Jewish Journal

Funny Girl

by Lesley Wolff

Posted on Aug. 15, 2002 at 8:00 pm

Is it harder for nice Jewish girls in the world of stand-up comedy? Yes.

Is it impossible? Nothing's impossible, shayna maydele, if you put your mind to it.

I'm sitting here wearing my new necklace. Bought it for myself, cause I deserve it! It's a thin gold chain with a charm dangling on my upper chest that reads "single" in '70s-style, almost psychedelic letters. It's "Sex and the City" meets B'nai B'rith luncheon. It defines me. A female. A female comic. A Jewish female comic trying to make it in Los Angeles.

Unlike most female comedians in Los Angeles, I've had the luxury of running my own comedy rooms for a while now, and perform regularly in a supportive, safe haven where women are encouraged to explore their "funny." My shows, titled "She-She Comedy," encourage women to express themselves: find humor that's universal and innovative, not necessarily self-deprecating and/or ego-deflating.

Then I go out in the real world, and it just ain't the same.

I have been the only female comedy writer on a television writing staff, so I know what it's been like to be the chick among the cocks. But I've never done it in front of a full audience, until tonight.

I head out to see one of my favorite headliner comedians (whom I will call "H" in order to protect the innocent -- me -- from getting future work). H runs an improvised rant show just for kicks at a local comedy club on Sunday nights. His guests are only high-profile celebs.

Tonight, he is co-starring with two comics whom I emulate and would never dream of sharing the stage with. I'm psyched, ready for an excellent evening of alternative comedy.

Little do I know how alternative it would actually be. Turns out the female comic doesn't show. So when H jokes "There aren't chick comics in the crowd, are there?" I can't help but call out saucily, "Right here!"

"Who the hell are you?" H retorts.

"Lesley Wolff!" I shout out with all the confidence of Dame Judi Dench.

"So?" he says.

Somehow my reputation has not preceded me.

"I did Bob's last film!" (Bob is the other comic sharing the stage, and although I only volunteered as an extra to help my friend who wrote the screenplay, I think that counts.)

He pauses. Unruffled, I run up toward the stage like a winner on "The Price Is Right," thrilled with the dreamlike opportunity before me: working out my comedy chops with two of my favorite male comics.

H isn't sure what to do and keeps me at arm's length. "Now you stay there, Missy," he says. I see the skepticism in his eyes. What is he afraid of? That I'm a woman? A sassy, outspoken Jewish woman? Was it my outfit? I didn't "look" funny? I grin at him with anticipation, like a child having to pee.

"I know her," Bob, his special guest, calls out. "Let her come up."

The lack of trust and encouragement coming from H is thicker than blood.

Now, I know what it's like to run a show, and if you don't know the talent it could get hairy, but there seems to be a distinct gender variable involved. At least that's what it feels like to me. Is it harder to give blind trust to a female comic? I think so. I myself might even hold the same prejudice.

While he keeps me at bay, H warmly invites a nebbishy Woody Allen-type up on the stage with open arms. "I like you," he says to the guy. "You remind me of me at your age."

Then he turns to me. I'm sitting there awkwardly with a smile plastered on my face. "You, I'm not sure of," he says.

I wink playfully at H to alleviate the palpable tension. My bag of tricks is pretty shallow and I think this is a good icebreaker.

"Don't wink at me!" H snaps. "I'm a married man and that makes me feel uncomfortable."

Is he kidding? The tone of his voice doesn't indicate it so. This isn't going to be easy. I try my next trick.

"You were supposed to do my 'All Jew Review!' show," I say. Maybe Judaism will be our bond.

"Like hell I was!" he replies. So he's not about to do the mitzvah of giving me support. I surrender.

The show starts, and after my first round of improvising, H's worries are alleviated. I'm good. If nothing else, I'm sure of that. I've grown up telling funny, ad-hoc stories to make it through the other not-so-funny stuff. I've mastered that.

The tension dissipates and the audience kicks back, relaxes, has a great time. I think they were on my side from the beginning.

The show is a success. I pulled my weight. Of course I did.

Yet after all is said and done, I still didn't feel like I was embraced as a female comic as much as I would have if I were a guy. The words "Prove it, funny girl," keep echoing in the back of my mind.

Then it hit me -- it really hit me -- that for the first time the only person I really had to "prove it" to was myself.

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