We spoke to stand up comic Micaela Fagan about the struggles of being a female comedian
‘There are no guarantees that male audience members aren’t imagining the mic in front of your face as their dick, but who cares as long as they’re sitting quietly and laughing occasionally’
For some reason, there is a long-living stereotype that women aren’t funny. That stereotype – unlike most – isn’t founded in any sort of truth. Just ask my best friend Micaela Fagan, an up and coming stand up comedienne. Micaela hails from Boca Raton, Florida, and is a Junior at the University of Florida.
I chatted with her about what’s it’s like being in the stand up scene and the extra hardships that come with being a woman in comedy.
How did you get into stand-up?
I got into stand up honestly because it was the form of comedy most accessible to me. I don’t have the costumes and sets for sketch comedy and improv requires a team. Stand-up is the most primitive form of entertainment. You don’t need much: something funny to say and people to listen to it. I was finally at an age where I felt like I had something funny to say. Not to mention, it is hands down the best form of validation that you’re a funny person worth listening to. And as a teenaged girl, I need constant validation.
How long have you been doing stand-up?
I started doing stand up the summer after I graduated from high school, so it’s been just about two years.
How do you go about creating a routine?
Sometimes writing jokes is like pulling teeth. UGH, I HATE IT. I tend to have a lot of faith in my initial ideas and then lose it completely as soon as I try to expand on them. Basically, the only way I’m able to make any material is to force myself to write down what I’m thinking. And I still don’t write the way a comedian is supposed to. A comedian’s notebook usually reads like a stream of consciousness. They write everything that crosses their mind and they pick out the good bits later. My filter, however, turns on as soon as I get an idea. Every word is very calculated and I have to gauge its utility before I write it down.
I’m still so new to comedy that I really don’t know what I want my “voice” to be. Comedians talk about developing a persona with a unique perspective. I’m still doing that in life, so my material has been all over the place. It’s taken me the two years to realize that I don’t talk about myself. I pull these hypothetical scenarios and add voices and characters, but I haven’t opened up and talked about my thoughts, and I really think that’s stand up at its best. So, this year is going to be different. I want to write a routine that’s uninhibited and truthful. I’m just hoping it’ll be funny.
What might you use in your own life to develop a new, more personal set? Is there anything you think is too personal?
I very openly address my lesbian relationship and the anxiety that it caused me initially. It just took me by surprise that I fell in love with a woman and I think that how scared I was in the relationship’s initial stages is really funny in retrospect. I haven’t talked much about sex just because I honestly don’t have a whole lot of stories but I don’t usually think comedians who address it cross any lines.
How much you want to reveal is personal and comedy is really a form of catharsis. It’s when you frame yourself as a victim that I think material crosses a line. I don’t just mean with sexual topics. It’s common knowledge that most comedians have their own demons. I think the best comedy comes from people who are using it to overcome them. Extracting humor out of bad situations is an art form that I’m going to spend the rest of my life trying to master. There’s a fine line between laughter and sympathetic groans, and I think the result depends on how you present yourself: as the victim or victor.
Do you think women have it harder than men in stand up comedy?
Yeah, comedy is harder for women. And, no, I don’t mean that women aren’t as good at comedy. The comedy industry is still a tough place for women, because there just aren’t that many female comedians. Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot, but the male to female comedian ratio has still got to be double digits to one. It’s interesting, though, that each male comedian is seen as an individual. People acknowledge that there are some good and some bad. But women are viewed as a collective. Every woman comic is representative of the comedic capabilities of her entire sex for the few minutes she’s on stage. Just like the men, some are good and some are cringe-worthy. For whatever reason, it’s the cringe-worthy ones that the rest of women comics have become so readily associated with.
I think it’s also hard for women because they think there are only so many subjects they can address without coming off as intimidating, emasculating, or – God forbid – smart. It’s like they don’t feel like they can talk about the world. Men and sex are common sources for material. Sometimes these are addressed expertly and it’s hilarious. But from my open mic experience, I feel like these topics are used to pander to the audience. They’re just giving them what they expect, but the audience should know that they can expect better. There are so many female comics who can give them better. But when these girls get noticed, they are the exception to the rule. They might always be.
What are some challenges you’ve faced trying to break out as a woman in the stand up scene?
I haven’t faced any direct sexism. I find that people are excited to see a woman do stand-up in a local comedy scene, especially the male comedians! Sometimes it can be hard to command the attention of a room, but I think that’s more about personality and not your sex. I find that if you’re good, people will listen. There are no guarantees that male audience members aren’t imagining the mic in front of your face as their dick, but who cares as long as they’re sitting quietly and laughing occasionally. There will be people who let the fact that you’re a woman be a distraction, but there are more people who don’t give a damn. Only worry about those people.
What’s the best reaction you’ve had? What’s the worst?
I’ve had a few instances where people come up to me after a show, shake my hand, and say something along the lines of, “You are so funny.” I freak the freak out whenever this happens. There is truly no feeling like it. I’ve heard cocaine is comparable, though.
One time I forgot my whole set. I had fifteen minutes to perform and I was up there for three. I was at a kind of skeevy bar and these people did not care for my shenanigans. I felt like I was performing to a wall. I went blank and called the host back up. Then I burst into tears and ran off stage. I pray that I ran off before the tears, but I think the waterworks came first in the equation, unfortunately.
Apparently the comedian after me spent a majority of his set making fun of me. I hope you got a lot of laughs from the wall at my expense, you pathetic jerk. I was sad for a few days, but I got back up on stage again shortly after. That was a classic “bomb.” I bombed hard and it had to happen. It was a right of passage. Comedy hazed me. But, it’s an honor to be part of the brotherhood, so to speak. Although I’m more proud to be part of comedy’s sisterhood.