Is my slip showing? Gender and vulnerability in stand-up comedy

What does it mean to be vulnerable?¬†This question comes up quite a bit in comedy. You might hear someone say, “oh, he’s so raw, so vulnerable…” It’s a common form of praise, usually for male comedians.

Former Late Show booker, Eddie Brill, named vulnerability as his favorite quality in a comedian. He seldom, if ever, booked women. Eventually, he was fired for his statements in the now infamous New York Times article.¬†However, the crux of his argument was that good comedians reveal their weaknesses and women just don’t do that.

For most men, being vulnerable is a choice. Women don’t have that luxury, we don’t have to reveal anything to be vulnerable– we are vulnerable, simply by existing.

From the moment we are born to the moment we die, we are taught to stay safe, don’t go out alone, don’t leave your drink out, don’t drink too much, don’t stay out late, don’t wear provocative clothing, don’t threaten men. And those are just first world problems.

How good are you at explaining racism?

A few weeks ago, my aunt asked me to do a Skype Q&A with her high school students in Peru. She teaches a course on race and racial profiling and she thought it would be interesting to show her class my stand-up comedy dealing with racism then discuss the differences between American and South American racism.

However, the timing could not have been more biting. Just prior to my Skype call, news of yet another black man, Alton Sterling, slaughtered by police officers, began to circulate.

My aunt said to me, “the kids have a hard time understanding American racial profiling, for instance, why do cops target black people?”

Anyone from a Latin country is accustomed to a very different sort of police brutality. Common wisdom says cops only stop you when they want a bribe. So, why would cops target black people, let alone kill them? What is the point of that?

I started off saying, “Well… after the abolishment of slavery, black bodies were no longer governed by capitalism and lost their monetary value…” Their little faces squished and looked so confounded, I had to simplify.