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Women in Comedy Fight Back Against Sexism With Sunday 'Blackout'

By Ariel Cheung | January 30, 2016 10:24am
 Women in Comedy is calling on fellow comedians to blackout theaters and clubs Monday and, instead, attend a discussion on the challenges and harassment women face in the industry.
Women in Comedy is calling on fellow comedians to blackout theaters and clubs Monday and, instead, attend a discussion on the challenges and harassment women face in the industry.
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Provided/Women in Comedy

LAKEVIEW — Here's a scenario: A guy tells a bunch of rape jokes during a sketch comedy class.

When a female comedian tells him the jokes aren't funny because many women legitimately worry about rape on a regular basis, his response is chilling:

"That's what makes it funny."

The Women in Comedy nonprofit — and one woman in particular — are fed up.

In a thought-provoking and revealing blog post Wednesday, comedian Caroline Sabatier called for a one-day "comedy blackout" in Chicago, urging people to stay away from classes and shows "in honor of every person who has left the entertainment industry because they were hurt by someone else in it, and did not feel they had any other choice but to get out."

The Women in Comedy nonprofit joined in Sabatier's mission, planning an event from 2 to 4 p.m. Sunday at Laugh Factory, 3175 North Broadway, to raise awareness for the issue. The discussion, hosted by Laugh Factory and the Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation, will focus on women's experiences and ways to take action against sexism and harassment in the industry.

"A lot of people were asking, 'What do we do next?' and were just filled with energy and wanted to do something," said Victoria Nones, executive director of Women in Comedy.

Nones recognizes that "we're not going to solve this systemic problem that permeates every industry," but "the hope is this is the first step in a series of steps."

"We want to laugh and have fun without having to worry about somebody grabbing our breasts or a teacher sexting you after class," Nones said.

During Sunday's discussion, women can voice their concerns or share their experiences. Then a panel will discuss potential solutions or steps forward.

The blackout is just one part of Women in Comedy's efforts. Following Sabatier's post, Nones created an anonymous form for women to share their stories, and the responses flooded in. Nones has read every single one of the more than 350 submissions, sharing them on the blog or social media.

The stories range widely, from sexist jokes told during a class to a woman being slapped in a sketch by a man she didn't know. One person wrote that she was raped "then shunned."

"I was booked regularly until this happened. Within a month, I couldn't get booked. My troupe kicked me out saying I was a liability and had caused a scene for nothing," she said.

None of the stories surprised Nones — she'd heard of similar incidents from fellow comedians for years: teachers abusing their power and authority to prey on students, then using rules against dating to their advantage to keep it a secret.

"I think that's what actually inspired me to create the form — me hitting the point where I'm so tired of hearing these stories and nobody getting any justice," Nones said.

She's also tired of the response heard far too often in the industry: that it's only a joke.

"If the result of your joke is to make somebody feel awful, anxious and depressed, I don't feel like that's what the end game of comedy is about," Nones said. "Your goal should be to make these people think about the world through laughter."

Women in Comedy presents "A Love Letter To Myself." [Provided/Women in Comedy]

As a part of its efforts to combat sexism, Women in Comedy will join with groups in Miami, Boston and Grand Rapids to present the all-female comedy show "A Love Letter To Myself" in each city. On Feb. 9, the Laugh Factory will host the Chicago event, which begins at 6:30 p.m. with networking, followed by an 8:30 p.m. show. Tickets are $20.

Among other participants, homicide detective Michele Wood and Cook County Judge Megan Goldish will read love letters they wrote to themselves with the goal of laughing in the face of adversity and sexism.

"I think we're having a cultural shift as a whole in society," Nones said. "Women are speaking out and educating themselves. We're starting to have discussions on a regular basis, and that's the beginning of creating change."

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