Friday, October 30, 2020

Female comics change status quo

It was 1938 at the San Francisco Purple Onion nightclub. Phyllis Diller, 38, made her debut as a stand-up comedienne.

According to the Washington Post, she was the first female to take the stage, “blazing a trail for female stand-up comedians.”

Since then, America has seen women including Lucille Ball, Carol Burnett and Gilda Radner take the stage to continue the streak.

Today, the nation has seen more and more women emerge, telling jokes that are as crude as their male counterparts. Comediennes such as Tina Fey, Amy Poehler and Kristen Wiig have set the bar for Amy Schumer to step into the spotlight.

On Monday, Sept. 21, the Plattsburgh State Activities Coordination Board’s Entertainment Committee is hosting comedienne Tracey Ashley.

From Diller’s entrance to the comedy world, she was defying gender roles of the time. Now, comediennes are relevant and rowdy to take on the industry.

“I think women are becoming more relevant across the board in all areas,” PSUC professor and chair of the theater department Kim Hartshorn said. “They are not confined to their traditional roles as they had been for millennia.”

Comedy, he said, is a part of entertainment as a whole. He said Aristotle believed the main purpose of entertainment was to provide a release of emotional stress by feeling those emotions vicariously through the piece of entertainment, whether it be novels, plays, films, etc.

“You experience the emotions without the negative aspects,” Hartshorn said. “You feel the same way (as the characters), and you relieve yourself from those emotions, and you feel better afterward.”

Hartshorn said the emotion through comedy is anger because laughing at someone could be taken as “excessively mean,” but on stage, the audience laughs during the performance because it isn’t seen in a hurtful manner, in turn, releasing the anger.

“Stand-up would be old-style comedy — Three Stooges comedy,” he said. “Phyllis Diller made fun of herself and her husband.”

He said women can now take the stage as stand-up comediennes with a broader imagination, with more control over the audience they are targeting, compared to 30 or 40 years ago.

Senior Chris Delano said he couldn’t think of many female comediennes off the top of his head. He said bringing in more females to the industry will make it more diverse.

“We’ve heard all the jokes. Everything is the same,” Delano said. “I think a new voice is something good.”

Comediennes similar to Amy Schumer push the boundary more so as society continues to change.

Senior Leigha Merwin said years ago a man could joke, and a woman could make the same joke, but it wouldn’t come across the same way. Now, they have similar reactions from the crowd.

“Personally, I’m a big fan of Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wigg and Amy Schumer,” Merwin said.

These comediennes set a path for success of rising female stars in the industry, according to the Washington post.
Junior Cassandra Day said it has taken too long for females to emerge.

“It’s definitely empowering,” she said. “(Amy) was doing comedy shows long before, like early 2000s, presenting the same material just as hilarious as it is now, but she wasn’t getting a lot of media.”

Day said she likes Schumer’s style and the way she talks to the audience.

“Some people find her vulgar and unlady-like,” Day said, “but I think she is breaking rules that women can’t be crude and hilarious like that.”
The committee has been watching her stand-up online, and they said she has a unique way of delivering her jokes.

Tracy Ashley will be at PSUC Sept. 21 at 8 p.m. in the Angell College Center Ballrooms.

Email Lisa Scivolette at

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