Barbara Gray closed a recent set at Holy Fuck, a free monthly comedy show in Los Angeles, with the following:
"I know what you're thinking right now," she said. "'Women aren't funny.'"
It was a direct jab at the antiquated notion that stand-up comedy isn't suited to women -- something that every female comic since Phyllis Diller has been forced to consider at one point or another. What's bizarre is that this idea continues to persist at all. It was recently spewed forth by David Letterman's just-fired comedy booker, Eddie Brill, whose comments to the New York Times last week caused controversy and cost him his job. (Read the original story here, the follow-up here, and comedian Jen Kirkman's brilliant response here.)
Gray is anything but unfunny. Since moving to Los Angeles in 2008, she has earned a reputation as an active young comic. Her jokes have a frankness and honesty that comes from looking closely at herself and the netherparts of our shared culture -- including some topics that still carry vestiges of taboo (body image, sex, and disease, for example).
Besides participating in shows nearly every night of the week, Gray produces several group shows, including Space Boners and Creepshow. Her chief creation is One Two Punch, which takes place in her own home. An intimate alternative to showcase comedy clubs, One Two Punch hosts emerging as well as well-known comics (Maria Bamford, Kyle Kinane), and has received coverage in the Los Angeles Times.
Gray appears twice this weekend at SF Sketchfest. She spoke to us by phone a few days before the festival.
You've been doing stand-up for about four years. How did you enter the comedy world?
I moved out to L.A. in 2008 from Salt Lake City. I wasn't doing stand-up then, but I was a big comedy nerd. So I went to as many shows as humanly possible. And I was like, "I think I can do this." I started doing open mics around October 2008 -- just went into it head-first.
When did you start One-Two Punch?
That was in 2009 sometime.
Are there many shows in L.A. of that type? Stand-up shows hosted in private homes and places like that?
The exact set-up I have is fairly rare. I have some friends who did a show called The Comedy Garage -- out of their own garage for about four years. There are a few like that, but not too many, so we're lucky to have that distinction.
To what extent is stand-up comedy still a boys' club?
That discussion comes up every few months -- and now again with this Eddie Brill thing. I've never really thought of myself in terms of, "I'm a female comedian." I've always felt confident and fine with what I am doing. I haven't really been treated that differently as a comic. Sometimes you get an emcee who says, "Oh, this next person's a lady!" It is a boys' club, but I know so many funny women who are well-respected, especially in the L.A. scene, that I haven't noticed too much of a difference.
Given that you are still in the early part of your comedy career, what pays the bills?
I have a full-time day job, but I do shows every night. Getting paid as a stand-up is really difficult. I'm going on a southern tour soon, which will be my first time on tour. I have to evaluate how much I want to travel, and see if that's the right lifestyle for me. I'm not sure if it is. I really want to write for television. So I'm writing some scripts and focusing on those -- and hopefully selling something and getting paid to do that.
Are festivals like SF Sketchfest a good way to get exposure outside of L.A.?
Definitely. It's always nice to go somewhere else and do stand-up. It gives you some credibility when you get into something like Sketchfest. But just looking at the Sketchfest lineup and seeing my name on it was so insane, because I'm on the same bill as a lot of my heroes.
Barbara Gray appears tonight (Friday, Jan. 20) at 10:30 p.m. in the Rooftop Stand-Up Showcase at the Purple Onion, 140 Columbus (at Pacific), S.F. Admission is $15. On Saturday (Jan. 21) at 10 p.m. Gray hosts SF Sketchfest in the Mission (featuring The Kids in the Hall's Bruce McCulloch and Breaking Bad's Matt Jones) at the Dark Room, 2263 Mission (at 18th St.), S.F. Admission is $15.