"There are a couple of things I want to impart to ladies who want to be in comedy: One, you don’t have to be weird or be quirky to get your job done. And two, comedy skill is not sexually transmittable. You do not have to sleep with a comedian to learn what you’re doing. Male comedians will not like that advice, but it is the truth." — Tina Fey, Bossypants
The rapidly dwindling sentiment that women can’t be funny needs to be put to rest and recognized as the outdated thinking that it is. Austin is a city that loves to laugh. With more than 100 people tripping over themselves to move here each day, what else can you do? The comedy scene is smoking, and women comedians find themselves on a fairly leveled playing field. There is the residual idea of comedy being an old boy’s club that relies on tired sexist tropes. But for these female comedians, while the material touches on their experiences as women, more often than not, the humor is universal, self-deprecating, and ties into our shared human foibles that make for great comedy writing.
Here are our top picks of hard-working, fabulously funny female comedians to keep your eyes on.
Shannon Sedwick has earned her standing as the First Lady of Austin comedy. She truly learned by doing, evolving from wide-eyed beauty from the UT theater department to an outrageously funny performer over a period of 37 years on the Esther’s Follies stage. Sedwick writes material and performs characters that run the gamut from Hillary Clinton to Madonna to Cleopatra. Sedwick is in her element when onstage, with a seasoned ability to project the funny from the stage to an always packed house. She has been playfully dubbed the Cal Ripkin of comedy, clocking in over 10,000 performances on the Esther’s stage.
We almost lost local gem Maggie Maye to science. Despite being a cut up since she was young, Maye thought she might become a pharmacist and worked to that end until the pull of the stage was too strong. In addition to being one of Austin’s must-watch comics, she recently achieved what many rising comedians can only dream of, a slot on Conan, where she absolutely killed it, receiving not one, but four applause breaks during her set. Maye’s sly, observational humor touches on race and her experience as a woman, but more often than not, her jokes lean towards geeky examinations of the everyday that come from the mind of an almost-scientist.
A full-fledged Yankee that has made Austin her own, Barbadoro has been working the stand-up circuit since she landed in 2010. While Barbadoro possesses a repertoire that appeals to both sexes, her autobiographical observations and vulnerable shares about sex, body image, and dating make her sets extremely relatable for women. While Barbadoro says she doesn’t intentionally try to do female-centered comedy, she also doesn’t shy away from feminism in her stand up or her writing. She took on Louis C.K. in an opinion piece for Time magazine last year, which begs the question, do we really need Louis C.K. to make women’s experiences palatable to a broader audience? You can find more of Barbadoro on the new Austin comedy TV series, ATX Uncensored(ish), or follow her here.
Nathalie Holmes is another Esther’s Follies performer who is rapidly coming up on her own. In addition to performing on the Esther’s stage, and nailing it as Beyoncé or Michelle Obama, her YouTube channel, NathalieverAfter, is where some of her best work can be found. Holmes is a one-woman show, writing, producing, and performing her own shorts. Her spot-on impressions and spoofs of popular shows like Orange Is the New Black and Scandal are outrageously funny. Holmes also, surprisingly, finds a way to make historically serious cultural figures like Harriet Tubman and Maya Angelou goofily irreverent. She recently crossed over to the stand-up scene trying out new material at nearby Velveeta Room after she wraps it up at Esther’s.
Thanks for Having Us
In a clear testament to the growing interest in the local comedy scene, a recent Indiegogo campaign for a series written by women on being a female comedian in Austin was fully funded and then some. Thanks for Having Us revitalizes the female-buddy genre found with Sex and the City and Girls and turns out funny, awkward, and vulnerable characters all trying to make it in the stand-up circuit. Co-written by Sara June, Christina Parrish, and Katherine Swope, the concept began as a web series, but soon built up enough material for a full-fledged pilot. Director/writer June says that part of the intention of the series was to finally refute the assertion that women aren’t funny — because to the killjoys that continue to repeat that, these women comedians and many more like them are filling clubs, growing their audience, and killing it, night after night.