Call Answered: Lynn Harris: GOLD Comedy
Comedy is one of the hardest professions out there. I feel it's also one of the most empowering. To make someone laugh is one of the greatest feelings in the world. Laughter is one of the most important things we can do in life. It makes us smile. It makes us think. It makes the time pass. If you can't find the funny in life, perhaps you should look harder for it.
One of the things I immediately loved about Lynn Harris' GOLD Comedy was their mission statement: GOLD Comedy is here to give you the tools to find your funny and the places to share it with the world. It truly resonated with me and I wanted to do what I could for a company that is out there trying to change the face of comedy to a more inclusive experience.
GOLD Comedy LIVE! is a new monthly show featuring comedy's current best and brightest, the shining stars of tomorrow—and the funniest teens in town. May's debut show was STANDING ROOM ONLY!
The show is back on June 26 at 7:30pm at The Williamsburg Hotel in Brooklyn (96 Wythe Avenue).
Hosted by Kerry Coddett (Problem Areas with Wyatt Cenac, HBO), the night will feature sets from Negin Farsad (TED, Comedy Central, The Muslims Are Coming!), Jordan Carlos (Colbert Report, Larry Wilmore), Ruby Karp (teen host of We Hope YOU Have Fun at UCB and author of Earth Hates Me), Leah Bonemma (VH1), Carolyn Castiglia (Comedy Central, NBC, Lifetime) and her daughter, Adriana (Daughter Knows Best podcast), and Joanna Briley (Caroline's, Lifetime). Music by DJ swune. Click here for tickets!
1. Who or what inspired you to become a comedian? The comics I watched on TV growing up: Carol Burnett, Ruth Buzzi, Lucille Ball, Miss Piggy.
2. This June is the next installment of your monthly comedy show. What did you learn from the debut show in May that will inform June's run? We learned that when you have a great show, you need to build in breaks for people to buy drinks, because it was so good that no one wanted to leave for the bar, EVEN FOR THE WILLIAMSBURG HOTEL’S EXCELLENT ARTISANAL COCKTAILS.
3. When did you decide to start this kind of show? We believe that comedy is power. So we want to change the face of comedy. Because when you change the face of comedy, you change the face of power.
So...I’d wanted to launch our own show for a while because even at this very early stage of the company, I wanted a place where we could walk our talk, on stage. In terms of customers, writers, instructors, and just who you see when you see us, GOLD puts women and girls (and other people outside the comedy norm) first, because comedy does not. But our offerings are not “for” women in a way that necessarily excludes others, and we don’t call what we do “women’s comedy,” because that perpetuates the problem: the idea women do “women’s comedy” and comedy-comedy is for men. (Same reason I loathe and reject the word “comedienne”).
So I wanted to do a show that, like the rest of our content, prioritizes girls and women and LGBTQ people and people of color—and just calls the comedy that they they do COMEDY.
But since we (I and a team of part-time freelancers) are still bootstrapping this whole thing, we had no room on our to-do list. But then the Williamsburg Hotel saw an article about GOLD in Crain’s NY Business and invited us to create a co-branded show in their Long Bar—which is not actually a bar, so teens can attend and perform—so, here we are. Thanks, universe!
4. Each lineup includes at least one experienced teenage/young comedian, along with established perfomers. Who are some comedians you want to get for this show? Yes, we make a point to showcase seasoned performers who are under 18/21 and therefore have to work extra hard to find stage time. We’ve had Avery Lender, who is a T.A. for GOLD and just finishing her junior year in high school—and she’s been doing standup for five years already! In July we have Maeve Press, who was the youngest person ever to perform at the Women in Comedy Festival. And in June, we have Carolyn Castiglia performing with her 12-year-old daughter, Adriana, with whom she does the podcast Daughter Knows Best. Future shows will include young (early 20s) comics who made name for themselves in college and kept it up New York, like Hanna Dickerson.
And then we get all their role models on stage! We had big-deal comics like Jo Firestone, Ophira EIsenberg, Kerry Coddett, Murray Hill, and Maysoon Zayid in May; in June we’ll have Negin Farsad and Jordan Carlos, and don’t miss Aparna Nancherla in August! I also want to book other comics we have profiled on our website, such as Corinne Fisher, Subhah Agarwal, Naomi Ekperigin, and El Sanchez (call me when you come through New York)!
ALSO CAMERON ESPOSITO and RACHEL BLOOM YOU CAN LITERALLY JUST COME UP AND HUM “OLD MACDONALD” ANYTIME YOU ARE IN TOWN!
