“Up next, she’s from Washington…” As soon as the audience heard “she” they erupted in cheers. One word was all it took. When Lynette Manning stepped onto the stage and looked around, she saw a majority female audience looking back at her. This is not an anomaly; Manning says that though women are underrepresented in comedy, they are overrepresented in the audience. “We like to see someone who is like us, onstage performing,” she says.
Manning, along with a lineup of fellow women comedians, will perform at the NW Women’s Comedy Festival at the Wildish Theater in Springfield.
Leigh Anne Jasheway, like Manning, noticed a lack of women comedians and sought to do something about it. Jasheway, an improv and comedy writing instructor at Lane Community College at the time, started the NW Women’s Comedy Festival 16 years ago.
“One of the things I was attempting to do in my class was to encourage more women to get into writing comedy and performing on stage because, in my opinion, there just wasn’t enough of that,” she says.
Manning and Amanda Lynn Deal, another comedian at this year’s festival, share their experiences in the standup scene.
“There’s not really a whole lot of women comics, and I really appreciate going to a show that has a female presence,” Manning says. She describes going to a festival in New York and watching one male comedian after another get onstage. At shows, she’s gotten used to being the only woman comedian on the roster.
“Standup was definitely male-dominated when I started in Chicago a decade ago,” Deal says. “I was the only woman at mics most nights, and I wasn’t made to feel welcomed or respected.”
She describes a toxic and unhealthy environment for women in the stand-up scene. “It was a lot of sexual harassment, rude comments or just ignoring my presence and not including me,” Deal says. The misogyny affected Deal’s motivation to keep doing standup. “I hated it, and wanted to quit a lot,” she says. “Rage kept me going.”
But things are shifting for women in comedy. “It’s changing now because people like me didn’t quit,” Deal says, “even when we wanted to and all our peers did.” Deal has had to start her own mics and shows. “I’ve made it a big part of my mission to include women and marginalized groups,” she says.
Things are also changing because of events like Jasheway’s — because of people committed to showcasing and fostering talented women comedians. When Jasheway worked with LCC to develop the very first NW Women’s Comedy Festival 16 years ago, it was originally held as a two-day event with panel discussions that culminated in a comedy show.
“It was clear to me what people really wanted was the performance part,” she says. Jasheway obliged, turning the festival into a one-night showcase.
It was one of Jasheway’s goals to make sure every comedian gets paid, which is unorthodox in the comedy festival circuit. It’s common practice for these festivals to only pay the headliner. “If we’re going to honor and support women and women-identifying people, we at least need to make sure they’re making enough money to get here and back,”Jasheway says. In addition to Deal and Manning, this year’s lineup includes Susan Cupcake Jones, Cara Rosellini, Danelle Porter, Jes Anderson, Ashley Hager, Julia Corral, Hannah Gustafson and Marietja Hauprich.
“We’re trying to build a community,” Jasheway says of the festival. “When you have 10 really funny comedians, the best part of the night is just everyone sitting backstage in a room and being funny and supporting one another.”
The NW Women’s Comedy Festival will take place at 7 pm Saturday, Nov. 19, at the Wildish Theater in Springfield. Tickets and more information at WildishTheater.com.