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August 29, 2011

No Offense, White Boys: Diversity in Comedy and the Rapeprov Happening
by WomenInComedy - 5

Part One of a Three-Part Response to the Status Quo, Diversity and Misogyny in Comedy

Part II: When a Friend's Monologue Sounds Like a Confession of Sexual Violence by Jen Ducharme

Part III: Sexualized Heckling by Barbara Holm

By WICF Contributor Pam Victor

I started this piece a week or so ago, aiming to write about how important racial, cultural and gender diversity is to the whole improv community, and how vital WICF is to reaching that far-away goal, but to tell you the truth, my interest petered out around the second paragraph. “Too soapboxy,” I muttered as I closed the document. Then the “Rapeprov” story broke, lending renewed vigor to my conviction to state publicly that improvised comedy will benefit enormously, both as an art and a craft, from a greater diversity of people and perspectives on stage. So here are those first two paragraphs, and a couple more to boot. (And, oh, by the way, I totally got the “Rapeprov” moniker from Sharilyn Johnson of Mad props to her.)

Freshly released from the fabulously musty, sweltering audience of the Del Close Marathon, I ponder the highlights of the 15+ hours of improv viewing I'd clocked in. Although there was the usual brilliance of the big players from the major theaters, I have to put my vote on The Jamal as #1 in my highlights reel. The Jamal is an exclusively African-American comedy troupe that performed a loose Armando structure. They were sharp, smart and, of course, extremely funny, but that only got them onto my favorites list. What pushed The Jamal to the top of my list is the refreshing, much needed expansion of the cultural perspective in improv comedy. To be blunt, I can only take so much of the white boy humor that dominates improv. Don’t get your panties in a bunch, white boys. I laughed my ass off at wicked fast improv excellence, all-boy frenzy of UCB’s “Facebook” show at DCM. I sent Paul Scheer a “wish you were here” fan letter. I bow at the feet of both TJ and Dave. I LIKE white boys, but as with anything, in moderation.

I came away from DCM with renewed support for the Women in Comedy Festival as a vital component of the festival circuit and a guiding force in the improv world in general. Improv needs more people of color, and not just with their own troupes but represented amply in as many groups as possible. (And not just in the “the black guy, the woman, and the fat one” token way that is so prevalent.) Improv needs more women. (Duh.) Improv needs more older people (She writes self-servingly.). Improv needs more LBGT performers. (And whatever other letter of the alphabet you identify as.) Improv needs more diversity. Yeah, it’ll be different. Yeah, comedic paths might diverge. Yeah, there might not be as many fart jokes. But the whole improv world will be brought up by an expansion of perspectives. We will all become better players.

When the Rapeprov story broke about the ASSSSCAT show at this year’s DCM, I was relieved that I missed it. I would have gotten a stomachache from watching that guy dig his own fucking bastard fishhooking hole and sympathy nausea for the intrepid performers. But I am buoyed by reaction comments like Hallie Kiefer in Splitsider, who was at the show, “As for how the performers handled it...well, I wish for a million reasons that there would have been at least one woman on that stage.”

Personally, I wish for a million reasons there would have been a half-dozen women on that stage.

Maybe next year …

Badass photo of the bionic Pam Victor,
credit: Megan Brantley.
Pam Victor is the founding member of The Ha-Ha’s (formerly The Ha-Ha Sisterhood). She produces Happier Valley Comedy Shows. Pam writes mostly humorous, mostly true essays and reviews of books, movies and tea on her blog, "My Nephew is a Poodle."


  1. Thank you for the Jamal love. Diversity is needed in comedy.


  2. Amen Keisha! Great post Pam!

  3. Well said, Pam! Thanks for posting this!

  4. I am fairly new to the improv community but what I have learned quickly is that, being female, ethnic and god help you aggressive, limits the opportunities into the community. But I'm like Ann Franklin, there is good in most improvisers, and some day all improvisers will be equal, I might be dead by that time and I wouldn't care any more peace

  5. Del Close is having a hardy gap-toothed laugh in his grave. As someone who studied with Del - boring improv trump card, I know - , Del would have loved the "rape-prov" controversy. He was a snarky anarchist who believed improv was theater and theater should be provocative. He also loved to call women "cunts." I always thought Del was afraid of women. Though, as a teacher, it was about the work with him. If you showed no fear, played smart, he'd respect you whether you were male or female, black or white.

    You want to make a statement for women? Do it by being smart, present, brave. Your job as an improviser is to be part of the ensemble. Get yourself out there. "Fail again, fail better!" Your singular success onstage is the best thing you can do for your gender or race. Don't carry the weight of oppression onto stage with you. What a burden, can't be present if you're forcing an agenda, and how boring!

    As for Rape-prov (a term I know Del would enjoy), I feel for those guys. (Some now with daughters of their own.) Sounds like they had a sucky show. I'm sure they don't feel good about this. And, yes, maybe by being only men they created an atmosphere where a rapist felt comfortable speaking his mind.

    Where were the women of Asscat? When I saw the show there was Tami Sagher, Rachel Hamilton, Miriam Tolan, Amy Poehler, Rachel Dratch. All awesome improvisers and great women. I don't wish any of my female improviser friends were on that stage though, and perhaps they weren't because the group-Asscatt-mind has become so base; it's exhausting playing clean up to scatalogical humor. Something Del would not be happy about.

    What is the statute of limitation on rape?