While comedy is primarily a male-dominated field, the margins are becoming narrow as more women find their funny inner voices.
Laughter. It comes in many forms. A slight tilt of the lips. An unexpected chuckle. A belly laugh that has you doubling over in tears, your stomach muscles contracting in pain as you try not to pee your pants. No matter how it shows up, laughter can be fuel for the weary soul. Even science confirms laughter does a body good.
It also does a comedian good. Whether cracking jokes in the family or getting paid for a laugh, there’s something that draws the comedian to the stage even if the stage doesn’t make it past the living room. Comedians seem to be a rare breed, but what makes a person, especially a woman, want to expose her life in a comic bit, and hold her breath hoping the laughter outweighs the heckling?
“Nobody chooses comedy for logical reasons,” says Roy Johnson, general manager at the Loony Bin Comedy Club and a veteran comedian who started memorizing Steve Martin albums at age 8. “You do it, and then you know you just have to keep doing it.”
Though he didn’t start comedy full time until his late 20s, Johnson had a 10-year run as a full-time comic and says there’s not one type of person who ends up being a comedian. Comics come in all ages, shapes, sizes, and genders.
Johnson admits he used to have a problem with female comics. “I think some women over the years leaned on their gender instead of trying to be funny,” says Johnson. Now he sees more women using comedy to express why they are different from other females. “I’ve seen many try to be a female doing a male perspective, but my favorites are the ones who don’t lean on stereotypes. They’re telling women it’s OK to be you.”
Even though there have been female comics from Fanny Brice (1891-1951) the original Funny Girl and Moms Mabley (1894-1975,), the first female stand-up comic and African-American, to Lucille Ball, Whoopi Goldberg, Joan Rivers, Ellen DeGeneres, and Amy Schumer, Johnson says female comedians have never really had one, single breakthrough in the comedy world. “I think it’s been more of a momentum,” says Johnson, who confesses the comedy world has been built for men by men.
Thursdays are Ladies Nights at the Loony Bin. Not only do women get in free, but one local female comic does a set with the professional touring comedians. “Supporting and spotlighting women at the comedy club is the little bit I can do to change that,” Johnson says.
One of the female comics at the Loony Bin, Zehava Glazier, was influenced by her mom who always made others laugh. “It’s a big part of Jewish culture,” says Glazier who recognizes there are many Jews in the comedy world. “There are so many dark things in our culture because of people trying to get rid of us. I think it’s our way of getting through things by constantly making jokes.”
Second youngest in a big family, Glazier remembers always being the clown. “Even in my stringent religious world, I’d have friends around me and I’d tell stories to make them laugh,” says Glazier. “I never saw it as being a stand-up comic because they were my friends.”
Nicole Miller realized at an early age she’d never be the smartest or the best-looking person in the room, but she had no problem being the funniest. “I was always making people laugh, so I figured I should cultivate that.”
In 2007 Miller started Crayons Improv with a friend. “We did shows with no scripts, using audience suggestions and participation and the outcome was hilarious,” says Miller, who always got a massive rush from making the audience laugh as an actor in community theater. “Musical theater requires months of rehearsals with sometimes only one weekend of shows,” says Miller. “Improv worked with my schedule, and I still got plenty of time onstage, which is what I love.”
It wasn’t until a health scare two years ago when the doctors did an MRI looking for a brain tumor that Miller decided to give stand-up a try.
“I thought my life was ending,” says Miller. “It weighed heavily that I always wanted to do stand-up, but just never put pen to paper.”
Thankfully, Miller didn’t have a brain tumor but was diagnosed with epilepsy. “I spent six months not able to drive, finding the correct medications, and listening to stand-up,” says Miller. “I started to write my own stuff, but most of that won’t ever be heard because it wasn’t very good.”
When Miller was able to drive, she attended open mic sessions to listen and learn. Then in March 2018, she did her first set. “In May 2018 I entered my first contest,” she says. “In July 2018 I performed at the Lady Laughs Comedy Festival, and last Labor Day at the Blue Whale Comedy Festival.”
In May 2019, Miller opened for Saturday Night Live writer and Tulsa native Steven Castillo. “I guess you can say, I was a closeted comedian,” says Miller. “But when I came out, I came out in a big way.”
Angela Teague didn’t start doing stand-up until six months ago, even though she came from an outgoing family of storytellers.
“When I lost weight, went through a divorce, and my kids grew up, it was the first time I was faced with ‘What do you want to do?’,” says Teague who became a mom at 17. To build up confidence, she decided to do 25 things she’d never done before.
Teague had one rule — it had to be fun. Teague tried new foods, went to concerts alone, and visited places she’d never been. Soon 25 things became 50, and 50 became 75, and in 2018 she ended up with 115 things. She never thought she wanted to be a comedian until Johnson invited her to take the comedy class at the Loony Bin.
Johnson loves teaching classes at the club and seeing both adults and kids come out of their shells especially at the graduation show. “It’s an honor to be part of the thrill they get from that first laugh and the big show,” says Johnson. “I’ve had parents tell me it changed their child’s life, and what could beat that?”
Teague admits she only did stand-up because there was a show at the end so she could perform. It was so much fun Teague continues to hone her act onstage. “The minute it stops being fun is when I’ll walk away,” she says.
Glazier doesn’t do stand-up for the thrill; in fact, comedy is not even her passion. If she had a choice, she’d be a dancer, but growing up there was no music, and dancing was not an option. “There was no hip-hop. We were the whiter Jews,” she says with a laugh. “I left Orthodox Judaism late and only tried to be part of society in my 20s.” By then, she was too old to pursue dance and recalls feeling lost during that time. When she saw an open mic night, it was one thing she thought she could do.
