Amid the ongoing comedy boom that finds the art of stand-up growing worldwide and gaining recognition in even the snootiest crannies of society, female comics as a whole remain a largely marginalized group. Even among self-anointed comedy nerds, you’ll frequently find men and women alike who still unflinchingly reduce more than half the world’s population to fit beneath one profoundly stupid umbrella statement. You know the one: “Women aren’t funny.”
While that asinine generalization gathers dust beside the claim that women can’t drive well, and the notion that it’s a lady’s duty to tend to her poor husband or boyfriend’s “football psychosis,” more talented and hilarious women than ever before are helping to bring comedy to exciting new places. The Milwaukee comedy scene is no different. Friday night, five members of the city’s vast cast of skilled comedians—who just so happen to be women—will take the stage in a feminine-fueled night of stand-up and sketch, fittingly called (and absolutely an intentional period joke) Ragtime Variety Hour. Before the inaugural performance of what’s anticipated to be a bi-monthly affair, Milwaukee Record caught up with Ragtime co-producers and all-around hilarious people Liza Marie and Lisan Wood to learn more about this new showcase, and the deep-set boundaries female comics still face today.
Milwaukee Record: Would you get into the origin of this, both the way you two met and the creation of the show?
Liza Marie: It’s really not that exciting…
Lisan Wood: It was exciting for me.
LM: Okay, it was exciting for Lisan. Lisan had introduced herself to me at a show and then started talking about wanting to put on a stand-up and sketch show. I have a background in sketch comedy. That’s what I started out in, so I said I’d love to. We took off running with it. We asked the people we had in mind for the show and everybody was totally on board.
MR: So what specifically is the idea that you immediately explored? What’s the broad based pitch?
LM: We want the focus to be on female comics in this scene. Some people find that a little uncomfortable for whatever reason, so we added a male host, which is Sammy [Arechar]. We told him, “You can do this show, but would you mind being used as sort of a prop for our sketches?” He didn’t care. Moving forward, we’re going to have a headliner for every show, and maybe involve a few dudes every now and then, just so it’s not completely biased. It wasn’t our intention. We just wanted to showcase the females.
LW: It will definitely have a female focus. It’s a variety hour, so I would love to have some local female band involved as well. Jake [Kornely] had told me about The Olives, but they were busy, but we want them for the next one. Put that in there. Hey Olives!
MR: Why is it important to highlight the female representation in the scene?
LW: I think that the Milwaukee scene as a whole is super supportive of female comedians, but I don’t think audiences really realize there’s still a stigma with female comedy. We want to try to open their eyes.
LM: I’ve had women come up to me after I’ve done stand-up and be like, “I don’t usually like female comics, but for a female comic you were really funny.”
MR: Yeah, there always seems to be the precursor to the compliment.
LM: One time when a woman said that, I said, “Really?! You’re a woman!” And she was flabbergasted that I had taken offense to that.
LW: If a girl goes up there, what they’re stereotypically known for is talking about their vaginas, but when women don’t do that, people can be pleasantly surprised.
MR: Why should there even be any rules or modifiers to what you’re allowed to talk about on stage? Isn’t the goal to say whatever you want on stage? That’s the one format where people are allowed to make 9/11 jokes or holocaust comments. God forbid you talk about your anatomy.
LW: But you have to live that double standard of “I can say anything I want and I’m a strong, funny woman, but I still need to walk the line to show I’m sensitive.”
LM: I try not to do that. I mean, we are sensitive creatures, but we can hold our own.
MR: Just in terms of the local scene itself, there’s a myriad of different voices, styles, and subject matter.
LM: When we wrote these sketches, we gave them a premise and told them to take liberties where they want to. Stacy Pawlowski ended up suggesting something for one of our sketches that made it a million times better. There are more sight gags now, and there are more jokes. That’s what we kind of wanted.
LW: The cool thing about it is we’ll come up with the premises and then will ask people we want to see in those sketches to be part of it so they can run with it. I feel like when you take the cast as a whole, it’s a really good representation of the different type of women that are in comedy. All of their styles are different, so it shows that women really can be versatile when it comes to humor.
The first Ragtime Variety Show is Friday, September 26 at The Underground Collaborative (in the basement of the Grand Avenue Mall). Allison Dunne, Stacy Pawlowski, and Frankie Fairmane will perform. Sammy Arechar hosts. Each performer (as well as Liza Marie and Lisan Wood) will perform between-set sketches. The show begins at 8 p.m. and costs $7 in advance and $10 at the door.