A Nobel Prize Winner and a Comedian Walk into a Bar...

February 2, 2024

“Female musicians, it can be convincingly argued, have historically faced considerable discrimination,” the recent Nobel Prize winner Claudia Goldin and fellow researcher Cecilia Rouse wrote in a study in 2000.They found the percentage of women in the country’s top symphony orchestras increased significantly after they switched to “blind” auditions in which candidates’ identities were concealed by physical screens during tryouts.

Reading this I couldn’t help but think about the plight of female comedians. Certainly, the percentage of men vs. women comics is better than when I started 30 years ago. But, it’s still true that on any given night in a comedy club the line up will be 80% men. Would it matter if gender was ignored? Is that even possible given that unlike playing the violin, we are our instrument? Could we put this to the test with a new show, The Masked Comic? Anyone?

Pretty sure this was part of Natasha Leggero’s risque impulse last week following Bert Kreischer's set at the Hollywood Improv. Taking his shirt off on stage is part of Kreischer’s schtick. This time Legerro followed his chest baring by taking the stage and ripping her shirt off exposing her naked torso. Responding to the audience’s shock and awe she asked, ‘If the boys can do it, why can't the girls?’

Interestingly, this is one of the questions Goldin has been addressing for most of her career. Her answer is a definite yes, we can do what the boys do, it’s just not likely that we’ll be paid the same. And it gets more complicated when you throw kids in the mix. In her findings she makes a point of highlighting how many women drop out after having children because the bulk of care rests on their shoulders. This adds another layer to Leggero’s grand gesture for me. Because she’s also a mother. A working mother who showed up to do her work, even if she does make it look like a lot of fun.

I weaned off comedy clubs after my first son was born. Not that my husband wasn't available to step up, in fact he almost always was. I was what is delightfully referred to as a “geriatric” mother. This means basically I did everything else twice before becoming a mother. I waited a very long time to have children so when I did I wanted to be home with them at night. More than I wanted to be in a comedy club. I truly don’t have regret about this. I found work I could do in the crevices of my days when they were babies.

The “to work” or “not to work” question when it can be actually considered, always hits me as one of luxury. If doing comedy sets in clubs at night had to put food on the table, I definitely would have been there. We all know that the amount of food a comedy set at any given club yields would not keep most puppies alive, let alone a family, so that was not part of my decision. And that might be one of the few places in entertainment where there is gender parity. There’s a fee for a length of time on stage. A 10 minute set is a ten minute set regardless of your anatomy. Unfortunately whether someone grants you that stage time is still very subjective and there will always be men who don’t think women are funny. The response to this is for women to create their own shows, which works. If you pay yourself, you don’t have to worry if the men are making more.

A heartfelt thank you to Goldin for all the undeniable, groundbreaking insight into the specific challenges of working women and mothers. And thank you to Ms. Legerro for throwing caution - and her breasts - to the wind. I’ll sign off with a link to Ethel Merman’s rendition of "Anything You Can Do I Can Do Better," from a 1950’s “Annie Get Your Gun.” A prescient tribute to Legerro and all 21st C. ballsy women who keep fighting the good fight.