comedy At Large. (That's right. It's our sneaky little agenda: World Comedy Domination via open letters to Lourne Michaels.)

We're slowly learning from our mistakes- no more blue text on a black background, I promise. As we mature, we hope to make the space more interactive and inclusive. If you have ideas, feedback, complaints or props, please consider this a solicitation (either respond in comments, or email wisecrackzine AT gmail DOT com). Lastly, we're disappointed by the lack of hate mail we've received. We take it as a sign that we're not saying juicy enough things. We'll try to step it up.

In the words of Lily Tomlin, "We're all in this together, by ourselves."

To the next 100 posts...   

Thanks for reading.