Even though Glazier jokes about her dogs and other random things in life like dating and grocery shopping, she’s been learning how to make fun of herself onstage and admits her style of comedy is darker and rawer than some.
“I’m self-deprecating, but I’m trying to make dark things funny because later when you go home and you’re sad and you’re sitting with your dog, I want you to think of my joke and laugh because that’s what other comedians have done for me,” says Glazier. “Joking about our insecurities has been a great tool to learn because it teaches you to laugh at yourself, and it gives people less power over you.”
Glazier found herself returning to the stage because it was the only place she felt she belonged. “Many comedians don’t fit into society,” says Glazier. “Telling jokes onstage is how we can connect to an audience. You laugh at what I say because you relate to it. It’s a safe way to create intimacy.”
While Glazier digs into the gritty side of life, Teague calls her style observational comedy. She jokes about things like tornadoes and road construction, but also tells jokes about things she’s gone through. “Someone who’s been married for 40 years is probably not going to understand my jokes about my trials and tribulations of being divorced at 43 and not knowing social media,” says Teague. “But that’s OK; the ones that get it, get it.”
Miller’s material also comes from her life, and she hones her craft by performing and experimenting with sketches on YouTube. “I talk about being a mom, surviving cancer, being epileptic, and my love of true crime.” Miller has been lucky enough to be paid for stand-up and improv. “It doesn’t pay all my bills yet, but it has paid some,” says Miller. “When a performer performs for an audience, someone always pays. Either the client or me and my family. Every time I get paid by a client, I feel lucky.”
Miller has encountered people who expect her improv group to perform for free. “They think, ‘You’re having so much fun, why should we pay?’ The fact is everybody has expenses like gas and babysitters. I’m surprised when people are surprised we charge for a legitimate service.”
Glazier would love to be paid to do stand-up someday, and she’s working toward that goal by writing new jokes and trying them out on open mic audiences. “The Holocaust and Jew jokes don’t go over well in Middle America,” Glazier says. “I try to steer clear of them, and then people tell me, ‘You need to talk about it more.’ It’s all confusing, but when a joke works, it goes into the joke bank.”
By attending open mics and trying out new jokes, Glazier is better able to steer and adjust her routine according to the audience’s reactions. “Bombing for me is silence. When they don’t laugh, I feel very vulnerable,” says Glazier. “Now I have enough jokes under my belt that I can fall back on when the audience doesn’t respond.”
Even though Teague would like to get paid, she’s not doing stand-up for money. “The payment is in the faces,” says Teague. “I would do this free for the rest of my life as long as it’s fun.”
Through the comedy classes she learned there was a difference between being the life of the party and doing comedy. “It’s all in the word choices,” says Teague. “Doing comedy was very different from what I expected. You have to make things shorter and not be so descriptive as I would have at a party. You have to get to the punchline fast because you don’t want to lose your listener.”
Comedians feed off the audience’s energy. “You have to be able to read an audience,” says Teague. “Your worst fear is getting out there and hearing crickets, but if I tell these jokes and I know I’ve gotten laughs, and one night I don’t get any laughs, I know it’s them and not me.”
Teague remembers an audience of very young people. “I told myself ‘these ain’t my people,’ told my jokes and hoped someone would get it,” says Teague. “I’ve had audiences that were in a great mood and ready to laugh and we had a great time, and then there were those who walked in the door with the attitude, ‘OK, make me laugh. Show me what you got.” Teague says if you write jokes that are funny enough to make you laugh, then that’s all that matters. “It’s all about attitude.”
All the ladies agree roast battles are their least favorite part about comedy. “I was good at it, but I didn’t enjoy it,” says Glazier. “I want to make fun of myself and life, not other people.”
“I’ve tried them, and they’re not for me,” says Miller. “But the audience seems to like them and have fun with them.”
Teague remembers when she ended up in a roast battle by accident. She was attending an event at a new brewery. “They needed one more person to battle this one guy,” says Teague, who was two and a half glasses of wine in when one of the judges who knew she did comedy asked her to participate. “It was the scariest thing I ever did, and I’ll never do it again. You worry about someone heckling you about something you’re already sensitive about and for me, it’s when men are objectifying me,” says Teague, who once weighed 300 pounds.
When Teague won the roast battle, the adrenaline high she felt couldn’t be compared to anything else, but Teague was quick to say she’ll never do one again. “It was so scary, but when you push yourself and you do something you’re afraid of, whether you continue it or not, that’s a huge self-esteem builder.”
Teague has learned to never say never. “I know it’s cliché, but there are things I said I’d never try, and then I’ve done it and said, ‘Why didn’t I try that before?’ So now I don’t turn things down,” says Teague. “As long as I make people laugh and I enjoy what I’m doing, then I’m going to continue doing it.”
While comedy is still a male-dominated field, the margins are becoming narrow as more women find their funny inner voices.
“The local female spotlight at the Loony Bin has not only been inspiring to watch, but also an honor to perform,” says Teague. “You will often see other female comics in the audience rooting for their fellow funny females, and that’s a lovely thing to see.”
Johnson says his classes are mostly women. The soccer moms and women going through divorce are his favorite students. “They challenge themselves to be more than what they’ve been told their whole life to be,” says Johnson. “The kid classes are also great because anytime you help someone out of their box into a world of expression, that’s good stuff right there.”
Loony Bin Comedy Club
6808 S. Memorial Drive | Tulsa
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