Inside Coco 66, a bar in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, a girl was wearing a white denim vest with an illustration of a uterus and ovaries on the back, underneath that read "Grow a Pair." Fitting attire, as she was one of about 200 people in line for an event billed as "Sex with Alise and Betsy: An All-Female, Sex-Positive Comedy Show." Past the girl in the denim vest, past a boy in a trench and double-breasted suit smoking an e-cig shaped like a Sherlock pipe, past a sign reading "SEX WITH ALISE AND BETSY IS SOLD OUT," past doors that lead into the bar's event space, a huge inflatable pink penis with a shit-eating grin painted on its head could be seen from the stage, as if to greet audience members.
I get Facebook invites for at least three indie comedy shows a week—that is, shows not hosted at the Upright Citizens Brigade, the Magnet Theater, or the People's Improv Theater, the three biggest comedy theaters in New York. But none of these had ever been sponsored in part by a company that makes pink tubes of plastic my boyfriend could fuck and in part by a nonprofit that helps doctors "integrate abortion, contraception, and miscarriage management into their practices." None had included a panel of comedians who answer sex-related questions submitted anonymously through the event's Tumblr page. And none had featured a Q&A with one of PornHub's highest-ranked actresses.
Alise Morales and Betsy Kenney, the architects of the event, are something of indie comedy vanguards. Both are graduates of the UCB Training Center, which has launched the careers of writers and performers for SNL, 30 Rock, The Office, Parks and Recreation, and The Daily Show. The current cover of New York features two of the UCB's most newly famous alumni, Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson of Broad City.
Kenney performs with one of the UCB's house teams, but both Kenney and Morales are involved in a scene of indie comics who perform in small Brooklyn venues and whose emerging improv and sketch groups make videos that have appeared on Funny or Die and Jezebel. Kenney is one-half of the online-sketch group HANK. Morales performs with the group Mister Sister, and is in the final editing stages of a new web series on IFC's Comedy Crib, Horrible Insane Girl.
When I met with them outside the bar a couple of hours before the show, they noted that the impetus for staging an all-female event was a reaction to their concerns about gender representation in comedy, concerns that may sound familiar.
Both Kenney and Morales referred to the New York comedy scene as a "boys' club," with Kenney adding, "Both of us have done shows where we're the only girl there. We wanted to flip the script on that a little bit."
But the pair also wanted to push back against what they see as a reductive trend among female comedians.
"We wanted to do something positive," Kenney explained, "instead of dwelling on the negative aspects of dating. Even as far as women doing standup goes, a lot of the time it's about being negative about yourself. We should just be here to feel good about these things."
Morales added, "We wanted to do an all female show, and then we said, 'What can we do to set it apart?' We thought, Let's put this sex-positive message to it. That was when we thought to get sponsors."
Having Nitecap, a sex/smoke shop on Staten Island, and Fleshlight for sponsors was a fun draw, of course. Inside the event space, the crowd, mostly made up of straight couples, bought tickets to win toys like Magic Wand and Rabbit vibrators that were raffled off throughout the night. But all proceeds from the show will go to the Reproductive Health Access Project, which Morales felt needs a spotlight more than bigger organizations, like Planned Parenthood.
For the show, Morales and Kenney curated a solidly funny roster of standup comedians: Halle Kiefer of TruTV's Friends of the People, Michelle Wolf of Late Night with Seth Meyers, Anna Drezen, who writes for Reductress, and Jena Friedman, a producer for The Daily Show.
If the comedians weren't always raunchy, they were occasionally extremely frank about their experiences trying to access reproductive health-care. In between jokes about breaking her toilet seat and asking a man to cum on her dress so she can wear it home, Halle Kiefer used her set to remind the audience about the limitations of the morning-after pill, namely its weight restrictions. "Did you know Plan B doesn't work if you're over 176 pounds?" she asked. I actually didn't, though this came to light in 2013, when it was discovered that a European pharmaceutical company calls out this weight limit on the label of their emergency contraceptive, while the American manufacturer of Plan B does not. Kiefer then mentioned that she clocks in at nearly 200 pounds.
