At a Columbia panel about women in comedy on Tuesday night, three female comedians described their struggles to dispel the myth that women aren’t funny.
The event, hosted by the Office of the Vice Provost for Faculty Diversity and Inclusion and attended by over 300 people, featured professor of English and Comparative Literature and award-winning filmmaker Frances Negrón-Muntaner, and comedians Kate Clinton, Negin Farsad, and Dulce Sloan, all of whom incorporate social justice commentary into their humor.
Negrón-Muntaner moderated the panel and highlighted the power of comedy to shape political opinions and ideas.
“Comedy is smart, particularly good comedy,” she said. “Comedy shapes our thoughts and feelings and mediates between the two.”
Farsad, who worked as a policy advisor to the New York City Campaign Finance Board before pursuing a career in entertainment, said she views comedy as a different kind of public service.
Farsad is most widely known for her documentary “The Muslims Are Coming!” which follows Muslim-American comedians touring the American South, performing free stand-up shows and setting up an “Ask a Muslim Booth,” in a satirical effort to combat misconceptions and Islamophobia.
While “The Muslims Are Coming!” is explicitly political, Farsad started out simply focusing on her own life and her family, which is Iranian-American.
“People would come to me after the show and be like, ‘That’s so brave, you’re so political,’ and I was like, ‘What are you talking about?’” she said. “It doesn’t matter what you’re trying to do. What matters how people are receiving it, and because of the political climate people received everything I did as political.”
Sloan, a correspondent for “The Daily Show with Trevor Noah,” echoed this sentiment, saying she never intended to be political in her humor.
“I talk about my experiences as a black woman,” she said. “But as a woman, as a person of color, if you’re talking about yourself in white male spaces, it’s political.”
Clinton, who began her stand-up career in the 1980s, commented on the power of comedy as it unites people in laughter. She described her struggle to stay optimistic in light of Trump’s election.
“When I’m not in a blind murderous rage, I am very excited about this moment,” she said. “The strength of this moment indicates the power of what we have.”
Farsad emphasized the need for greater understanding in today’s political climate, saying that she tries to remove her rage from her comedic work in hopes to reach an audience who may not be receptive to a liberal perspective.
“My theory is to go out there and be aggressively delightful,” she said.
Sloan countered this, describing the burden of making her comedy relatable to a white audience.
“There’s so many things you have to explain to white people about how you feel [as a black person], without making them feel bad,” she said. “As I get older I don’t care how you feel.”