Have you heard the one about the woman who’s red, black, and blue all over? She’s a brunette who’s been telling too many blonde jokes.
Yeah, local comedian Diana Saez and the women of Broad Minded Comedy don’t think that’s very funny, either.
The comedy show, conceived by Cleveland Park resident Saez and a group that includes newcomer comedian Aparna Nancherla and veteran Erin Jackson, serves as a platform to showcase women comics in the D.C. area. A range of comedic styles is represented, as is an array of ethnic backgrounds: Saez is Puerto RicannAmerican, Nancherla is Indian-American, and Jackson is African-American.
“I like to call us the Benetton of comedy,” says Jackson.
One-off, all-female comedy shows such as “Estrogen Fest” have done well in D.C., but Saez noticed they were few and far between, often leaving her as the “token girl” in otherwise all-male shows. It’s a common occurrence—and it can have its drawbacks. While performing on a mostly male comedy bill on the West Virginia/Maryland border, the crowd grew boisterous. “I was a few minutes into my set when this guy yelled out, ‘Take off your shirt!’ ” Saez says.
Though many male comedians are supportive of their female counterparts, Saez says they are sometimes her toughest audience. “There’s a willingness [among male comedians] to write women [comedians] off sometimes,” says Saez. Working with female comics, unsurprisingly, provides a more accommodating environment.
“It’s nice not to have to feel like the minority,” Saez says.
According to Saez, none of the comedians in Broad Minded Comedy craft their jokes exclusively for a female audience; although she includes female passive-aggressiveness in her routines, she wants to tell her jokes in a way that men will also find funny. And, she’s quick to point out, the show is not about bashing men or women.
Nancherla, for example, often uses absurdity and exaggeration to get her laughs, choosing not to use much gender-specific material in her act. The brown-skinned 24-year-old says she likes to come into work with a dot painted on her forehead, wearing dreamcatcher earrings, and carrying homemade taquitos; inevitably, she says, someone gets an office pool going on what race she is and eventually asks, “What are you?”
The women debuted Broad Minded Comedy on June 20 at Riot Act and felt the love. “The crowd was ridiculously huge for that space,” says Saez, noting that those audience members who weren’t sitting were standing shoulder-to-shoulder and some late-comers even had to stand on the stairs.
“The girls did such a great job,” says Riot Act club owner John Xereas of the show. “They had something to prove, and I wanted to give them the chance to do that.”
Broad Minded Comedy is currently scheduled to return to Riot Act for a four-performance engagement in late July; depending upon the crowd sizes they are able to draw, Saez says, she envisions the show growing to the point where it occurs “every three months on a much larger scale with big headliners.” That’s no laughing matter for a woman who—less than a year and a half ago—was pursuing a career in politics, including a stint as a research assistant for the labor party in New Zealand’s parliament. If her decision to forgo politics in favor of comedy marks a wild deviation in her career path, however, those years of toiling away for the government haven’t gone to waste.
“Working in politics was…pretty good training for a comedy career,” says Saez. “Both deal with drunks and megalomaniacs. Just one has fake brick backdrops.”
Broad Minded Comedy performs at 9 p.m. and 11 p.m. Friday, July 20, and Saturday, July 21, at Riot Act Comedy Club, 1610 14th St. NW. $17. (202) 625-6229.