Slightly less urgent was Anna Drezen's suggestion for porn that's truly "made for women." What if, she proposed, at the end of every porn film, we see the film crew wrap up, a porn actress take a pay stub that proves she's being paid the same as the dude she just fucked, and then is shown making it to her car safely?
However, here arose the question of what sex-positivity meant for this show. The subject matter was predominantly cisgendered and heteronormative. Any of the standup comedians who explicitly mentioned the gender of their sexual partners mentioned men, often boyfriends or a husband. That is, no performer identified as queer or polyamorous. Of course, no performer should have to identify as anything, but the absence of a queer or transgender voice was obvious.
In an email exchange after the show, Morales, who said she borrowed the "sex-positive" label from Dan Savage, admitted, "We did start to feel, after the whole snowball of the show got rolling, that we could have done more for queer representation… If we do the show again, we'd make a greater effort to make it clear that the show was for all women, cis, straight, or otherwise."
Heteronormative though it most certainly was, the most entertaining non-standup activity of the night was a game the hosts call "Cliteracy." Three straight couples were presented with posters with giant drawings of female genitalia, and the men in each couple were asked to identify basic female anatomy. Every man labeled the anus first. One scratched his head.
And then there was porn actress Lisa Ann. Before heading into the bar, Kenney and Morales were almost fangirlish in their excitement to finally meet the porn star who was recruited to appear in the show by Fleshlight.
"This is a woman who has done porn, and is still talking about it and doing events," said Kenney, as she and Morales anxiously awaited Lisa Ann's arrival . "She's obviously smart, and I think this is a group of people who will respect her, because people who come to comedy shows are a smart audience willing to listen."
"This is a woman who made a career out of doing what she wants, and we want to pay respect to that," said Morales.
On PornHub, Lisa Ann is dubbed Queen Lisa Ann and labeled "one of the hottest and hardest-working MILFs in the business" (she is best known for her turn as a pornographic version of a certain former vice-presidential candidate). She's also, it turns out, pretty racist. I recorded her Q&A session, during which she was asked about the most fun she's ever had on set. This was part of her reply, describing a gangbang scene that she seems to have both directed and starred in:
"I arranged a gangbang, and it's an interracial gangbang, because that kicks it up a notch, you know? So, it's me and eight brothers. Now, eight brothers in porn, let me tell you, there are only 10 that you want to work with. Five of them can't stay out of jail; they change their fucking phone numbers all the time. You have to pay them cash because you don't even want your shit on their IRS shit. This is a scene that takes a lot of work to put together—months on end, to make sure everyone's out of jail, or everyone's gotten tested, or can get the bus or whatever it is they need to get there."
From there, Lisa Ann went on to say the actors "fucking kleptomaniac-ed" almost everything on set. This was not what the hosts expected, and Morales briefly buried her head her hands.
The show fit its sex-positive mission in the sense that both the standup comedians and the writers and comedians who conducted the sex Q&A panel were eager to avoid self-deprecation in their presentation of their own sexual experiences. That is, no one really seems to exhibit any shame (e.g., Kiefer follows her story about wearing cum home on her dress by emphasizing that she finds it both disgusting and hot). Morales explained, "I just think this shows that girls can have a fun show that has a rowdy, raunchy atmosphere."
This rowdy, raunchy fervor reached its apex when Kenney raffled off a set of anal enlargement tools increasing in size, which essentially just looked like the butt-plug version of Bullet Bill, of Mario fame. "These are big," Kenney announced, "but if you're sitting there in the audience thinking, 'I'd kind of like that,' then that's OK… for whoever out there has a giant asshole."
Admittedly, between standup, a porn star, a Q&A panel of additional comedians, and raffles, the show in its planning stages seemed to have gotten too big too fast. Neither host anticipated how large an audience the show would draw, and the venue eventually had to cap ticket sales at 200. But any clumsiness emphasized how willing the Brooklyn comedy scene was to bite at an event that billed itself as a frank "sex comedy" show by women.
On the way out, I grabbed what the hosts had called a Fleshlight "party pack." It included Fleshglight-brand bags of pop rocks called "BJ Blast," neon Fleshlight wayfarers, and a Fleshlight button that read "Go Fuck Yourself," which I took to mean something positive.
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