Sheba Mason, the daughter of legendary Jewish comic Jackie Mason, describes her comedic style as a “throwback with a modern twist, a Jewey Mae West.”
As one of three female comedians who performed in the Jewish Comedy Festival show at the Regent Theatre last month in Toronto, Mason disagrees with the common perception that female comics need stick to crude material and “have to go overboard to prove otherwise.” “Female comics,” she says, “joke about politics, family experiences- not just sex.”
Throughout the history of female comedy, “starting with Phyllis Diller or Roseanne (Barr), you had to be bold and really brassy and almost like a man,” Mason told The CJN. “The old-school female comics were loud-mouthed and said what they thought.” She thinks that there was less of a focus on beauty and appearance of the comic. Nowadays there is a more broad inclusion of styles of female comedians and more diverse content to their acts has been made culturally and socially acceptable.
Successful female comedians are no longer a niche or a token in the comedy industry, but have become part of the mainstream, she says. Mason considers internationally known stand-up comedian Amy Schumer as a “pioneer for female comics” and a personal role model. She says Schumer has opened tremendous doors for women in comedy through her barrier-breaking professional success. Schumer was the first female comic to headline Madison Square Garden in June 2016.
In a March 2016 article in the Guardian, high-profile comedian and TV actor Tina Fey said it was a “terrible time for women in comedy,” because she believes male comedians were able to provide weak material and still receive bigger salaries than their female peers.
But, the female comedians who spoke to The CJN tended to focus on the positive benefits that are part of being a woman in a male-dominated industry. “In show business, you want to stand out,” Adrienne Fish , who also performed at the recent Jewish Comedy Festival, told The CJN. “And being a woman in comedy, you are unique. If you are good, it gives you a leg up in a line up of all men. Producers or club owners are looking for talented female comics. People are interested in the female perspective.”
In the end, Mason said, it’s all up to the individual to succeed. Performance is “solo, it’s your own writing. It is self-representation,” says Mason. “You don’t have to wait for someone to cast you in a play, you can take a chance on yourself, you can put yourself on stage. I’d rather not wait around depending on other people to put me. It’s more empowering that way.”
The new generation of female comedians has the ability to support each other and provide each other with opportunities to break barriers. “I produce shows in New York and have female comic friends and put them in my show.” Mason said. “I want to help out other young female comics as much as possible to succeed in this industry.”