When “Empowering” Turns Cringe-worthy: Gender Gimmick Marketing for All-Woman Stand-up Shows Needs to End

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When “Empowering” Turns Cringe-worthy: Gender Gimmick Marketing for All-Woman Stand-up Shows Needs to End

Apart from the constant deluge of news on Twitter that seems to forecast a real-life adaptation of The Handmaids Tale, I find respite in following Reductress, a satirical women’s news magazine, and @Onewomenonthelineup. Each tends to invoke an outward laugh accompanied by an all-too relatable internal scream, especially the latter, as the account’s sole purpose is to retweet waves upon waves of promotions for stand-up shows that feature only one woman on the line-up, and, more times than makes sense, none at all.

Female-heavy shows may not be the norm, but women doing comedy definitely is. It isn’t fringe or out-of-the-box. If you can’t name some funny professional ladies, you are not paying attention. Unless you live in East Jesus Nowhere Wyoming running the only comedy show in a one-bar town, it’s highly doubtful there’s only one funny woman around that deserves to be on your show (and if there isn’t any, you can bet it’s creepy-ass Jimbo’s fault). Rising out of the garbage pile, a few observant statisticians aim to right this flawed ratio with all-female stand-up showcases. However, the joyful relief of seeing a women heavy show quickly dissipates upon sight of the names and marketing.

For example, The Venetian gave Las Vegas it’s first all-female series (first ever, in 2014), and they called it… “Lipschtick.” In 2012, TV Guide created and ran two seasons of a show to showcase female comics of all ages called… Stand-up in Stilettos. Each are groundbreaking moves for women and each name makes me want to stab someone. It’s like your best friends naming their kid Neptune Kaleidoscope. I’m sure that kid is great, but my god, that’s the dumbest name I’ve ever heard. And when a cable TV show is using a cringe-worthy marketing strategy, it doesn’t take long for little bar shows over the country to follow suit and churn out such creative gems as “Girls! Girls! Girls!”

lipshtick ad.jpg
A web ad for the Venetian’s all-woman comedy show Lipshtick

As refreshing as it is to see a lineup that doesn’t resemble a Bill Burr Russian nesting doll, it’s difficult to be happy for such movements when each show name feels plucked from the brain of the man who gave the world “Bic Pens… For Her.” Just as feminism is not defined as women hating men, it also isn’t defined as misspelling words so they have a female pronoun in them. I don’t need anything to be called “herstory” nor “HERlarious” (which makes even less sense since it’s not spelled ‘HISlarious” either), I just need 10 minutes on stage to yell at you about my dad. Oh, also equal pay, equal rights, justice for when we get assaulted, yadda yadda.

While these shows aim to showcase all sorts of women on stage, their marketing caters to only two types of women: a 45 year old obsessed with Samantha from Sex and the City and a 5 year old obsessed with tea parties. Every poster alternates between lemonade-stand font surrounded by daisies and a hot pink glittery clusterfuck of bachelorette party clipart (you know, the group notorious for ruining live shows). These stereotype-riddled promos meant to empower women limit us to hackneyed cliches. Just as one’s comedy should avoid cliches, one’s show materials should avoid them as well.

This isn’t to say that liking Sex and the City, heels or glitter is stupid. A comic has every right to wear what they want on stage, talk about whatever they want, and just be their true self. It’s important to remind ourselves that just because we do not like something does not mean it’s wrong for others to like it. There’s nothing inherently bad with liking these superficial things, but when these are thrown on us all as the sole representation of our entire gender, then it becomes a problem. It’s like the toy section of every store that lets little boys dream of every possible fantasy in every possible color-scheme, while girls are solely given pastels and tiaras for princess dress-up time. While cosplaying as Princess Buttercup is fine and dandy, it’s 2017 and Robin Wright is now teaching Wonder Women how to fuck up a sad man army. We’re not all the same. For years, women and our dreams have been relegated to a small box; it’s counterintuitive to narrow the walls even more.

There is a difference between a woman crafting a show around her personality and a male booker or venue throwing together a token affair. There is also a big difference in using outdated caricatures sincerely and re-appropriating rhetoric previously used to talk down women for your own use. Like anything, context is key. So where’s the line? Well, when your show posters look indistinguishable from gentlemen’s club flyers, we need to talk. When the only graphic is of a bunch of mudflap lady silhouettes or crying toddlers at a slumber party, it’s time to hire a new social media manager. A decent rule of thumb is to ask yourself, “Would I do this for a mixed show? Would I talk about a male comic this way?”

Every “Herlarious,” “Lipschtick” and Stand-up in Stilettos show means well, and I applaud the effort. Is it better than nothing? Yes. Is it also using gender as a gimmick? Mmm yea, kinda. Is that annoying as shit? Indeed. It’s difficult to shake the optics off when each one seems accompanied by an invisible pitch of, “Hear us out… what if women did comedy? Weird, right? Please, come humor us for one night.” It feels like a novelty, comedy’s sparkle jersey.

These show names that sound ripped from a Reductress headline illustrate what it would be like for the entire concept of comedy to tell you, “I normally hate female comics, but you were great!” Every decent comedian has heard these words from male AND female audience members. It’s one of the many dumbfoundingly condescending remarks you learn to roll off your shoulders. If I had a drink ticket for every time a host asked the crowd, “are you ready for a female comic?” my rent would be covered for the rest of the year. Just kidding, contrary to popular belief, drink tickets are not the same as money.

Anything that’s all-female arises from our group being consistently shut out or worse. We are just one of the many groups that are severely underrepresented in comedy and the entertainment industry in general. The goal of these shows is to drag the very deserving out of the shadows, but when they remind me of what others use to hold us back, I don’t feel empowered. When my gender is used as a qualifier for my act, I feel pandered to. It’s incredibly frustrating to feel like you’re shouting into a void and even more so when the hand that reaches out for your’s asks you why you don’t wear dresses more.

Point blank, female comics are just that: comics. We tell political/observational/absurd/anecdotal/dirty/blue jokes like the guys, we run the light like the guys, and we wear flannel like the guys (although ours is more likely to be ironed). We’re not strippers nor tupperware party hosts (or “hostesses” I guess, damn it), so it makes no sense to market shows like we are while patting yourself on the back thinking, “Look at me, I’m helping!” Oh, boy, you are not.

I just want to be a comic. I want my peers to be viewed simply as comics. Not a female comic, not a comedienne. When these shows are modeled after tired stereotypes, they force an image upon women that some of us have been working our entire lives to be seen as more than. Is it too much to ask for women’s comedy shows to just be shows, or do we need to come up with an estrogen-laced suffix for that word too?

Olivia Cathcart is a writer and comedian in Atlanta. She dares to be on Twitter @OhhCathcart.

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