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Women in Comedy Festival is Still Lighting Candles in the Dark

Women in Comedy Festival is Still Lighting Candles in the Dark

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Women in Comedy Festival

One of the easiest ways to chart the progress of Boston’s Women in Comedy Festival, which just wrapped up its tenth edition? The panels. Once a place for working and aspiring comics to gather and commiserate over the challenges of the industry, they’re now a place to get things done. To share concrete strategies on how to get their voices heard. On how to make their mark on the comedy world. Over time, the festival has grown from a space for women to share time and passion on stage, to do so on stage and screen…and do so with industry experts who want to see them grow this passion into a viable career.

“It’s an exciting time. But because it’s changed so quickly, we haven’t yet caught up on ‘how do I make my way now?’ Because everything’s changing so quickly,” festival founder Michelle Barbera shared with me ahead of WICF’s keynote presentation. DMA, Director of Walt Disney Television’s Creative Talent Development and Inclusion initiatives, was on hand to guide a crowd of eager and talented comedians and creators through the “hustle and flow” of the entertainment industry pipeline. And it’s this sort of guidance, Barbera notes, that wasn’t available to female comics and filmmakers when she set out to build the festival a decade ago.

“Ten years ago, there was still more of that thought of, ‘I’ll be a standup and I’ll get on late night, or I’ll be an improviser and go to Second City, and then get scouted for SNL,’ and it’s so different now.” That difference in possible approaches was apparent in the festival’s headliners, including the opening date of Phoebe Robinson’s “Sorry, Harriet Tubman” tour, LA’s Wild Horses, and podcasts Guys We F**ked and The Bechdel Cast. “I really love our headliners this year. It’s a lot of people who have grown and grown and gotten famous a lot on their own terms[…] a lot of people who just went out and made content on their own, and it broke through.”

While Barbera is hesitant to credit festivals like WICF with the growth and variety of women breaking through in comedy’s upper echelon, she will allow that the landscape is moving in the right direction…and that the original paths are being interrogated as a result. “I think men are expected to find their way and cut through the grass, and then women don’t really get that message,” she noted, before recalling a moment where the construct was openly challenged.

“I remember there was that interview with Rachel Bloom on Marc Maron. And he said [her show was] a guilty pleasure, and she called him on it. Why is it a guilty pleasure? It’s stuff that isn’t viewed as ‘meaningful,’ or is viewed as ‘fluffy,’ or ‘niche.’ The experience of women is universal. The experience of people of color is universal. Because universality is in the specificity.”

Despite the festival’s many popular and successful initiatives, from pitch panels and film competitions, to partnering with local venues and existing produced shows, Barbera still sees clear room for growth. While she’s proud of the enthusiastic and genuine appreciation that male comics and producers offer to the event, she is cognizant of the idea that they can’t be the only gatekeepers. “How many women are running weekly shows or multiple shows a week? Not a lot. They’re part of teams, but they’re not heading [them] up. I think about all the venues that we’re working with, and I think none of them are headed up by a woman. So that’s another thing.”

For Barbera, it matters deeply to not just include women in spaces where comedy or progress are being made, but for them to feel empowered and capable enough to create their own- after all, that’s how the festival came to be in the first place.

“I definitely think there’s a big place for inclusion riders, but I think there’s also an important place for women just running their own shoots and making their own projects, and having a ton of women on their casts and crews. And that’s how we do it here, it’s very DIY. That’s how I like to do things, that’s the kind of outlook I have: if it needs to exist, and it doesn’t exist, I make it. I’m not so much gonna try to change something existing, the infrastructure of an existing company. I’m gonna do my own thing. I just want to light candles in the dark.”

Though the candles on this year’s landmark edition were just blown out, Barbera still has plans to light new paths in the next ten years. For one, she believes the film portion of the festival has the potential to eventually become its own event, bringing in promising new filmmakers and the industry attention that could grow their talent and influence. She even has thoughts about doing the same for comedic podcasting. “As podcasting changes, I’d love to see what it becomes…it’s just like TV. What’s TV? It’s not TV, it’s content.” But whatever growth the Women in Comedy Festival undergoes in its next decade, she knows she’ll maintain gratitude and awe at the impact it’s had to date.

“It’s taken us ten years to get to where we are, and it can be really disheartening if you don’t have encouragement and support to keep going. There are so many times when I think, ‘why am I doing this? I don’t have to do this. I could stop. I could go back to doing illustration and design full-time.’ But I think that the fact that I have such a good support system with my co-producers and the community and amazing feedback from the audiences and the performers…we truly feel honored [by] everybody who comes and wants to be a part of it. We’re genuinely grateful.”

Women in Comedy Festival is Still Lighting Candles in the Dark appeared first on The Interrobang.

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