The Funny Girls
Five of Emerson’s most influential and provocative female comedians talk sexism, comedy, and cool moms in a discussion led by self-proclaimed “Uber Queen” writing for Film and Television major, Danielle Shvartsman ‘16. From the sketch world, Kaylin Mahoney ‘17, also a writing for Film and Television major, Theater Studies: Acting, majors, Caroline Ullman ‘16 and Krysten Shmelzer ‘16, and Isabella Boettcher ‘16, who studies Television Production.
Danielle Shvartsman transferred to Emerson College during her junior year. Since then, she’s become a pioneer for comedy at Emerson. She was one of the few to enter Jimmy’s Traveling AllStars as an upperclassmen, opened their first show of the year with her own sketch, united the comedy writers and performers as a community of supportive peers and friends with “Improv Jams,” and more. To many, she is the Queen of Uber, as well as a Master of Karaoke. To me, however, she is a wonderful and beautiful friend. I’ve known Danielle for many years, and I couldn’t think of a better person to feature. She truly doesn’t stop working, even if it’s 3 in the morning & you’re just trying to watch the Whitney Houston biopic and order some Genki Ya in peace. Did I mention she’s trained for several years at The Groundlings Theatre and School in LA?
Danielle is an incredible, brilliant person. Her work ethic: prodigious; her sense of humor: ingenious. Despite that, however, she still manages to make time for friends in her eternally-unlocked shared suite with Catherine Collins, always ready to revolutionize the Karaoke game or eat trash and watch CSI: Cyber. She’s the best, and so when I had the pleasure of sitting down and interviewing her, I of course had to refrain from complete unprofessionality to see what it is about comedy that makes all the late night rehearsals, writes, and rewrites worth it.
What drives you to deal with the late hours and crazy rehearsals for improv or sketch shows? What about comedy drives you to, at the end of the day, love all the crazy?
Everything that I’ve done at Emerson and at home has been me trying to find ways to have a shared experience with people...in a way that makes it important. I don’t think I would be able to effectively make a serious film that’s saying serious things about real issues, that’s going to reach people on the same level that jokes do.
What led you to Groundlings, Jimmy’s, and comedy in general?
I guess it started when I was really young, my mom noticed that I did impressions of people. Like they would walk by & say something, and I would turn to my mom and repeat them and she would be like, “What? Stop being weird.” It was a cool way to bring people on my side. I know there’s kids that can just sit down and talk about current events, but, I wasn’t one of those kids. I always wanted to be part of everything, so I would always be like, “Hey remember this thing? From this show?” And would do a quick thing, and people always responded well, so I just kept doing it.
What’s the hardest thing about being a woman in comedy?
The biggest thing I’ve had to get over—and this also a very female thing to do—you would have to wait for people to finish speaking before you can, and there’s always a feeling of not wanting to overstep. You want to be a good scene partner, and you want to be respectful of the other person, especially in improv. And usually I was pretty good at getting my thing in, because I know that it looks bad if you don’t, but there have been a few times, particularly in scenes with men, to be honest, where I’ve just been so worried about being a good scene partner and not taking up too much room on stage and whatever. And one time my teacher was like, “Danielle—you have to get in there. You usually don’t have a problem, what’s going on?” And it was just like, I didn’t want to bulldoze over other people, and getting over that has been so hard, because it keeps you from saying stuff. And I just don’t really feel that way anymore.
Krysten Schmelzer Krysten recently transferred to Emerson has done more in her three semesters at Emerson than most have during their entire four years. First, she joined This is Pathetic, Emerson’s longform improv comedy troupe. Now she’s their Vice President. Additionally, she’s performed in “Sketchup,” “After School Special,” and several theater productions. She’s also one of the writers of the EVVYs Gala. While Krysten’s incredibly accomplished, she’s also one of the most sincere people around. Her infectious smile and comedic skill illuminate any room she enters, whether or not she’s performing.
