Hysterical on FX: Press Conference with Female Stand-Up Comics

Posted on March 29, 2021 at 7:00 am

Copyright 2021 FX

Hysterical” is a new documentary about female stand-up comics premiering April 2, 2021 on FX. Director Andrea Nevins (Tiny Shoulders: Rethinking Barbie), journeys backstage and on the road with veteran comedians, rising stars and novices to discover how an intrepid group of boundary-breaking females are changing the game and exploring what it takes to become the voices of their generation and their gender, featuring Kelly Bachman, Margaret Cho, Fortune Feimster, Rachel Feinstein, Marina Franklin, Nikki Glaser, Judy Gold, Kathy Griffin, Jessica Kirson, Lisa Lampanelli, Wendy Liebman, Carmen Lynch, Bonnie McFarlane, Sherri Shepherd and Iliza Shlesinger.

I was lucky enough to attend a press conference with Nevins and some of the comics featured in the film, where new talked about “cancel culture,” hecklers, turning real life into comedy, and why no one should film their acts with their phones. Some highlights (lightly edited for clarity):

Adapting — or apologizing for past jokes that are now considered inappropriate:

Judy Gold

It was way different, and I think it’s because we thought differently then. So, things that were funny then, because of the way we’ve evolved, aren’t as funny now. If you take the way we think now and apply it to some comedy from 30 years ago, you’ll say, “Oh, that’s not funny. Why are they laughing?” It was a different world. I personally never really edited myself, but my rule is that you can talk about anything, any topic no matter how horrible as long as it’s funny. You have to craft a joke about it. You can’t just spew racial epithets or stereotypes. You need to use them wisely. And, also, if you are talking about something horrible that happened and you are crafting a joke about it, it doesn’t take away the sadness and the horror. It actually acknowledges that it happened, and you are sort of finding — a joke is a buildup of tension and then a release, and oftentimes people — you know, I think it’s going to happen with COVID — people are so tense, and they want a release. They want to laugh. They want to say, “Oh, I needed that.” It doesn’t make it — it doesn’t make you a bad person. It doesn’t cheapen whatever, you know, the topic is.

Copyright FX 2021

Bonnie McFarlane

I think everybody has jokes that you feel guilty about. I have a joke where I say “tranny,” and it still gets played on Sirius, and it makes me cringe so hard. But it wasn’t, like, negative in that way,
but it’s still using a word that I would never use now. So, we learn. We grow. You are making jokes about the times that you are living in, and that’s all you can do. You can’t see into the future about what’s, you know — maybe there will be a time where we are not allowed to make fun of dogs.

Sheri Shepherd

I mean, what I find is very hard is, in the past — you know, it’s always an evolution of being a stand-up comic, and in the past, you said what you said in the past because that’s where you were then. What I find very troubling now for comics is we are not allowed to say anything. You get on that stage, and that was the thing. With comics, we were the one that told the emperor that he was not wearing any clothes, and we were the ones that were allowed to get on stage and say something. Like Judy said, as long as it was funny, go ahead and put it out there. But now, as a comic, getting on stage, what I am tired of dealing with is “Oh my gosh. That was offensive to me.” “Oh my gosh. You said this.” Look, I’m a comic. The way we view the world is in a very skewed — through a very skewed filter. That’s what makes us get on this frickin’stage every night and say what we say. So that’s what I find
troubling for us in what we do today in this world, that if you say something, you’ve got to be scared that now you are not going to get booked or that TV show is going to come on, and you are going to go, “yeah, you know, you offended three people, and now they are writing letters.”

Jessica Kirson

I don’t feel guilty for material I’ve done in the past because I know it always has come from a loving place and because, at the time, I felt like it was okay. And there’s things I don’t do now or say now because I don’t feel it’s right and it feels wrong, and I don’t do it anymore. There’s times when I’ve said stuff to audience members where I felt guilty because I felt like I was too harsh or said things that I regret, but I’ve said things at the time that I felt were appropriate. And, again, there’s things I censor myself with now because, in my gut, it feels wrong to say them.

Bringing your painful experiences to the audience

Sherri Shepherd

When you are going through something painful or difficult and you bring it up on stage, there’s a chunk of the audience that can relate to it because they’ve gone through it. My husband cheated on me and the girl got pregnant. And I talk about standing over him, and I was ready to bash his head in with a lamp, but because I got it from Target, it wasn’t heavy enough to kill him. And that’s when I realized, that’s why white people buy antique lamps, because the base will actually crush a skull.

The sheer number of women that came up to me and went, “I hurt so bad from infidelity, and the fact that you were able to talk about it and make me laugh about wanting to kill my husband and what I’m going through,” I think it’s freeing for some people to be able to laugh at it. And the more authentic you are about your life, the less people can steal your stuff because it’s authentic to you.

Carmen Lynch

New York is great too because we are all in therapy. So, it’s a very therapy-centric place. So, we just take that stuff, and we throw it on stage. And it feels good, but it’s also original material, and people can relate.

Marina Franklin

It’s also very healing. It’s a healing journey. I mean, for me, that was the first time I ever had to talk about the fact that I could possibly die . But it was moments like that that you realize that you were always meant to be a comedian too because when you have real intense moments like that and you can make people laugh with it and it makes you feel good and it makes them feel good — because you constantly go through this stage of wondering if you are actually that comedian, and moments like that, it self-validates. I don’t know if that’s a word, but that’s what it felt like. And it was amazing to have a young woman approach me and say, “Thank you for doing this because people don’t know that people going through breast cancer and treatment, that they laugh and that we need laughter. And I brought my friend to your show just so she could see it.” And, so, it becomes this community that can laugh with you.

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