As the story goes, during the 70’s Gilda Radner would perch on producer Lorne Michael’s lap and coo into his ear during writer’s meetings at Saturday Night Live. And since it was difficult for any member of the highly competitive cast to get their sketches on the air, it was no surprise that Gilda’s always got on.
This isn’t to take away from her extraordinary talent. I think Gilda may have played the Daddy card when she realized it worked better in those days, when the seedling of feminism was still trying to force its way through the weeds in Daddy’s backyard.
When Jane Curtin recently appeared on Oprah she mentioned the sexism female cast members encountered in her days on the show. She said John Belushi thought women weren’t “fundamentally funny,” something many of the male standup comics I’ve worked with also believe. They’re always careful to exclude me from this blanket statement because they value the Holy Trinity of their penis and testicles. Still, their judgment of my female peers leaves me wondering why I gave up drinking. And I know that behind my back I’m not safe from their prejudice.
Jane also mentioned she couldn’t even get a credit card back then and Chevy Chase interrupted her to sardonically add, “Yeah, I’m the reason you didn’t get a credit card.”
Chevy, you ignorant slut.
I started doing comedy back in the 80’s when there were about twenty-five women doing standup in New York. As we tried to join the men who had traded in city clubs for the more lucrative road work, we faced a rejection that couldn’t be defended: “We had a woman here once and she died so we’re not using any more women.”
Having never seen this mythical, unnamed woman we could only wonder if every guy who played their club had done a good job. Had no man ever died there? Hello, is this thing on only for men?
About twenty years ago, at a Long Island club so ill suited to live performance that the blenders at the bar were louder than the comedians using microphones, the man who booked me watched my set and then watched the set of the guy who followed me. A man with few jokes but who was headlining to the sounds of silence. When I asked the booker how that happened he replied:
“We’re giving him as much headliner work as possible so he can get better because we think he has huge potential.”
“What about me?”
“Well, if you were a man you’d already be headlining.”
A few months ago this same comic and I did a gig together and guess what? After twenty years? He got better!
(Larry David, Suzy Soro, and Jerry Seinfeld: Image Courtesy of Suzy Soro)
I had two male champions back in the 80’s, a comic named Rondell Sheridan, who went on to star in That’s So Raven, and Larry David of Curb Your Enthusiasm. Rondell warned me off certain bookers because “they don’t use women” and Larry went to bat for me at a NY club I was thrown out of twice. The club ignored Larry. I moved to L.A.
Dr. Joyce Brothers said being funny is equal to having power so men are threatened by funny women because it means giving their power away. Have you ever met a man who didn’t think he was hilarious? And who was looking for a woman with a great sense of humor? To laugh at him!
Is now a good time to mention that a penis and a microphone look exactly alike? And that I grip a mic until it bursts into flames whenever I use it?
Have you ever noticed how many female comedians use a baby voice when they perform? Do they act like Daddy’s Little Girl because that’s the way to get ahead in our mostly male dominated business? Has nothing changed since Gilda Radner?
A few years ago at the Improv in Hollywood I was sitting at owner Budd Friedman’s Table. It was where all the big kids sat, comics who had made it, done TV, didn’t piss Budd off. I turned to Tonight Show veteran comic Diane Nichols and asked if she’d encountered any sexism in her twenty-five plus years and she replied, “Of course.” I asked if she’d heard the “We had a woman here once but she died so we don’t use women anymore” and she roared. Of course she had!
Mario Joyner, a black comic who I’ve known since New York days and who is one of Seinfeld’s best friends, turned to me and said, “Women got handed that line?” I nodded and he laughed. “We got, ‘We had a black guy here once and he died so we’re not using any more black guys.’”
Discrimination, Party of 2, your table is ready.
There was a tag line cigarette manufacturer Virginia Slims introduced in 1968, ‘You’ve come a long way, baby.’ As American social critic Elizabeth Janeway responded, “We haven't come a long way; we've come a short way. If we hadn't come a short way no one would be calling us 'baby.'”
Except Justin Bieber.
More from entertainment