How Can You Make Stand-up Comedy Out of Sexism?

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Photo: Jonathan Kantor/Getty Images

There are times when being a grown-up woman is like walking around with a sign that says “I’m part of a marginalized group and therefore my life has political, emotional, and personal obstacles that you will never experience, assuming you’re a straight white guy.” If you’re a female comedian, as I am, most guys would prefer that you put that sign away, because it distracts from the jokes. Bringing up the dumb misogyny that’s a part of the comedy world — the all-male lineups, the sexist jokes — is really hard to do in a way that doesn’t make you seem like you're a permanently earnest college sophomore.

Which sucks for female comedians, because we hate being earnest. We want to end sexism in comedy not out of self-righteousness, but because we want the same opportunity as any dude to stand onstage and tell poop jokes. We want misogynistic jokes to end because they are hack jokes due to the very predictability of their premise. We are feminists out of a love of comedy.

Lauren Maul, a 29-year-old New York–based comedian, is my newest hero because she has achieved the seemingly impossible: She has found a way to make pointing out misogyny funny. It is a big step forward for women. So far and until recently, she performed this feat during a midnight slot at the Long Island City Mexican restaurant the Creek and the Cave; soon, she'll be bringing her show to Williamsburg (and a better time). Maul's brainchild is called “Dudes Being Dudes Being Dudes”: It's a show in which women and gay men dress up as the macho, heterosexual, self-confident comedians you can find at any open mike around the world, and perform sets about hating cunnilingus, striking out with women, and being important executives in their spare time.

It’s GREAT.

“Some comedians have been like, This has been like therapy for me,” Maul told me before the most recent show. She hadn’t put on her wig and mustache yet, the transformation needed to turn her into Scott Talentt, one of the hosts of D.B.D.B.D., who likes making jokes about semen that end with “GET OVER IT.” In costume, she looks alarmingly like Dov Charney.

But the show’s goal is not for women to go onstage in male drag and make didactic statements about sexism — though Maul had to turn down a few women who wanted to do exactly that. The show’s goal is comedy, and though the satire is pointed, it’s not overbearing. These non-dudes have surreal and raunchy takes on being a man, the kind of jokes that it would be harder for an actual dude to write because they require an alien perspective — and an acute awareness of the dumb male gaze. I saw Maul go on a long, absurd rant about how tiny she expects women’s nipples to be.

“I think that love and hate are two similar emotions,” said stand-up Chrissie Mayr, as alter ego “Mayr the Player.” “I know when I tell a girl I love her what I really mean is that I hate condoms.”

Every comedian was encouraged to dress up as the men they were portraying for these jokes — which they did with varying degrees of realism. “I came out in just a man's button-down, no pants,” Mayr said afterward. “But forgot to take off my heels. So when I got onstage, I said, ‘Some chick stole my pants … so I stole her shoes … and earrings.’”

The choice of venue is important. The Creek is a fairly macho comedy venue; one recent open mike I witnessed consisted entirely of Louis C.K.–acolyte men, men who shared a very specific and glorified and weirdly self-serious idea of what being a comedian is like (a rock star, a hustler, a raconteur). When Maul pitched her show to the bookers at the Creek, she did so as a joke.

“I thought that they would reject it,” Maul said. And, in fact, they specifically asked her if she was making fun of all men with this show. “Not at all,” she remembers telling them. “We’re just poking fun at the norm in comedy.”

With that reassurance, the bookers agreed. But after months of performing at the Creek at midnight, Maul is moving to a new venue, Williamsburg bar Over the Eight, and an earlier slot — giving her, she hopes, an audience larger than whoever is left at the bar after too many margaritas and not enough nachos. In the process, she recruited similarly minded comedian Katie Compa to join her and Calvin Cato (a gay man who masquerades as a heterosexual dude for the show) as co-hosts. It’s a venue full of comedy bros — which is perfect for Maul.

After all, this is a comedy show with a real message, however sneakily it’s presented. “I feel like the confines of gender are suffocating and we should laugh to free them,” Maul said. “But, eh, that’s not funny.”