In May 2016, I saw Louis C.K. perform live for the second time in my life. But this article is not about Louis C.K. No, this article is about the comic who opened for him: Michelle Wolf.
You may know Wolf if you are a die-hard fan of “The Daily Show,” where she works as a writer and often appears on screen as a contributor. You may also know her if you watch “Late Night with Seth Meyers”, as she has appeared on that show multiple times to perform stand-up and do character work. She is also a regular at the Comedy Cellar, a New York City comedy club known for its historically “boys’ club” environment.
Wolf’s stand-up is, simply put, brilliant. In a 20-minute set opening for C.K., Wolf expertly wove together relatable observations, personal stories and political satire. Her energy onstage is infectious, both when her jokes are carefree and fun and when they are rooted in a more serious issue. Of course, when I arrived at the Paramount Theater in Asbury Park, New Jersey on the night of her opening performance, I was not there to see her. I did not even know she would be opening. But she really blew me — and the rest of the crowd — away.
Obviously, there is an elephant in the room here. I saw Wolf perform only because my dad had gotten us tickets to see Louis C.K. This past week, The New York Times reported that five women accused Louis C.K. of masturbating in front of them or over the phone without explicitly receiving their consent. A day later, C.K. confirmed that the stories were true. However, this is not the first time these stories had surfaced. As early as 2012, when Gawker published a blind item — an article in which the identities of those involved are not revealed — describing one of these incidents and alluding that the perpetrator was C.K., these stories pervaded the comedy world. Because of C.K.’s influence in this world, most comedy institutions, whether clubs, festivals or booking agencies, refused even to think about the credence in these stories. Of course, almost all of these institutions are run and populated by men.
There is, undoubtedly, an extremely problematic culture of toxic masculinity in the comedy world. But I am not here to write about that (or at least not any more than I already have). Do a quick Google search for “Louis C.K.” and you will find plenty of excellent writing by people of all genders about this issue. However, while writing about the problem is important, it is not going to fix the problem. The solution is that people need to be calling attention to, praising and writing about comics who do not identify as cisgender males.
I was inspired to write this piece by Cameron Esposito, another brilliant female comedian. On Monday, she tweeted, “Outlets asking me & literally every other female comics to write about a dude showing ppl his penis: WRITE ABOUT US INSTEAD. Not sensationalized lists. Articles. We’ve been here. Write about us.”
Admittedly, my plan for this week was to discuss Louis C.K. and how the comedy world is going to reckon with the downfall of another one of its “greats.” But that is not important, I’ve realized. What’s important now, and what should have always been important, is amplifying the voices of those who have been shut down, those who have been unable to get the air-time they deserve because of this toxic male culture in comedy.
So, with that in mind, I’d like to share with you some female comedians (and brief descriptions of them) that I admire and am inspired by. Each comedian deserves a full article written about them, and I truly wish I had the time to commit to that. Perhaps in the future, I will.
But for now, please check out:
• Lauren Lapkus, a brilliant improviser and actress, who performs at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater in Los Angeles, has a podcast called “With Special Guest Lauren Lapkus” and has been seen in “Orange is the New Black,” among other shows.
• Rhea Butcher, a stand-up comedian based in Los Angeles who also hosts a podcast with Esposito called “Put Your Hands Together.”
• Phoebe Robinson, a stand-up based in New York City, who hosts a podcast with Jessica Williams (another amazing stand-up and actress) called “2 Dope Queens.”
• Alexandra Dickson, an improviser in New York City, who performs at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater with the house team, “The Stepfathers.”
• Anna Drezen, a writer for “Saturday Night Live,” who also performs stand-up and sketch around New York City and is an editor for the satirical women’s magazine Reductress.
• Jo Firestone, a writer for “The Tonight Show” and “The Chris Gethard Show,” whose 30-minute special aired on Comedy Central this past year and can be accessed on its website.
This is, of course, not an exhaustive list. There are so many brilliant female comedians that have not gotten the recognition that they deserve. It is time for a change in this toxic culture, and that change is not going to occur just by writing about how the toxicity and prejudice exist. We cannot just talk about the fact that we have not given these comedians proper recognition. We must actually give them this deserved recognition.