Are You a Woman in Comedy Who’s Been Harassed? This Org Wants to Help

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There is an answer.
There is an answer.Photo: Jeremy Liebman

After several female comedians came forward recently with stories of sexual assault and abuse within their close-knit but extremely male-dominated communities, it was clear that the time had come for a reevaluation of the industry as it stood. On Wednesday, Women in Comedy, a nonprofit organization dedicated to empowering, connecting, and advocating for women in the comedy industry, published a public Google Form titled “Gross Things That Happened To Me As A Woman In Comedy.”

On the Google Form, which is strictly anonymous, women are asked to write in about their experiences with “sexism, assault, or harassment” in the comedy world. It could have happened anywhere from a class to a workshop to a comedy festival, and people who write in are asked to identify how they are acquainted with their perpetrators. Any number of details can be contributed to the form. The only clockable information that Women in Comedy requires is a city and age so that the information can one day be collected and mapped, giving weight to the widespread impact of the assault problems across the country (and the world).

Women in Comedy has already begun sharing some of the anonymous stories on its website, and will continue to do so into the future. On the phone today, executive director of the organization Victoria Elena Nones told me about the impetus for starting the form. “I had had some experiences personally,” she explained. “I’m a comedian myself. I’ve had many students, I’ve had friends, I’ve had so many stories over the past four years here in Chicago. I got tired of hearing these stories from women who felt that they could only share these stories internally.”

That exhaustion inspired Nones to introduce the idea of the Google Form. Previously women in the industry had come together over assault accusations in private Facebook groups, one of the incentives that drove Beth Stelling to come forward with her abuse. “[I got tired of women feeling like] they have to keep quiet or it may ruin their reputation or it may ruin their career. The inspiration for the form was so that they could feel safe, that they could share the story anonymously, they could see that they’re not alone. My hope with the form is to give women the space to feel confident to report the things that are happening to them.” Since it launched two days ago, Nones has received almost 200 submissions.

But the stories aren’t just for others to read and commiserate over. They are intended to raise awareness for forthcoming comedy events in Chicago, Grand Rapids, Boston, and Miami called Standing Up for Women in Comedy. During Valentine’s Week, four nights of stand-up comedy and storytelling will “address sexism and harassment toward women in the comedy community.” Women on Comedy’s Google Form is another push in the direction of awareness like these events.

“The organization as a whole is trying to create an online community and a real-life community,” Nones told me. “We’re focusing on the connection component. Let’s come together. We’re identifying what women in our community need and acting from that place. One thing we know we need is a safe space for ourselves. Demand that these places become safe spaces.” She paused. “Don’t give money to places that refuse to become safe spaces.”