When it comes to comedy, the most renowned household names in the business are men. This is partially because of the gender divide and the suffocating patriarchy, but also, because men are funnier, right? Women are a little too serious, a little emotional. They don't appeal, per se, to the wider audience, hence why the men make the big bucks, own the late night show slots and dominate the global comedy stage scene. In fact it would appear that the root cause of all the men's success, is wholly due to the fact that women really just aren't funny, at all.
LOL, JK. Women are absolutely hilarious.
Last year was a significant one for women in the comedy world. Amazon's The Marvellous Mrs. Maisel, a look into the very young female comedy scene in New York in the 50s, was released to critical acclaim and a deluge of awards. Chelsea Handler and Chrissy Teigen made a name for themselves as comedic antidotes to the Trump White House. Oh, and Queen Latifah's Girls Trip received 90% on Rotten Tomatoes. It was a good year for women in comedy.
With the change in gears for women in the workplace at home, there has indeed been a shift in the right direction for females in this industry, very traditionally cherished and centred around, male leads. "It's better than it's ever been," says Felicia Madison, a comedian and owner of Laughing Affairs, a company dedicated to bringing female comedians in front of a female audience, that hosts lunchtime gatherings featuring mostly female comics and a hearty amount of midday martinis.
Madison started her comedy career after she'd had children. A good friend of hers was doing standup, and she decided she wanted to try it. “I used comedy in social settings, with my friends, I was always the joke teller," she remarks. "[Before long], I was hooked. I just love it. I haven't stopped taking classes, and performing 2 or 3 times a week."
Felicia Madison, Laughing Affairs owner, mother and Upper West Side comic who stoically makes fun of all of the UWS ladies and her own family. Photo - Jimi Celeste/PMC
The mother of two, having completed her first round of classes, was instructed to bring some friends to shows she would feature in as part of her course.
"In the beginning you had to bring your friends, and the shows would inevitably be in the evening times, when those mothers would be dealing with their homelife, kids etc," says Madison. "Also the humor didn't suit, it was a lot of young people, at night, downtown. So I wanted to bring comedy to them." With this, Madison came up with the concept of a rolling all-female comedy luncheon which would serve as a comedic break for mothers and Upper West Siders alike looking for an outlet whereby both husbands and kids would be the butt of most jokes. "I decided that lunch time would be a great change of pace from everyday life," says Madison.
Jessica Kirson, a featured comic at Felicia Madison's latest laughercise, and a professional face-maker
With this, the host was then tasked with rounding up female comedians to perform at the lunchtime events, which proved an interesting exercise. "I try to stay away from vulgar comedians and from comedy that I don't think would hit that well with my friends," she remarks. "Being it's daytime comedy, people aren't drunk and rowdy, you need a certain type of comedian, who's upbeat. The dry, rye comedians don't work as well (but are still funny)." She began scouring hours of footage from comics online and rounded up her favorites until she had her first line-up in 2016. Since then she's done 10 similar lunchtime events called Laughercise, with 40 female comedians. "I wanted to keep it just women performing for women. It's such a difficult career for women. They have big families, working all day and all night." To introduce some diversity, there has been a few male warmup acts that have delighted in poking fun at the femme-forward crowd.
Madison hasn't just stopped there however. Outside of Laughercise, she works events, travels, and picks up entertainment gigs as they come. It's during these outings that she's had most interaction with the men of the comedy world, and it's these very occasions that gave her pause to expand on the Laughing Affairs agenda.
"They say semen is anti-aging which is great... Because I'm going to have a very young looking lower back"
- Olga Namer, featured Laughercise comic
When it came time for her to book men for a gig or special she would be working that required a male counterpart, Madison was quick to realize the difference between booking men and booking women on the comedy circuit. The responses to her reaching out to male comics were astronomically different to their female counterparts. Where women on the receiving end of a booking were either indifferent to payment, or would ask only the day before the show if and how much they would be receiving, the men were entirely different in their approach. “When I called the men, [they would say] 'call my manager, call my agent,'" she laughs. "And they're charging like three times the amount as the women, even when the women were equally, if not more established. It's not that the women are less business-savvy, it's just that they're nicer."
With this is mind, Madison has set up a recurring panel for women under the Laughing Affairs umbrella to come chat (and joke) about their experience in the comedy world, be it good, bad, or sensational. Her impetus for the talk? Women aren't talking to one another. "The other big thing that I'm trying to achieve is to get more women to help each other," she comments. "There are some women that are very good at reaching out and helping but I find my personal experience in the business so far, is that men are more willing to be helpful than women. I think that [the business] is more competitive [for women]."