Kaylin Mahoney Kaylin is a true polymath of comedy, as she is a member of Jimmy’s Traveling AllStars, host of Breaking News, writer for Closing Time, and a writer/performer on “Sketchup.” And this has all happened in Kaylin’s first semester at Emerson. Needless to say, Kaylin is machine. She comes from four years of training at The Groundlings Theatre and School as well as The Upright Citizen’s Brigade. And, because why stop there, Kaylin also is a member of two improv teams in LA. She does a wicked 40-year-old mother impression, loves a good flannel, and is also an Olympic runner. Like I said, the girl is a machine, and is truly the Little Sebastian of transfer students.
Isabella Boettcher Isabella is one of those people who somehow seems to be everywhere at once, almost always in charge, and always a delight to be around. She’s funny, she’s brilliant, and she’s exactly the kind of person you want to be around and emulate, whether she’s on or behind the stage. On stage, you can find her performing in SwoMo, a shortform improv troupes that also produces an original play every semester. Aside from that, she balances her time as Creative Content Executive Producer of the EVVYs, Executive Producer of “Closing Time,” and Director of “Breaking News.” Impressed? Intimidated? Good. You should be.
Caroline Ullman Caroline Ullman dabbled in comedy with The Second City in Chicago when she was 9. Now, she is the president of The Girlie Project at Emerson, of which she has been a member of since her freshman year. Whether she’s writing or performing in Girlie, “After School Special,” or directing theater productions, Caroline remains a fierce advocate for women, noticeable in her sharp and provocative writing. If anyone in this group is a maverick, it is she. She works hard, stays confident, and is always looking for ways to critique and better comedy for comedians and audiences alike. Get to know her while you still can, because, like the rest of these comedians, “She’s--She’s going places!”
Danielle Shvartsman: What’s the best thing about being a woman in comedy?
Caroline Ullman: The best thing about being a woman in comedy is really just getting the chance to defy all the stereotypes. There are so many generalizations about women having a specific type of humor, or not thinking certain things are funny, and I love being in an environment where I can express my opinions in the realm of comedy. It's even better when I catch someone off guard because what I said wasn't what they expected a girl to say. It really gives me a sense of ownership over my characters, sketches or jokes.
Kaylin Mahoney: I like performing big characters who are super confident. Playing that energy is stupid fun; it forces me to manipulate my physicality in banana ways, speak with looney voices, and wear obnoxious costumes. Best part about all of that is wigs. I try to play all women; I shouldn't have to play a dude to have character range.
Isabella Boettcher: Within Emerson, I’d say we’re in a really awesome place with comedy right now particularly as women in comedy. For a while, I feel like things were a little male dominated. Maybe this was just me, but when I got to Emerson and auditioned for comedy, males seemed like the most visible comedians on campus. Of course there were exceptions, but really in the past two years or so, there’s been this really big shift. I’m trying to nail down why, and I think it’s this: we have some pretty great examples of strong female comedians floating around in pop culture right now. I think that Tig Notaro, Leslie Jones, and Tina Fey are why we are seeing more and more female comedians at Emerson. And I also think that there has been this very inclusive environment created in Emerson Comedy, among men and women. This year especially, I feel as if the groups have truly been there for each other. We’re all busy people, but I know that I can count on any of these comedy ladies and gents to pull through.
CU: Oh my god, same thing as Isabella.
IB: Carol I totally agree with everything you said! There’s nothing more empowering than making someone laugh, and making them laugh because it’s you, not what someone expects you to be. I think that comedy is one of the most honest ways to get to know someone, because how they laugh at your jokes kind of says everything you need to know about them.
CU: Yes wow that's so true. I also agree with what you said before about comedy at Emerson being male heavy at first. And it's really, really awesome to see how much it's changed recently! Maybe we'll come back and visit in a few years and see a couple of all-female troupes.
IB: I wouldn’t be at all surprised. It’s not about females taking over, it’s just that we’ve all been waiting around for a while. Slowly stewing. Ready to be served. Okay, that sounds really weird but you know what I mean? In a weird way, feeling like we keep having to prove ourselves makes us better comedians, because our work is more thoughtful and well crafted. We know how much it matters.