5. What have the girls/woman learned from you so far? When people ask me “How do you teach girls and women comedy?” I say “We teach them comedy.” So our workshops and online class teach the mechanics of joke writing and the process (at least starting it) of discovering your authentic comedy persona—and then putting it all together into jokes that only you could write.
The most important thing we try to impart—even to get people to try comedy in the first place—is that what makes you different is what makes you funny. So the thing you think is weird about you or even “wrong” with you? That’s your funny. You don’t have to fix it. In fact, you get to double down on it. So comedy doesn’t require you to be your “best self” (whatever that means). It requires you to be yourself. That’s gold right there.
6. What have the girls and women you've been teaching teach you about comedy that you didn't know? In our workshops, I thought we were going to have to encourage the girls to take what is (in the best way) weird about them and really GO THERE. We didn’t. They did.
They stepped right up and took ON being nerdy, the teacher’s pet, “too tall,” all that. They were even un-shy about being shy. They joked about their “flaws,” which is what makes them not “flaws.” They really amazed me. I guess that’s more what I learned about teenage girls than about comedy, but it’s important.
That’s why we don’t really talk about our goal in terms of “empowering” women and girls. They have plenty of power already, innately. The problem is that others/our culture doesn’t see them that way, or give them room to fully express it. So we believe that the more that girls and women and “others” can find their funny and amplify their voices -- literally, with a mic! -- the more they can no longer be diminished as a force in comedy, and society.
7. What is one tool you teach them to find their funny? We have them answer prompts like “I’m super scared of…” or “I’m totally confused by…”, without trying to be funny. That’s how we identify the topics that are most interesting or emotional for them, without outright asking. And we know that jokes that start from there will be authentic and resonant to them.
8. What is the best place to share their funny? What is the worst place to share their funny? Look, I come from standup, and I love live comedy, and I’m also old [pokes randomly at Snapchat, perplexed], so I’m biased when I say: THE STAGE. And I’m also incorrect. The great thing about today is that there are so many ways and places to be funny: YouTube funny, Instagram funny, [next-popular-internet-widget] funny. But the internet can also be the worst, because sexism. There were so many women doing funny things on Vine, of blessed memory, and so many gross comments on all their material. That’s what we’re trying to change. We want enough girls/women/non-straight-white-dudes out there and succeeding at being loud and funny that they are no longer “interesting” or even “outsider” enough to be troll catnip.
9. What is the hardest topic you've shared with them as a tool to find the funny in the sad times? September 11. I was doing standup at that time and was among all those comics who wrestled with how and when to come back, what to say, and whether anyone could ever be funny, or laugh, again. At that time, what the best people figured out fastest was that (as with all comedy on inherently unfunny topics) what matters is who or what you’re making fun of: victim or perp? The powerless or powerful? Are you being a comedian, or just a bully (or, God help us, “provocative”)? The teens totally got it.
10. What is one subject matter you would never encourage them to talk about? Trump. We are not a partisan company, but I think at this point all the Trump jokes have been made. It takes a real expert to find some fresh insight. But I would always encourage students to talk about how Trump, or politics in general, affects them. Then you get something original. Like this one, from a high-schooler named Parker in one of our workshops: “The best thing about the Women’s Marches and all the activism? Now I can say ‘pussy” whenever I want.”
More on Lynn:
Lynn Harris is a believer, and leader, in the power of pop culture to drive change, especially when it’s funny. A veteran standup comic who performed all over the city for more than a decade, she also co-produced and starred in Gotham Comedy Club’s longest-running variety show, Breakup Girl LIVE. As VP of communications for the global human rights group Breakthrough, Lynn used her blend of humor and advocacy to drive some of the U.S. office’s most visible and highest-impact programming in recent years, including: Dudes Against Violence Against Women: Because DUH, the sold-out comedy shows that reached more than 38 million and saw a 300% increase in revenue; and the “Be That Guy” animations screened on NASCAR and Indy 500 Jumbotrons.
Lynn is also co-creator, with Chris Kalb, of the award-winning Breakup Girl, the superhero who saves the world by saving your love life, and who came to life online, on TV, in books, and on stage.
An award-winning journalist and novelist, Lynn is author of six humorous fiction and non-fiction books, including Death By Chick Lit (called “brilliant” by New York Magazine) and Breakup Girl to the Rescue! Her writing—on gender, culture, and a wide range of social justice issues—has appeared in The New York Times and The New York Times Magazine, Salon, Glamour, and a twenty-year-career’s worth of national newspapers, magazines, and literary anthologies. She founded and taught for years Mediabistro’s popular class in Humor Writing for Journalists. Lynn has appeared on TV and radio like a jillion times, including as a Tonya Harding lookalike, which is a long story.