I have landed on some epiphanies that, in light of recent events, I feel compelled to share with you. For two years I’ve been a stand-up comedian working the road in middle America. I’m not exactly sure how I got here. And I mean literally here, I don’t know how I got where I’m sitting right now. I’m writing this in a coffee shop in Grand Haven, Michigan, which means I’m geographically closer to my hometown in Canada than I am to where I currently live with my comedian husband in, Nashville TN. This is typical of my life now. I spend my time traipsing from state to state doing comedy. I’m home for a few days every week and then hit the pavement again, off to entertain another room of strangers, picking up paychecks and stage time wherever I can, from whoever will hire me. I’m all over the place, but right now, I’m just enjoying an overpriced pour over coffee reflecting, yet again, on being a woman in comedy.
I’m not complaining, at least right now I’m not complaining because I had good shows this weekend, and doing well as a magical way of convincing I should keep going. I come to this post with hope and humor, but if the shows went differently last night, and by that I mean, badly, I’d be on the phone right now to my husband bemoaning the life he seduced me into. When I met him, I was a city slinging actress in Toronto, and now, following his lead, I’m a grizzled road dog, peeing in coffee cups in my car, carrying mace to all my gigs, trying to be funny enough at every show so that after my set I can sell t-shirts to drunk people. It’s not glamorous, although I try to make it look that way on Instagram.
I see female comedians online, living on the coasts, going to marches, producing all-female shows, writing fed-up posts on Facebook and Twitter about the maltreatment of woman in the entertainment industry, and the world at large. They feel so far away from me. I like their status’, but I can’t, or I’m unwilling to commit to their level of activism because as a female comedian from Canada working in rural America, socio-political comedy doesn’t go over well for me. I need to get good reports from clubs, so bookers keep hiring me so that my calendar stays full so I’m politically asexual on stage. Anything that could be considered divisive gets cut quickly or watered down. I’m molding myself into the “fun comedian,” as opposed to the “opinionated comedian.” I wanna be the stand-up equivalent of reality tv, audiences think less when they watch me, I’m the Kim Kardashian C room comedy clubs.
This strategy works for me on the road, and by strategy, I mean my act. My comedy is political if even slightly conservative apologist leaning; pandering goes a long way for an immigrant, folks. But then I’ll find myself in a big city, and suddenly, I don’t fit in, my punchlines are too obvious, my energy too bright, my blazer too formal. My worst show this year was at all-woman, lesbian bar. I bombed in front of what I assumed would be “my target audience,” but my aim was way off, which was a hard pill to swallow. I want progressive women to enjoy me because that’s what I think I am or thought I was, but I’m a product of my environment, and I’ve been kicking it in these parochial streets for a while now.
I may not be shouting on social media, but I feel like a feminist. I’m working the road, hustling gigs, pushing for work in a male-dominated industry. When I produce shows, I always put tones of women on it, even woman I don’t like personally because I’m old enough to know that young girl comics with a chip on their shoulder need more love than anyone. I set up tours with my girlfriends, anytime I’m headlining I bring female comedians with me, and when I’m working at a club, I always recommend other women to the bookers. I’m proud to say I have helped other women get work. The hardest part is just getting your foot in the door, so if I can bring someone with me, introduce them to the right person, well, it’s the least I can do. It feels good to give someone a chance.
Being a girl road warrior, I’ve also had a positive impact on my husband. One time my husband, three other men and I were on a showcase together, we were all auditioning for the club. The guys all did well, and so did I, but at the end of the night all three men including my husband got dates from the booker, and only I went home empty handed. That was an awkward car ride. I did just as well if not better than some of the guys on the showcase, yet when I followed up with the guy in a polite email a few days later, he said he needed time to “Find the right fit for me.” But my husband saw this. He knew it was unfair. He said it didn’t make sense that I didn’t get work like all the men did, and I appreciated being seen, knowing I wasn't crazy, or that I was crazy for a reason. There was no reason I could find that I didn’t get work like the guys did, other than, the booker just didn’t trust me, or worse, more personally, he didn’t think I was funny, even though the audience did, and isn’t that what matters? Isn’t all the matters is making people laugh?
