• Courtesy the artists
  • Katie Rich and Holly Laurent

This weekend the Chicago Funny Women’s Festival highlights the work of more than 70 female acts for the third year in a row. While speaking to Holly Laurent and Katie Rich about Joan and Ro, New York City, 1962, their show in the festival, I couldn’t help but bring up my problem with the festival: the Funny Women Festival is great in its mission—bringing together a bunch of funny women to perform—but there’s no Funny Man Festival. It’s well-worn territory, but it seems women in comedy keep being singled out for being women. Luckily, Laurent and Rich are as insightful and intelligent as they are hilarious, and helped me come to terms with the issue.

Laurent: Honestly the “women in comedy,” “are women funny?” thing has materialized in every interview I’ve done for the last decade. Come to think of it, I hear every woman I admire in comedy being asked for their declaration on the matter over and over too. And, sure, you don’t hear guys orating about their gender regarding the craft. I look forward to the day when we can talk about the work and not always address the gender stuff, but for the time being there’s a certain amount of bullshit we are accustomed to stomaching even though we know the scale is tipping, and there are now more educated females, more females in the work force, etc. The genie is out of the bottle.

Rich: First off, it’s not just comedy. Women still aren’t thought of as being able to do a lot of things. And it’s even worse for women of color. What is funny is the truth. If you are exposing a truth, hitting on something universal, and doing it in a unique way, you’re probably funny.

Laurent: I must say though that all in all, I’m incredibly grateful to get to do what I love, and if that means weathering this issue, I’m really glad to be here! The gender thing will become less and less interesting. Funny is funny. Females will keep being funny as fuck, and it’ll get harder and harder for folks to stay preoccupied with our gender. When I am on stage I don’t play my gender. I have to be this gender and this age and this blah blah all day long. Improv is where I get to be people; old people, young people, near people, far people.

Rich: I know for a fact that people have been irritated by me or not liked my ideas or preferred to work with someone else. But I have a hard time believing it was because I’m a woman. It was because I wasn’t being a team player. I was doing things that were petty or fear-based. When a male colleague writes a joke I don’t think is funny, my first thought isn’t, “That dude isn’t funny.” My first thought is, “That joke isn’t funny.” An easy way to overcome sexism is to judge the art not the artist.

See just how funny these comics are in person tonight at iO at 8 PM and tomorrow at Stage 773 at 10 PM.