Bobbie Oliver is a busy woman. The producer of the 3rd Annual Eagle Rock Comedy Festival, which offers five full nights of laughs starting Wednesday, is coordinating 175 comics, 19 standup shows, three open mics, one comedy video shorts show, one improv jam, one podcast, one wrap party show, and multiple workshops.
The Eagle Rock resident happily took a short break from her hectic schedule, however, to chat online about the Women in Comedy Roundtable. The free event, scheduled on Dec. 5 from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. at the American Legion, features women from all facets of the comedy industry, including “comedy royalty” Kelly Carlin (George’s daughter), Beth Lapides, producer of UnCabaret, and Festival sponsor Barbara Holliday, owner of Flappers Comedy Club.
Excerpts from Oliver’s chat:
Eagle Rock Patch: The Women in Comedy Roundtable is a new feature of the Eagle Rock Comedy Fest. What was the inspiration?
Bobbie Oliver: Every comic who hits the stage has a set of challenges to overcome in order to do stand-up. This is also true of anyone who works behind the scenes in comedy—bookers, writers, producers, managers. Women who do comedy have all the challenges men face, plus a unique set of our own.
For a while now I have been feeling like there weren’t enough women in comedy and that the male voices in comedy seem to speak louder than the female voices. This was exacerbated by a lot of “women aren’t funny” talk in the comedy community and media recently. I felt like there wasn’t really a support system in place.
So I recently started an organization called Yin Comedy, which seeks to restore a balance in the male and female energy in comedy (as in "yin yang"). I started a Yin Comedy Facebook group, a Twitter page, a forum and began trying to support women in any way I can. We started an all girl open mic the first Wednesday of every month at Dave’s Chillin-n-Grillin in Eagle Rock, started producing all girl shows called Chicks with Mics. We decided the Eagle Rock Comedy Festival would be a great place to bring women from all areas of comedy together for a roundtable discussion.
Patch: Can you talk a little about the Women in Comedy who will make up the panel?
Oliver: I am the moderator of the roundtable. I asked the audience who had RSVP’d to submit a list of questions and issues they would like to hear discussed. I also asked each woman on the panel to submit topics, and I included some of my own.
I did not pick a group of women for the panel that I thought would represent my point of view or even a unified point of view. I put together a group who represented many areas of the comedy industry and are tops in their fields.
The perspective of every woman (every person) is important, whether they agree with everything or even anything I believe to be true. Women are diverse, so everyone will speak from her own experience and perspective.
Patch: With shows such as New Girl, Two Broke Girls, Whitney, and Girls (on HBO), it seems to be something of a golden age for women in comedy—at least on T.V. Is that deceptive?
Oliver: Yes and no. It’s great that these TV shows are out there and that more movies are also being made by women and starring women (in three-dimensional characters), especially since the success of Bridesmaids. But is it a trend or are women here to stay in a big way? We have to work to make sure this is not a flash in the pan and that diversity is achieved in the types of women and points of view that are represented.
Also, I would like to see many women being given opportunities rather than (or in addition to) a few select women given many opportunities. There are going to be female projects that are weak just like some male projects are not funny. When “female comedy” is not all lumped together in one package, we will be closer to having succeeded.
I recently saw a cartoon that reminded me of the “women aren’t funny” debate. The cartoon had two panels. The first panel had a boy watching another boy trying to solve a math problem on a chalk board and failing miserably. The boy watching said, “Wow. You suck at math.” The second panel had the same scenario except the person trying to solve the math problem was a little girl. The watcher then said, “Wow. Girls suck at math.” That’s what we are trying to overcome.
Patch: You’re a 25-year veteran of stand-up. How has the climate for female comedians changed over the years?
Oliver: Comedy has changed a lot over the years for everyone. There are now a zillion comics out there and not a zillion places for them to perform. Comedy can be very cut throat, male or female.
There has always been talk around comedy that some people don’t think women are funny. But, lately, those whispers have become entire news articles in the New York Times (Eddie Brill) and New York Post (Adam Carolla) and that can be very discouraging to women in the biz, especially young women.
Comedy Central’s demographic is young men, so there has been a proliferation lately of male comedy out there, which is fine if there are female voices being represented, as well. Unfortunately, a lot of people are not really getting much exposure to funny women in comedy clubs and TV. The stats are out there about women’s opportunities in standup: Recently an article came out on Huffington Post that showed that of the 48 spots being given to comedians on late night television during a given period only two were given to women.
With the new technology that is around today—there was no Twitter or video camera phones or blogs or YouTube when I started back in the day—it’s gotten easier for comics to produce their own products, their own content. So writers and performers are now capable of getting their projects out there without having to be given permission—to not have to be green lit by an outside party- in an extremely competitive environment.
Women—and men—can now make their own podcasts and web series. They can write, produce and perform in their own sitcoms or sketch shows, anything and put it up on the web. In fact, comics have gotten world-wide recognition from these projects that may have never been seen without the Internet.
Patch: Obviously, the WIC Roundtable will have a special significance for women, but you’re encouraging men to attend as well.
Oliver: This roundtable is a great networking opportunity for women and men in the business, as well as entertaining and packed with useful information about the comedy industry. The panelists are all women because I wanted to highlight women in comedy, but everyone can benefit from the discussions. And comedy fans, as well as people considering getting into comedy, can come and get an inside track of what goes on in the biz. Lots of men have already RSVP’d for the event, and I’m very excited about that!
Women in Comedy Roundtable, Wednesday, Dec. 5, 8 p.m. to 10 p.m., American Legion, 2109 Merton Ave. Doors open at 7:30 p.m. FREE.