Fighting Sexism In Comedy Isn’t As Easy As You Think
It was Sunday and I was booked to host at my local comedy club Wednesday. A story had recirculated about Jeremy Piven, an actor who was accused of sexual assault by 8 women. He was supposed to headline the same club, that Thursday through the weekend.
As the story unfolded, there were discussions on what actions to take, including boycotting the club. Needless to say, this put me in a weird spot. A lot of people would assume I was worried it could affect future bookings. To be honest, my hesitation had to do with not even knowing that much.
Since then a local publication hit up a number of us to comment on the issue. For the record, I think anyone who spoke up about this is great. I know it seems counterproductive to write an entire article on why I didn’t, but by the third day I got home from work and couldn’t get this out of my head until I wrote about it.
I knew enough from experience that speaking up at the very least was going to mean babysitting facebook threads all day with devil’s advocates, coddling male allies messaging me for advice, and the lingering feeling of wondering if I am “too much trouble”.
We all have to learn to pick our battles. I usually ask myself two questions: Do I believe this is worth speaking up for? And most importantly: Do I have the time and energy to effectively fight this fight? The first answer is easy. The second, not so much. If I am booked at this club and promoting their show on one post, but criticizing the venue for booking an accused sexual predator on the next, what am I saying? Do I know enough about how this booking came about to accurately make a public judgment about it?
I realized I’d reached my peak in power. I had influence for a while, relative to where I was in the beginning, mostly based off of a grassroots brand I created for myself. But I did and do want to move beyond that. Which means I very much want to learn more about the industry. But when you’re standing in the doorway asking to be let in, you think twice about making a Facebook post.
To be clear, just because I realized I reached this power peak didn’t mean I was done fighting. I just knew it meant I had to get further into the system, get better, and gain more influence before I could fight again. Maybe it’s not smart to share my “game plan” publicly, but I am so far at the bottom of the barrel, I’m not sure it really matters.
I want comedy to one day be a career because I love it. The same way any job I’ve ever sought, was for the heart of what it was about. Change from within always made the most sense to me. Maybe it’s because I’m obsessed with learning everything about what I love. And it’s not beyond me that could be a flaw.
In this particular week, in this particular instance, I was not sure my energy would be best used fighting people on Facebook and pushing my mental health over the edge. It was selfish. And in comedy sometimes you have to be selfish. Among my peer group, I am sure I also looked hypocritical and disappointing. And it made obsessed with the idea that sexism really is an internal beast as well as it is external.
Why, in this industry that is full of sexual harassment and assault, thinly veiled threats, and the underlying belief that women just aren’t as funny– do women get the harshest judgment when we are silent in hostile territory? How can the same women who support that “appease and please” is a survival instinct during an act of sexual assault, not see that working in a sexist industry is basically a series of moments determining when it’s safe to fight your metaphorical rapist, and when it’s safer to let it fuck you so you can get through it? And much like those directly threatening situations, sometimes it’s not always clear when you’re safe enough to fight, and when you’re not.