Women not helping women is something that has been highlighted across every industry in recent weeks and months, with mentorship programmes sprouting up across the board. So while that aspect is easier to address once identified, it's a woman's attitude and confidence within a certain field that has proven to be more difficult to rectify. “Men ask for stuff," says the comic. "Men call the booker, they email the booker. Women don't ask. So that was the impetus [for the panel]." Charged by what she's seen over the past two years, Madison hopes to change the overwhelming underestimation female comics are suffering from, and to encourage a more open dialogue about pay, terms of service and industry rules. All indeed, in a day's work, with a little laughter to boot.
With so many groundbreaking medical advances being revealed to the world every single day, you would imagine there would be some advancement on the plethora of many female-prevalent diseases (think female cancers, Alzheimer's, depression, heart conditions etc.) that women are fighting every single day.
For Anna Villarreal and her team, there frankly wasn't enough being done. In turn, she developed a method that diagnoses these diseases earlier than traditional methods, using a pretty untraditional method in itself: through your menstrual blood.
Getting from point A to point B wasn't so easy though. Villarreal was battling a disease herself and through that experience. “I wondered if there was a way to test menstrual blood for female specific diseases," she says. "Perhaps my situation could have been prevented or at least better managed. This led me to begin researching menstrual blood as a diagnostic source. For reasons the scientific and medical community do not fully understand, certain diseases impact women differently than men. The research shows that clinical trials have a disproportionate focus on male research subjects despite clear evidence that many diseases impact more women than men."
There's also no denying that gap in women's healthcare in clinical research involving female subjects - which is exactly what inspired Villarreal to launch her company, LifeStory Health. She says that, “with my personal experience everything was brought full circle."
“There is a challenge and a need in the medical community for more sex-specific research. I believe the omission of females as research subjects is putting women's health at risk and we need to fuel a conversation that will improve women's healthcare.,"
Her brand new biotech company is committed to changing the women's healthcare market through technology, innovation and vocalization and through extensive research and testing. She is working to develop the first ever, non-invasive, menstrual blood diagnostic and has partnered with a top Boston-area University on research and has won awards from The International Society for Pharmaceutical Engineering and Northeastern University's RISE.
How does it work exactly? Proteins are discovered in menstrual blood that can quickly and easily detect, manage and track diseases in women, resulting in diseases that can be earlier detected, treated and even prevented in the first place. The menstrual blood is easy to collect and since it's a relatively unexplored diagnostic it's honestly a really revolutionary concept, too.
So far, the reactions of this innovative research has been nothing but excitement. “The reactions have been incredibly positive." she shares with SWAAY. “Currently, menstrual blood is discarded as bio waste, but it could carry the potential for new breakthroughs in diagnosis. When I educate women on the lack of female subjects used in research and clinical trials, they are surprised and very excited at the prospect that LifeStory Health may provide a solution and the key to early detection."
To give a doctor's input, and a little bit more of an explanation as to why this really works, Dr. Pat Salber, MD, and Founder of The Doctor Weighs In comments: “researchers have been studying stem cells derived from menstrual blood for more than a decade. Stem cells are cells that have the capability of differentiating into different types of tissues. There are two major types of stem cells, embryonic and adult. Adult stem cells have a more limited differentiation potential, but avoid the ethical issues that have surrounded research with embryonic stem cells. Stem cells from menstrual blood are adult stem cells."
These stem cells are so important when it comes to new findings. “Stem cells serve as the backbone of research in the field of regenerative medicine – the focus which is to grow tissues, such as skin, to repair burn and other types of serious skin wounds.
A certain type of stem cell, known as mesenchymal stem cells (MenSCs) derived from menstrual blood has been found to both grow well in the lab and have the capability to differentiate in various cell types, including skin. In addition to being used to grow tissues, their properties can be studied that will elucidate many different aspects of cell function," Dr. Salber explains.
To show the outpour of support for her efforts and this major girl power research, Villarreal remarks, “women are volunteering their samples happily report the arrival of their periods by giving samples to our lab announcing “de-identified sample number XXX arrived today!" It's a far cry from the stereotype of when “it's that time of the month."
How are these collections being done? “Although it might sound odd to collect menstrual blood, plastic cups have been developed to use in the collection process. This is similar to menstrual products, called menstrual cups, that have been on the market for many years," Dr. Salber says.
Equally shocking and innovative, this might be something that becomes more common practice in the future. And according to Dr. Salber, women may be able to not only use the menstrual blood for early detection, but be able to store the stem cells from it to help treat future diseases. “Companies are working to commercialize the use of menstrual blood stem cells. One company, for example, is offering a patented service to store menstrual blood stem cells for use in tissue generation if the need arises."