Entertainment Local

WTF? Women demonstrate why they belong on stage

By Zoe Grams

Amy Shostak. (Supplied Photo)

Amy Shostak. (Supplied Photo)

In 2007, Christopher Hitchens wrote an essay in Vanity Fair entitled Why Women Aren’t Funny. The inflammatory — and demonstrably incorrect article — ignited enormous controversy.

To this day, the piece still generates debate about whether women can truly be funny - even whether women can be funny and sexy at the same time.

Fortunately, the tides are turning.

The acceptance of women in comedy — both in the industry and in the wider public sphere — has been a long-fought battle (with casualties on one side). Despite this, the belief that women can be truly funny (and accepted in doing so) is beginning to infiltrate laugh factories across North America - from Netflix to YouTube to the stage (not to mention SNL’s brilliant Kate McKinnon on Vanity Fair’s cover this month).

In Vancouver, Blind Tiger Comedy is shepherding this evolution with two interconnected initiatives: Women Centre Stage — a workshop course dedicated to nurturing comedic talents in people who identify as female — and an evening of performance entitled WTF (Women, Trans, Femme) Night on Nov. 3, which gives both a literal and figurative platform to comedians often under represented in traditional lineups.

The evening offers any female-identifying performer to take to the stage, including those who have participated in the Blind Tiger workshops.

The event’s origins are steeped in the DIY culture of Vancouver, and how it relates to both politics and props.

“I learned about WTF nights in the cycling community as a way to create safe spaces for gender diverse people to learn bicycle mechanics. I was inspired to extend the same concept to improv [comedy],” says Amy Shostak, comedian, internationally renowned improv instructor, and co-curator of the event alongside The Sunday Service troupe member, Caitlin Howden.

“Like bicycle repair, improv stages are traditionally dominated by men,” she says. “Blind Tiger Comedy's WTF Night aims to create a safe space for women, trans and femme performers to improvise and share their perspectives.”

Of course, the nature of improv is that no-one, including the organizer, knows the content that will bubble once an individual or group takes the stage. Shostak says she has high hopes, however.

“My favourite improvisers to watch are women who find creative ways to not allow men to shelve their ideas, who claim space, and who share personal experiences in their scene work,” she says. “After all, half of any given audience is women. It resonates to see someone like yourself on stage, and there is power in that.”

And who are some of the women in Vancouver wielding that power? Shostak names co-curator and visionary Caitlin Howden as one, as well as Ember Konopaki of Little Mountain Improv and NASTY WOMEN, “an all-women, racially-diverse sketch and improv troupe, [who] are taking up space and making an impact on our community.”

But, as with all movements, responsibility can’t fall only to the minority. Shostak mentioned her respect for organizations and comedy clubs to have clear policy around gender-based harassments and encouraged individuals to boycott shows that don’t value diversity.

Dealing with such harassment on stage, in fact, is one of the topics explored in Blind Tiger’s Women Centre Stage improv class.

The irony in a conversation about humour is that issues of gender-based discrimination and violence are imperative and serious. That makes it even more refreshing that such bias can be countered with what Blind Tiger Comedy are all about: intelligent, nuanced and – above all — downright hilarious performances.

Debut WTF (Women, Trans, Femme) Night takes place on Friday, November 3 at 5:30 p.m. at Little Mountain Gallery, 195 East 26th Ave. Tickets and further info at www.blindtigercomedy.ca.