SU women get the campus community giggling

Growing numbers of ladies are joining Syracuse University campus comedy organizations to bring on the laughs.

Last year, Sarah Schuster was holding one of her first writers’ meetings for the The Kumquat, Syracuse University’s satire news network, when she realized something odd.

“I looked around me and realized I was the only girl in the room,” she said. “I was the person in charge, but, being female, I was clearly a minority.”

The sophomore magazine journalism major is the head writer and co-founder of The Kumquat, which began producing mock news coverage on campus last winter. Schuster says that at its start, she was the only consistent female member of The Kumquat. But that, like at many other comedy-related organizations on campus, is changing.

Photo: Jillian D'Onfro
The Kumquat holds meetings twice a week.

Female participation in comedy groups has been steadily on the rise at SU, and elsewhere, as the traditionally male dominated field has started to shift.

Schuster says that she was the only female member alongside five guys to commit to The Kumquat during its first semester in January 2012. A year later, The Kumquat has picked up four more female writers and the network is considering swapping out their regular news anchors to include some of the ladies.

Another organization that writes and produces sketch comedy, Humor Whore, has seen a steady increase in female members. Humor Whore was formed in 2010 by a group of primarily male students. Now, women dominate the Orange Television Network show (there are 15 females and only ten males).

Nick Ferreiro, a sophomore studying television-radio-film and the executive producer of Humor Whore, believes that this change has been has brought a more diversity to the organization in demographics and in the content it produces.

“When it first started, it was very guy-heavy, and still, the sketches have a lot of male presence. But in terms of who does the writing, more than half of the people involved are female. I love it,” Ferreiro said. “They bring a lot of different perspectives to the team.”

Schuster, who is also the humor columnist for the Daily Orange, highlighted that girls can write from different experiences than males can speak to.

“I think I cover a lot of topics that a guy wouldn’t be able to cover,” she said.

Schuster wrote one column about drunken suitors stopping at nothing to hit on her during her shifts at the Pita Pit. “That’s a kind of thing that’s funny for a girl and relatable for a girl,” she said. “It’s a different world of humor that we get to explore.”

As head writer, Schuster says that she also turns down the slapstick and crude humor that sometimes gets amplified in a male-dominated environment.

“Guys tend to move towards that stuff,” she said. “I try to push it farther than that.”

Humor Whore writer Emma Sauerwein agrees that the females in the group add diversity to sketches because they lean towards sharper wit.

“With more female voices in the writer’s room, there are so many more kinds of comedy that we come up with,” she said. “It’s not just gross jokes that we produce anymore.”

But despite the positive perceptions about increasing female involvement in humor at SU, these students feel that there are still barriers for Syracuse women in comedy. In a sector that has been traditionally filled with men, many female students in comedy agree that they face challenges and anxieties that their male counterparts do not.

“There’s the stigma that women can’t be funny,” Schuster said. Sometimes, she said, she feels that that stigma hangs over her work.

Junior TRF student Brittany Bart, the associate producer of Humor Whore, also has felt the stereotype all her life.

“I grew up feeling that I wasn’t funny,” she said. “I had an older brother who everyone always thought was hilarious. I was a class clown, but I didn’t feel comfortable having the title of class clown because I always felt less funny in comparison to him.”

Sophomore education major and member of the SU improv troupe Zamboni Revolution, Megan Marshall agrees that there is a gender gap that can make comedy more difficult for females to pursue. Zamboni Revolution has seen shifting female membership in the past few years; while the five women outnumbered the two men in the troupe a year ago, this semester’s two female members find themselves in the minority.

“It’s a lot harder for women to do certain types of comedy, like physical comedy,” Marshall said. “Guys can dress up as girls, and it will be automatically hilarious. But girls can’t dress up as guys and just be considered funny. Guys can also get away with gross-out humor that girls can’t, because no one thinks crude things should come out of their mouth.”

While the gender gap is difficult, she also feels it is conquerable. One way to overcome these challenges, Marshall says, is to perform and produce with confidence. Seeing other successful women as comedic role models -- like Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Kristen Wiig, and Lena Dunham -- brings confidence.

“There are such strong female comedians right now,” Schuster said. “They’re not underground; they’re out there showing girls that you can be a writer, and you can be hilarious without just playing the female parts.”

But, in the end, most important measure of success is still the Funny-Factor.

“Gender doesn’t matter so much as the final product,” Ferrairo said.

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