Sarah Garner 4m 902 #comedienne
The views of this article are the perspective of the author and may not be reflective of Confessions of the Professions.
A Woman In Comedy
I never set out wanting to be a comedian. I didn’t pour over standup specials as a kid, I didn’t have the casts of SNL memorized. I frankly did not even think that comedy was a career (and given the tiny amount of money I’ve earned as a comedian, it’s arguable that it’s not). I have always had a pretty strong sense of myself and I knew I was entertaining, but I never truly put together that I’m funny.
In fact, I’m really only starting to call myself funny now after years of comedy. And if I could think of one way to talk about being a woman in comedy, it’s that. Women and girls are not praised for being funny in the same way that men and boys are. When I was growing up, being funny was a thinly veiled dig at someone’s idiosyncrasies. Funny meant weird. Funny didn’t mean, ‘go be a comedian.”
I never tried to be a comedian; I just stumbled upon it (honestly, it’s the worst romantic comedy plot in the world). I have always had this compulsion to try to reach people to help them feel less alone; to help people understand their pain and fear and our interconnected-ness. So, I started writing stuff to do that. First, I wrote, then I started reading stuff that I wrote to audiences and then I started performing stuff that I wrote. That’s when I realized the thing that really connected with people was the humor. The humor broke down the barriers. I started to learn how to write jokes. I took an unsuccessful journey through sketch and improv (read: I sucked) to get to standup, which is what I do today. I’ll never forget the first time I did standup. I went to the west side of Chicago and signed up to do 3 minutes at an open mic. I took 3 shots of tequila (some things never change) and got on stage. I was terrible (and drunk), as everyone who tries comedy for the first time is (do you hear me? You will be terrible when you first start, but you will get better). But I got two distinct laughs. I don’t even remember how or what I said, but I remember those laughs. And it was the best feeling in the world. Still, there’s nothing like it. I did it a few more times then, but then I stopped. It’s still hard for me to quantify why I stopped. I guess I stopped because I didn’t know how to keep going. Being a comedian is lonely and being a woman in comedy is even lonelier. More often than not, I am the only woman at an open mic or show. There just aren’t as many voices that will tell the only woman at an open mic to keep going. And after a while, I got tired of telling myself that. My whole comedy career has been characterized by stops and starts and stops and starts and starts again until I made the conscious choice that I wasn’t going to stop.
That’s the nature of being a woman in comedy. It’s hard. It’s hard for personal reasons and it’s hard because of societal reasons. Believing that I have something worthwhile stay on stage means a constant battle with the voices that tell me that I don’t have that right. For women, those voices are even louder. Once those are quieted, barriers keep presenting themselves. The commonly held idea that women will never be as funny as men, the pressure to be funny and also hot, the unspoken rule that there can’t be more than two women on a lineup, being the only woman in the room, not being judged as a comedian but as a woman first. Those barriers make the work exhausting sometimes.
So why do it? Because when I get on stage and it’s just the audience and me, it’s incredible. it’s the best feeling in the world. When I truly connect with a crowd, the energy is electric. It’s addictive. Comedians can really touch people, and honestly, being able to touch people’s hearts is all I wanted. When that one person comes up to me and tells me that they loved my set, that they really felt something because of what I said, it helps me keep going. Most of the time, that’s enough. Sometimes, it’s not. When that’s not enough, I’m lucky to be surrounded by a community of women that I did not have when I first started. I have met some of my best friends in standup; women that are smart, kind, funny, and strong. That helps, but sometimes it’s not even enough. When it’s not, I dig deep into myself and then make that conscious choice to keep going. I try to remember why I love comedy and be okay with not loving it in that moment. Because if I’m truly honest with myself—not the voices that tell me I suck, not the fear of failure, not the belief that I don’t belong—but myself, I know I do have something to say. And I’ll keep saying it.