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Iliza Shlesinger Was Right (And Wrong) About Female Comics — As Written By One

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Fellow Female Stand-up Comedian Felicia Michaels Responds To Iliza Shlesinger's 'Anti-Feminist' Statement

I’m an awkwardly aged woman comic. There. I said it out loud.

In full disclosure, I made a helluva living as a young woman telling jokes about my vagina.

At the time, I was quite known by not missing any minute details when performing said p**** jokes. No ball was left unturned.

I would often close out my set with a chunk of material about how men get to brag about the large size of their manhood, but women can’t. Then I would scream at the top of my lungs about the things I could fit in my rather large vagina. "The Hunt For Red October is hiding in my p**** right now," was the closer.

FYI, for the younguns, it’s a submarine movie reference. And it used to kill. 

"I once was fired for being too dirty in Vegas when I was the opening act for the filthiest comic at the time" — Robert Schimmel.

Schimmel did not defend me.

I was pretty pissed at him, but then when I became a parent, I understood completely that he just was trying to support his family and needed the gig as much as I did.

But the fact did stand that I got dinged for basically saying the same thing that a man did. 

I used to work 35 weeks a year on the road. Then I got married, quit the biz, had kids, got divorced, and nine years later I once again started up with comedy. I had to eat the big turd and do open mics again, as comedy had rightfully moved on from me.

One day at an open mic, I saw a young woman on stage saying some of grossest jokes I had ever heard. I’m going to be honest — I didn’t find it funny. It was just filth with no point and no punchlines.

She came up to me after the show and said she recognized me and said she was a fan of mine from back in the day when she was a teenager. I’m not going to lie, my first thought was, “Christ, I think I might’ve done a disservice to women in comedy."

This brings me to this statement Iliza Shlesinger made about her fellow women comics just a few days ago:

"I could walk into The Improv, close my eyes, and I can’t tell one girl’s act apart from another. That’s not saying that 30-something white guys don’t all sound the same sometimes, but I’m banging my head against the wall because women want to be treated as equals, and we want feminism to be a thing, but it’s really difficult when every woman makes the same point about her vagina, over and over. I think I’m the only woman out there that has a joke about World War II in my set."

I want to talk about this statement without putting Iliza down because the truth is I’m happy for Iliza’s success. I’m happy for anybody’s success in comedy, because everybody struggles in comedy. Everybody.

But it pissed off a lot of women comedians

Even "Donald Trump" got into the action ... kinda.

Some also bitched about how she never watches the younger comics work or gives support. But guess what? That’s not her job.

Others made jokes about the World War II joke that she is proud of. And truth be told, I did too. I poked at the topic by saying, “Holy Moly, I am so relieved that she doesn't have a WW1 joke. Because last night I killed with, 'I just named my p**** Trench Warfare, because it's always wet, over-crowded and suffers constantly from poor hygiene.'"

Are you with me ladies!?! 

I finished reading a few more angry thoughts from the other comedians — both men and women (I admit, I was heartened by some of the men coming to female comics defense) — and then I moved on. But her statement kept eating away at me.

Yup, I’m that goddamn petty. But you know … Comedian.

The reason for that is one of my male friends in the “biz” said the very same thing to me about women comics a few years back, and it stung a bit ... because he wasn’t entirely wrong.

Of course, he wasn’t entirely right either.

When starting out, the first rule in comedy is to write about what you know about. Tah dah! Women know about vaginas.

So a lot of us have done, or still do, or started off with vagina jokes.

When I started at the Comedy Store (Christ, I hate to tell you it was in the mid-late 80’s),  I was 21 years old. The average age of the audience was somewhere in their 30s. As a 21-year-old, what could I write about that was relate-able to everybody?

Quick answer: sex.

And it worked for me. Then it worked much better for Sarah Silverman a few years later. And then even more so lately for Amy Schumer.

But after a “booker” friend pointed that out to me, I started really listening to the guys more and guess what, they actually do the same amount of d*ck jokes as we do vagina ones.

We just don’t call them out for it.

For example, a few months back I saw Joe Rogan at the Comedy Store and he started going into a Kardashian joke.

Being the smug little narcissistic judgmental f*ck that I am (a rather normal personality trait among the vast majority of comics), I thought, “Really, a f***ing Kardashian joke!?”

But guess what, at the end of his bit, I was like, “Jesus, that was the best frigging Kardashian bit I’ve ever heard. He is a stone cold mother-f***ing professional!”

Who gives a rat’s ass if we all tell a premise that everybody has beat-up on already? What matters is that you bring your own stink and twist to it.

If I’m opening for someone and we share a similar joke, out of respect to the headliner, I’ll forgo my joke, as I’m there by their good graces. But if I’m on a line-up of 12 other comics and someone before me does a similar premise, screw it! I’ll do my joke just to prove I can write a better version of it, if only to feed my own insecurities. 

A few days ago, a male comic friend of mine posted this statement: “There's only two things that will make a woman choose not to call herself a feminist. Religion and other feminists.”

I replied, “I can only speak for myself, but I didn't embrace feminism until my 30s. I think it's because when I was in my early 20s, I had good luck and opportunity and got to work mostly with men, in a male-oriented business. I honestly thought misogyny was not going to be a problem. Like it had passed me over. Also, I didn't want to believe I was a second class citizen. So denial should for sure be on your list.”

My friend then talked my point over with his girlfriend — and admitted that he hadn’t thought about it like that. 

Some people are calling out Iliza for not being a true feminist because she is throwing women comics, except for a handful, under the bus.

I don’t necessarily agree with that.

It could be that she’s struggling with growing her own voice and learning how to wield the power and opportunity handed to her.

Sure, she might want to work on her skills at opening a can of smooth.

But all of us don’t have to face the reality of being a second-class citizen fighting our way to the top in the same way.

Isn’t that what feminism is supposed to be all about?

Felicia Michaels is comedian, writer, and filmmaker whose comedy has appeared on such networks as MTV, A&E, COMEDY CENTRAL, VH1, SHOWTIME, NBC, ABC, and FOX. She was nominated twice as Funniest Female by the American Comedy Awards before clinching it. Currently, Michaels keeps herself busy touring and putting the finishing touches on a new directorial project — all while raising two young boys as a single mother.