On February 6th, a man set out on a mission. That man’s name is Joe Wagner, and his mission is to see more women on comedy shows in Los Angeles. After seeing one of his female friends complain on Facebook about not enough women being booked on shows, Wagner took it upon himself to launch a campaign of sorts to, from his perspective, raise awareness of the issue.
"I didn't think of it as a crusade, I thought of it as something very personal because I love standup shows, and I's a big fan of the art form," said Wagner. "I particularly like female comics because I see a lot of guy comics and that can get tired."
Wagner looked at his Facebook invites for shows happening every night around town. If there were no women on the bill, then he would point that out and ask for two to be booked. If there was one, he’d ask for one more. Wagner went to great lengths to pose this request in the form of a question or query, and eschewed attaching any sociopolitical bent to it beyond simply enjoying seeing women on stage at shows.
As this carried out on Facebook over a few days, the reaction was mixed. Some comedians supported Wagner's effort as a means to bring more variety to the world of stand-up in Los Angeles.
"I don't think that people are consciously not putting women on their shows," said Brandie Posey, an LA comic and host of the podcast Lady to Lady. "For me, I like diverse shows, I like to see different viewpoints from different kinds of comics and I don't necessarily think bookers are consciously thinking about showing those different voices."
Others were not so bullish. They said this strikes of tokenism, and would actually undermine comedy as a whole by instituting informal quotas. And the female response is not uniform, either. While some appreciate the attention Wagner is focusing on what they perceive to be a systemic problem, others have kindly (and not so kindly) asked Wagner to step aside and drop the white knight act.
And comedy bookers, who already have a ton on their plate with trying to repeatedly book solid shows with different performers, are inclined to take umbrage when told how to do their jobs.
"My reaction to it that it's an imperfect science, it's not necessarily something that's done maliciously," said Jeff Wattenhofer, comedy booker for the weekly show Holy F**k. "The thing that I took offense to with Joe's actions on that week are that it didn't reflect the show as a whole it was just that week's lineup, and in fact tonight's line up has four very funny women. They were booked weeks ago, I think what he's doing is good in the longterm, but bad in the short term."
Is Wagner's campaign patronizing instead of being effective? How are female comics reacting? Is Wagner missing the mark and just trying to bring attention to himself? Do you enjoy seeing women take the mic at shows, or is variety not something you think about as long as the comedians are all funny? Is setting a number the wrong way to go about this? Will other demographic groups need to be considered next?
Joe Wagner, comedian, actor, producer and writer, seen in “Zach Galifianakis: Live at the Purple Onion"
Brandie Posey, comedian and one of the hosts of Lady to Lady, a podcast released every Wednesday and a live show every month at the UCB Theater
Jeff Wattenhofer, comedian and booker at Holy F***, a weekly comedy show on Tuesdays at 9pm at the Downtown Independent Theater