KM: As a lady and new transfer student, I have no complaints. Everybody has welcomed me and my dumb jokes with open arms and wet kisses. There are a million opportunities for me and all other lady students to write, perform,etc. It's magic. And I attribute that huge sense of eager acceptance to the many women that hold student positions of authority here, in terms of production on various shows and things.
Krysten Shmelzer: I absolutely agree with you all. When I transferred here last fall I had no idea that comedy was what I wanted to do. But joining This is PatheticI honestly can say was one of the best things to happen to me here. Pathetic has always been an environment where I have never been stereotyped or made to feel less than. It's an equal playing field in that group and we all want to see each other grow and hear what each other has to say, which is hard to come by and definitely not the norm at many other places.
DS: I would say too that this, being this group of friends and peers, is a really supportive environment in general. For a long time, women were forced to fight for everything. We were pitted against each other for survival, so finally now we’re given the opportunity to take a step back and realize that it’s no longer necessary. It’s definitely slow moving, but we’re finally starting to see not only respect for female comics, but a celebration of them. We’re in a really cool time right now.
CU: Yes that's so true, like in comedy auditions, when there's two men they are able to act friendly towards each other but whenever there are two women they feel a much greater need to compete because they know that there's most likely two spaces for the men and only one space for a woman.
DS: YES. And men will give each other agents’ phone numbers and managers and whatever and women still won’t. I guess there’s also fewer female roles.
CU: Wow. That's crazy.
DS: The truth is that even when women are totally different “types” and wouldn’t be called in for the same things, we all still see each other as a threat and have had to reprogram in order to see otherwise.
IB: Which I think goes back to how more and more women are creating their own content for themselves. I’d say we see that at Emerson too. If you want to be in a sketch, then write a sketch for you! If you want a TV show, write your own TV show!
DS: One hundred percent. Women are putting other women in things now because we’ve decided it’s important. And because now we can make our own content, the industry is changing, too, because it has to.
CU: And thank god we're entering the world at such a turning point.
IB: We're seeing more kinds of women now. It feels like a sketcha producer walks into a board room and is like, we've discovered more types of women! We should feature them huh? And everyone's jaws drop.
DS: Yes! There’s so much content now that’s made by women and for women. There’s no denying it anymore. The public wants the V!
CU: Yes! Women's roles were literally only stereotypes until now. The public wants the V!
DS: It’s about societal roles too. You can play a mom and still have an amazing, dynamic character.
KM: I shouldn't have to play a dude to have character range.
IB: And most of the moms on TV are total badasses. A lot of them sell drugs?
DS: Cool moms.
IB: A new stereotype emerges.
CU: Cool moms are the new thing.
DS: I’ve been playing a lot of moms lately and they’ve all been so different from one another and really fun and cool. I’m excited that now we can have a woman play president and it’s not the joke anymore, because previously, that was the joke and that sucks.
CU: I've been writing sketches for only the girls in Girlie and I think it's because when it's only girls in the sketch, there's no fear of playing the stereotype. You've gotten that out of the way by eliminating the male characters, so you can begin to create more dynamic female characters
DS: Absolutely. Doing genderless improv is the craziest thing in the world. You’re not allowed to label anyone anything that would signify a gender and you get to the crux of the scene so much faster.
KS: It's a great time for women here in comedy at Emerson, but with that said, I feel there's still a lot of work to be done. I would love to see a lot more diversity in the groups on campus too.
IB: I totally agree Krysten, there really isn't enough diversity in Emerson comedy. We have women, let's get some diversity in there it's crazy how comedy in general is pretty lacking in diversity.
DS: My qualm last year was that the comedy community was not very inclusive and it’s getting better with every semester.
KS: Exactly! Comedy is so great because it's universal. Everyone can laugh. I'd love to see it open up even further and hear a bunch of different perspectives. That's what will help the comedy community to grow at Emerson and just in general.
DS: It’s so true! And it’ll bring about different types of comedy we’re just not getting. More points of view equals more fun times.
CU: More points of view equals more people laughing!
Photos by Chris Garcia