The All Jane No Dick Festival is proof of exactly why women comedians should be celebrated. I’m back from Portland and wow, the fest was easily one of the best I’ve ever been to – fun, supportive and friendly. FRIENDLY. You have no idea how big of a deal that is. Yes, we need to have thick skins to be in this industry: bookers, audiences, the industry in general are tough. So for the love of comedy, how about the rest of us be supportive of each other? That’s exactly the environment Portland’s second annual All Jane No Dick Festival fostered.
The energy throughout the whole weekend was palpable. The comedians, the audiences, even random people I met around town were excited about the fest. It’s almost like people could tell this was going to be big. I don’t know if it’s because we were all women, but somehow this festival was missing what most gatherings of stand ups (more so than the improv community) have in common – awkwardness.. It’s really just that comics by nature tend to be weird, sometimes stand-offish. We were the outsiders as kids and it’s on the stage that we’ve found our home. That means often, the awkwardness is still there when we’re just hanging out backstage. Yet somehow the women this weekend left all that behind.
I went to ‘All Jane’ telling myself, “Ok, make sure to introduce yourself to at least a couple people.” I assumed I’d be the one to start the small talk and after a few minutes of awkwardly standing around, I’d move on to introduce myself to someone else… rinse and repeat. What I didn’t expect was that I wouldn’t be the first to approach a conversation, that I would leave there feeling like I genuinely made friends and that I’d be inspired to be a better comic. Maybe it’s the need to connect because we all know it’s tough enough in this business. Maybe it’s the supportive environment ‘All Jane’ created, or maybe because since there weren’t any male comics around, the macho, “I’m too cool” attitude just wasn’t there. We all wanted to include and celebrate each other, just like the festival set out to do.
I got in town on Friday. Performances were set at the Alberta Rose Theater and the Curious Comedy Theater. Unfortunately I couldn’t be in two places at once, so I was only able to watch the shows at Curious Comedy. I was part of the 7:30pm show and was too much in my own head for my own set to really focus on the other comics’ performing, but they didn’t need me. They had a full house of audience members clinging to their every word, rolling with laughter. With the 10:30pm show, I was able to sit back and enjoy it more. And oh man did I! Cameron Esposito with her podcast “Put Your Hands Together,” a regular weekly showcase she does at the Upright Citizens Brigade, was so great you felt special just being in the room. I know Cameron from back in Chicago. In fact she taught me how to do stand up in the class she created Feminine Comique. (The fabulous comedian Kelsie Huff teaches it now. If you’re nervous about stand up or are even a little curious about trying it, I can’t recommend that class enough.) Anyways, it’s been at least three years since I’d seen Cameron perform live. Of course I’m following her fast rising career, catching her on “Chelsea Lately” and “Craig Ferguson,” but I felt so lucky to get to watch her Friday night. She’s soooo good. Just brilliant. I was honestly in awe. She had picked a fantastic lineup, one woman after another just slaying the audience. They each had their own unique quirk and each one of them made me jealous and want to work on my craft that much more. It’s been a long time since I laughed that hard and was honestly one of the best live comedy shows I’ve ever seen.
The rest of the weekend was just as strong. Comedians like Bonnie McFarlane and long-time comedian Susan Rice destroying. Performers like , Calise Hawkins, Wild Horses, Kyle Mizono, Kristin Clifford, Aparna Nancherla, Janine Brito, Switch Board and Maggie Maye making me want to be better. Really, I hesitate to even name names, because EVERYBODY was so good. Whether they’d been in the game for 35 years or 2, the women in this festival killed it. This is in no small part due to the curetting of Artistic-Director Stacey Hallal, who carefully chose the lineup.
We hung out at the after parties, laughing and pretending we weren’t going to eat the free pizza and Voodoo Doughnut. This would never happen with a bunch of male comics, that’s for sure. But that’s ok, we are women, we are conscious of what we eat… so what. We even talked about our periods back stage and for once without some dude in the corner getting uncomfortable. We could just be ourselves, which was friendly, supportive and funny as hell. And that’s why women comedians should be celebrated more, because when we’re treated as equals, we shine and we make audiences happy, just like our male counter parts. Also, shout out to Curious Comedy’s chef Greg Schasse. You’ve never had food in a comedy club (or most restaurants) so beautiful and delicious. Guess that’s just another perk of being in Portland. So look out next year, Portland and the comedians across the country, because The All Jane No Dick festival is only going to get bigger and bigger and if you get to be a part of it, (be it in the audience or behind the curtain) you’ll feel lucky too.
SO Note: Feature photo is the wonderful staff of All Jane No Dick: Greg Schasse, Miranda Wiggington and Katie Michels. Go to our Instagram page @serialoptimist to see more photos from the festival. Keep an eye out on alljanenodick.com for news about next year’s festival!