AuthorHiggins, Maeve
PositionMAEVE IN AMERICA - Women comedians - Essay

On stage at a comedy festival in 2016, taping a live podcast in front of almost 2,000 people, I got a familiar feeling. It's a funny feeling--unfortunately not comedy funny, more like "uh-oh" funny.

The feeling, boiled down, is this: "I wish they would just forget I am a woman." The host and the all-male panel, four men in all, were completely unable to do so. Innuendo and a jovial sort of sexism flowed into the conversation like poison, and I felt myself shutting down, unable to do my job, which was, of course, to be funny.

I had, at that point, been doing comedy for ten year's and, afterward, I kicked myself: Why couldn't I rescue the situation? The audience picked up on it, too. On social media after the taping, some pointed out the sexism, others questioned my right to be there at all.

The experience was not new to me, as a woman in comedy, but the scale of this particular humiliation knocked me a bit. Ultimately, I learned from it; today, I'm more vigilant about which panel shows I appear on. I'm quicker on the defense, and careful to nip any grotesquerie in the bud as soon as I sense it.

Being a woman in an industry dominated by men has real and tangible drawbacks. As a newer comic, I was told by a male comic that he'd like to book me as his support act, but he was concerned that people might think there was something going on between us. I made a critically acclaimed TV show in Ireland in 2010 that was not renewed after one season; the broadcaster deemed it "too niche."

Looking back, I see how I figured out workarounds, small ways to carve out air pockets so I didn't drown. In 2006, I did the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, a month-long, notoriously tough rite of passage for stand-ups, and I went hyper-feminine. I dressed in 1950s-style party dresses and my sister sat beside me onstage and made cupcakes for the audience. The show was a hit: My non-threatening persona and quirky, self-deprecating material was no challenge to the status quo.

As the year's passed and I got bigger gigs and prestigious touring jobs, I settled in to wearing shapeless, dark clothes onstage, hoping to vanish my womanness and become just a person, telling jokes.

I don't do much stand-up these days, but I co-host a show in Brooklyn called "Butterboy" with two other comics, Jo Firestone and Aparna Nancherla. In their "Best Comedy of 2018" roundup, The New York Times named me "a...

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