Who Says Feminists Aren’t Funny?

As the nation prepared to watch the final installment in the McCain-Obama debate series, Wednesday (10/15), a group of Ms. Foundation supporters gathered at Carolines on Broadway. The occasion was the 19th Annual Comedy Hour hosted by the club’s owner Caroline Hirsch.

Feminists have often been accused of not having a sense of humor (How could they survive without one?), but this relaxed event had laughs to spare. Before the eight female stand-up comics strutted their stuff, I asked several people what they had found funny in 2008. They had to think hard.

President and CEO of the Ms. Foundation, Sara K. Gould, said, “This is a year I don’t think too much is funny. It would be funny if it didn’t feel almost tragic.” She paused and added, “I think it’s times like this we need to laugh.”

Elizabeth Sackler, founder of the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art, racked her brain. “I can’t think of anything funny about this year,” she said. “Oh, Tina Fey is funny,” she reconsidered, brightening with her realization. “Tina Fey is saving my life right now.”

Gloria Steinem didn’t miss a beat when responding to my query. “It’s funny that anyone would think that that Sarah Palin, who is a young Phyllis Schlafly, would appeal to Hillary voters.”

If nothing else, there was a strong consensus that Sarah Palin had created scads of material for comedic routines. Jane Conden, one of the performers, said to me, “The election is over, and Tina Fey has won!” New York City based comic Marina Franklin weighed in, agreeing about Palin. “A lot of material,” she concurred. “The wink, anything she does – we pay attention.” However, Franklin doesn’t use Palin in her act. “She gives me an ulcer,” she informed me.

Before the funny women took the stage, Gould turned serious as she discussed the work of the Foundation, which “will make five million dollars in grants to build women’s collective power…with grantees involved in changing policy and culture.” Efforts of the organizations range from fighting ballot initiatives that would give personhood rights to fetuses (i.e. Colorado Ballot Amendment 48), to work on eradicating “abstinence only” education programs. Representatives from three of the beneficiary groups were present. They were SMART, NAPW, and FIERCE.

SMART, (Sisterhood Mobilized for AIDS Research and Treatment) founded in 1998, is the sole community-based treatment, education, service and advocacy organization run for and by HIV-positive women in New York City. NAPW (National Advocates for Pregnant Women) focuses on public education and legal advocacy in the reproductive justice arena, with the goal of ensuring that women do not lose their constitutional and personal rights during pregnancy. FIERCE, an eight year old membership-based group, supports members of the LGBT youth of color community. There is an emphasis on the homeless and low-income 13-24 year old demographic in New York City.

When Steinem took over the mike with the witticism, “My name is Gloria Steinem, and I’m the opening act for the debates,” she seamlessly segued into the observation that in this “surrealistic election year, the Republicans have taken over the word feminist — but removed all its content.”

After that insight the evening’s emcee, Suzanne Whang, took over and reminded the crowd,” When you laugh, you are in the present moment.” For the following hour, the audience enjoyed humor that related to their experiences, with no misogynistic punch lines.

On the political front, Kristen Schaal spoke of her obsession with the election, and her father who is voting for McCain. She explained, “My Dad said he didn’t have me to cancel out his vote.” Katie Goodman sang a song of farewell to the Republicans, and revealed that she could now travel without “telling cab drivers she was Canadian.” Bernadette Pauley weighed in on the financial crisis suggesting “the problem with the economy was all the fake breasts bought on credit by women on television.”

Drawing on personal material, Marla Schultz did a riff about fitting into her “skinny jeans” and her days growing up as a “Jewish girl who wanted to go to Catholic school.” Connecting with the mother posse, Jane Condon admitted, “I have two boys,” and then deadpanned, “otherwise everything’s fine.”

Performing last with an edgy monologue, Maureen Langan revealed, “I just have anger and rage.” She asked why there were “different rules for men than women” and then doubled back to the Republican ticket. “When they say anybody can be president and vice-president, they really mean it!”

Langan’s refrain of her act was probably the best advice of the evening for all the negative and obsessive thoughts that are a relentless plague. “Put it in a bubble, and blow it away,” she said.

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