Tonight, Friday April 5th, the city of Moscow will host Naomi Grossman performing her hit one-woman comedy show, Carnival Knowledge: Love, Lust, and other Human Oddities at the Kenworthy Performing Arts Theatre at 7pm. Grossman, most famous for her role as “Pepper” in American Horror Story: Asylum, is the writer, producer and star of the above mentioned comedy show. She has also starred in Girl in Argentine Landscape, been a member of the Groundlings Sunday Company, alumna of Improv Olympic, and graduate of Theatre from Northwestern University.
This week, I had the pleasure of learning more about Grossman’s experiences working in the comedy world and was able to gain insight into her perspectives and opinions about women’s relationship to humor:
In today’s society, it is commonly thought that women aren’t as funny as men. How has this affected your experiences as a comedian?
It’s so stupid, isn’t it? And yet it’s very real. I’ve actually been told to gain a bunch of weight, because –get this– it’s “confusing for men” to see a woman who’s sexy and funny. Not that I’m so sexy. And not to hate on men — God knows I love them, or I wouldn’t have been able to write this play — but it’s as if they either want to f*** you, or laugh at you. But not both. Not so with women — there are countless tubby, not cute comedians on shows with skinny, sexy, trophy-television wives. It’s not fair. I want to see a sitcom with a ridiculously hot husband and a wife like me.
As far as how it’s affected me… it makes me mad. But what are you going do? I don’t know how to change how people perceive things. If anything, it takes the pressure off always looking good, unlike with ingenue-types. I’ve embraced who I am — a character/comedienne — I make fugly faces, and that’s how I make money! I’m not trying to be pretty — it’s nice when I am — and believe me, people can be cruel in this internet age when there’s picture posted that hasn’t been retouched. But in Hollywood, there’s always going to be someone hotter, younger, skinnier — so I’m not trying to compete. I do take care of myself though, but that’s for me. I want to be healthy and live long and look good naked, even if that means being horribly unfunny.
Have you found the world of comedy to be more difficult to break into because you are a woman? If so, in what ways specifically?
Absolutely. I’ve often been the only girl on an improv team or in a writing room. It’s rough. Of course, there’s the flip-side to that argument: that it’s actually easier because there’s not as many women with whom to compete. But that’s absurd. We have to be as funny as the men, who, for the most part, don’t have to worry about “being confusing.” And then there’s the added misconception that we’re naturally not as funny, so we have to be that much funnier just to prove that wrong.
How have you combated the myth that women can’t be funny in your own life?
That’s just it — it’s a myth. So, be funny! I don’t know. All I can do is be myself. I just do my thing, what fulfills me artistically, and makes me laugh. The best way to combat it is just to be funny.
As a woman in a male-dominated field of work, what advice do you have for other women who are attempting to work alongside men in similar male-dominated fields?
I can’t speak for other fields, but as far as comedy and acting, I’d give the same advice to a woman as I’d give to a man: do something else. Anything else. It’s a horrible life and a painstaking profession. That said, if knowing that, you still want it… to the point that you can’t possibly imagine yourself doing anything else, then fine. You are an unfortunate soul like me! So, go for it, full-hog. Your gender shouldn’t even be a consideration — just be the kind of artist you want to be. I think that part goes for any profession.
What has been the biggest challenge you’ve faced while pursuing a career in comedy, specifically in regards to being a woman?
You’ve touched on many of them… the misconceptions, the fact that there are fewer of us, the threat of being “too confusing,” but I think societal pressures women even place on themselves are also worth noting. I’ve picked a bee-otch of a profession — it takes all I’ve got to get ahead — and yet, society says I should get married and have kids and a dog and a yard. But when? Because men don’t have the same biological clock, nor stigma associated with marriage and family, they’re often able to pursue those things whenever. Whereas women are strapped for time. Sure, I want all that — but it’s way down on my list. My career comes first and foremost. So if I can have that, AND all those other things, fantastic! If not, at least I will have been true to myself and what I want. Whether or not that’s what society would have for me really makes no difference.
Thank you, Naomi, for your insight and candor about women, comedy and your own experiences. If you’re still not convinced that women can be as funny as men (or especially if you are), attend this Friday’s show of Carnival Knowledge by Naomi Grossman at the Kenworthy at 7 pm.