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These Women Are Taking On Sexual Harassment — And Making You Laugh

Kim Huapaya organized a group of female comedians for a special show to bring the MeToo movement to comedy.

The #MeToo movement has reached into all sorts of industries. Now, add comedy. There's an all-woman comedy show coming to the Center Stage Performing Arts in Boca Raton this Friday, May 18. The lead organizer, Kim Huapaya, put the event together after one of her colleagues alleges she was sexually assaulted twice. Half of the evening's proceeds will go to the nonprofit Dress For Success. We talked with Huapaya and comedians Debbie Ann and 2017 Florida's Funniest Female Angela Nacca about how prevalent the problem is in the business.

Angela on sexism in comedy: It's pretty prevalent. We have to grovel for when we want a gig. You have to play nice. If we say anything out of the way then we're a ‘B.’ We really have to work hard at it, double hard. 

Debbie: I think being in comedy is no different than what women face in everyday life. You know harassment and sexism is just a reality, especially when our place of work happens to be in bars and clubs.

Kim: To tag on with Debbie Ann and Angela, yes we work in bars and clubs but also I think there's not enough women in power. Usually when I do a show that's driven by women it's the best show. The accommodations are wonderful. The venue is great. The audience is wonderful. It's just like top notch all the way. And then I have other shows that are put together by other comics and it's just like, ‘are you kidding me?!’ You know there's not even a functioning microphone. So I think it has a lot to do with people in power, their mentality and it just seems like when women get in control of things it's just run in a specific kind of way where it's just it's a little more precise and not haphazard.

WLRN: I'd imagine that trying to making it in comedy, like show business, is tough. But you just mentioned some of those challenges that you face as women. I'm wondering what else, what other challenges do women face trying to get even their foot in the door?

Debbie: I think comedy is a competition. People are fighting for stage time and fighting to make it. And for a very long time comedy has been a boys club. It's been dominated by men. I think that women are getting their foot in the door and some comics may feel intimidated by that and kind of want to push us out. And so we even have that extra difficult step of making it and getting stage time and getting respect. So often we've all heard women aren't funny, just kind of that general statement. And they take it because the one female comic that they've actually seen maybe wasn't their cup of tea and so they put that blanket statement out there that women don't make them laugh. And that's why I think these all female shows are great because they are really usually some of the best shows you've seen. And it's a time to go, WOW, women really are funny and are hilarious.

This performance is being put together for a number of reasons. This is also linked to a story of one of your peers, a female performer who says she experienced sexual assault. I know there's a desire for privacy and all but what can you tell us about the story, what exactly inspired this event?

Kim: I've been kind of out of the loop for the last couple of months and when I became aware of it I was in complete shock because even though there's like this sexism, you usually find of band of brothers and sometimes the band of sisters that go to the same dive bars to do the open mics, you always get the impression that you have each other’s back in case the crowd gets too rowdy or the owner doesn't want to pay you. That's always been my experience. It's always been fantastic no matter if I was in London or Los Angeles, even if I didn't know anybody. It was just like, oh you're a comic too. So when I heard about this I was just completely incensed. And I'm like you know there's something I can do. So I ended up just calling up people and everything just came around.

Angela: The two (incidents) I've heard of was an audience member and a booker. There were two incidents that I know about. And I found out, one reached out to me and I got into the loop on Facebook on the other one. And then the booker called me for my advice from his perspective. So I was walking a fine line. And how did you handle that? I told the female comic that I would always support her but you know, this gentleman has always been really nice to me, always worked me, always taken care of me. So it's that line you cross. Do I not work with him because of that, just stand up for her? He wanted to do an all-female show and I told him not to do it. I said it's not going make it go away it's going to make it worse.

Do you do see the sexism harassment? Is it common?

Debbie: I'm kind of a newbie in the comedy world just about coming up on two years. And I think what I've seen and what I've experienced has been eye opening for me. In my day job I'm a teacher so I'm in a very female dominated field. And so I really didn't experience a lot of sexism because I was around females in a female profession. This has opened my eyes to what women are facing. I've seen a number of people that have told these women, you want attention you shouldn't be saying anything. No one's going to want to book you. The responses that I've seen to women who have told their story has been sickening to me and it's like, wow, this really does happen. You hear that women are silenced and they're told to not talk about things and I think that's why Kim organizing this show to empower women, if you're not going to hear us then we're going to tell our own story.

Warning: These videos contain sensitive material.

Luis Hernandez is an award-winning journalist and host whose career spans three decades in cities across the U.S. He’s the host of WLRN’s newest daily talk show, Sundial (Mon-Thu), and the news anchor every afternoon during All Things Considered.