|Hannah Hogan doing stand up|
I’ve never had a man tell me woman aren’t funny, I mean, I see it on the internet every day, but no man has trolled me to my face. But woman say it to me after shows all the time. It’s pretty shocking that women think they can be sexist just because they are women, which, I don’t know, maybe they can? Perhaps that is a perk I should look into? I spent my twenties being jealous of so many funny women in Toronto. Honestly, I wish it were true that women aren’t funny. I’d be famous by now if I had less competition. But at least once a month a blue-collar mom or a working-class woman living in the middle of the country tells me I surprised her because they usually don’t like female comedians. In their defense, these ladies don’t see a lot of live stand up comedy from women because their hometown club mostly hires men. I’ve had numerous club waitresses tell me I’m the first girl feature they’ve ever seen, meanwhile the clubs been open for ten years.
Getting and keeping work is a struggle on the road, no matter what gender you are. It’s not easy to get into clubs, no matter what, unless of course, you’re an internet star, then you can sell out anywhere and do terrible comedy further tarnishing the public’s view of the art. In two years working the road in America, only once have I opened for another woman. It’s not that there aren’t female headliners, it’s that a lot of clubs have an unwritten rule of not having an “all female show.” They have no problem having three white dudes in a row, of course, that’s just standard comedy, but a female feature and female headliner, to most clubs, even clubs owned by a woman, is still taboo. So I get paired up with guys, and honestly, most of the guys I work with are cool, very few are creepy, but I pride myself for carrying myself like a disgruntled, unfriendly misanthrope, you know, just to establish a professional working relationship.
Maybe that’s why I don’t get asked on the road with more guy headliners? My personality is just not the right fit. I think I’m funny enough, but it’s easy to doubt your talent when you’re scrapping for work every month. I’ve been asked to open for a guy this year, and it’s been awesome, I’m grateful, oh please don’t think I’m unappreciative. But I’m also ambitious. I’d like to open for more. How come I don’t work more? Am I not funny enough? Not chill enough? Clean enough? I can work clean! Didn’t you know? I work clean just so I CAN work! To quote the 1990’s British Pop Band, All Saints, All these answers to questions, I’ve yet to find.
Recently, I was feeling good about my act and happy about how full my calendar is, which is why I was so surprised by my imperious reaction to something my husband brought up to me the other day. Very casually, he told me he was going to ask a girl from Atlanta to open for him on the road. I don’t know her, but I’ve heard about her, I’ve seen her online, and she’s younger than me, cuter than me, and is evidently on my man’s radar. Without missing a beat, I barked, “There is no way you are bringing her on the road with you.”
“I thought you were a feminist?” He replied.
“I am, but I’m not an idiot.”
It’s hard enough that I’m in a long distance relationship, I don't need to add to the list of worry a potential traveling mistress. Imagine that. My husband is on the road, spending his spare time with some hot young cherub telling him how funny and talented he is, oh I can see that. They’re hanging out in the green room, sharing intimate details about their lives, his smooth mentorship, her grateful submission to his advice, and then soon their late night writing workshops turn into clandestine trysts. They only need one hotel room, the do not disturb sign is up as my phone calls go to straight to voicemail. Cut to a year later, I’m filing divorce papers, moving back to Canada, because I foolishly signed off on him canoodling with another woman for six months. No thanks. I’m not an idiot.
“I want to give her a chance,” He tried again.
“If she’s good she’ll get another chance.”
I shut it down. The purest joy of being a wife is the authority to overrule. My husband never asked her to open for him, so he continues to work with his buddies, in all white male lineups and I’m still emailing C rooms to book me so I can drive ten hours to headline for one hundred bucks and no hotel. My Instagram looks dope though.
I’ve thought a lot about how I interceded work from the female comedian in Atlanta. If she’s good, she’ll get another chance. I feel guilty, but I stand by my decision. Being a female comedian ain't’ pretty. We have to deal with dumb audiences, sexism, creeps, and as I realized the other day, more subtle than the rest, jealous wives. Or is it protective wives?
I’m confused. But I do have the answer to one question. At least now I know why the female comedian in Atlanta didn’t get work. She didn’t get work because I stopped her. But she doesn’t know I stopped her, of course, and she may never know. She won’t realize why her calendar is light this fall or how close she was to gaining weeks of work, hours of stage time, new club connections, creative growth, building her audience, having fun and getting money. She’s probably wondering why it’s so hard to get opportunities in this business. She’s probably asking the same questions as me.