Marshall Professor talks comedy, feminism and teaching before performing at national festival in Boston
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In Boston, the eighth annual Women in Comedy Festival reignited its celebration of female comedians and performers Wednesday. Among its over 200 performers and acts, including Saturday Night Live alumna Rachel Dratch and actress Rita Rudner, Marshall professor and faculty-in-residence Hilary Brewster will perform both a reading and live stand-up during the festival’s weekend.
Brewster will be reading from a piece she wrote for Marshall’s annual fundraiser, the “Pillow Talk Monologues Project,” entitled “Oh, The Places You’ll Come,” a parody of the Dr. Seuss book.
“It’s sort of a feminist, sex-positive, rhyming Dr. Seuss-thing about the ways in which our culture treats sexuality for women,” Brewster said.
Alongside her performance in the story-telling category, Brewster will be performing a seven-minute stand-up routine on the festival’s last day.
“I’ll be doing a couple of sets that I’ve done here,” said Brewster, who has performed around Huntington in places like Black Sheep Burrito and Brews and The Huntington Ale House.
Brewster said she plans to start her set with a series of self-deprecating jokes about her recent eight-month spell as a single bachelorette.
“I didn’t even kiss anybody, and I just make a lot of jokes about what that was like,” said Brewster, who described the second half of her set as inspired by her time as a high school teacher.
“Both of those sets I’ve done at Black Sheep, and they were pretty well received,” Brewster said. “I’m hoping the people at Boston also think I’m funny.”
Brewster got her start with comedy in Columbus, Ohio alongside her best friend in a comedy group.
Brewster described the act as similar to “The Daily Show,” but “specifically about things going on in Columbus or Ohio,” in which Brewster was the “Senior Women’s Correspondent,” who hosted and wrote the segment “That’s What She Said.”
Brewster said she was encouraged to do stand-up by Huntington comedian Ian Nolte.
“I ended up being kind of good at it,” said Brewster, who said she was still “way more nervous about the stand-up part of the Boston trip,” and that “you never know what’s going to play with an audience.”
As for other comedians, Brewster prefers those who “don’t just tell jokes,” and described her favorite style as a “sort of storytelling-comedy,” and named examples such as comedians Louis C.K. and Mike Birbiglia.
“My favorite comedians are smart, and they are making observations about the world,” Brewster said.
While the Women in Comedy Festival features male as well as female acts, as a feminist Brewster says “it’s important that women be given opportunities.”
“The late Christopher Hitchens famously said in a Vanity Fair article that women are just inherently not funny,” Brewster said. “And oh my god, what an asinine thing to say.”
“I hate the idea that women are not funny,” Brewster said. “Because women are funny, and I think there are more and more venues out there for women to get their voices out.”
Brewster also criticized double-standards she sees in the comedian world.
“When a male comic talks about sex, it’s funny — and when a female comedian talks about sex, well then she’s the ‘sex-comic,’” Brewster said. “I think that that’s unfair, and is one of the subtle and unconscious ways that women get marginalized in pop culture.”
Brewster’s feminist efforts extend to Marshall’s “Monologue Projects,” a series hosting readings of poems, essays and other written material about gender and sexuality. Proceeds for the event benefit the CONTACT Rape Crisis Center.
For the first annual “Monologues” event, Brewster read a rhyming piece entitled “To Rush, with Love,” addressed to conservative talk-show host Rush Limbaugh, criticizing his attacks towards a Georgetown student who asked for birth control to be covered under the Affordable Care Act.
“Her last name was Fluke. Oh, sweet lord, was that comedy gold,” Brewster said.
Brewster credits her time as a teacher as her introduction to making people laugh.
“Teaching, both at the college level and at the high school level, is a little bit like performing,” Brewster said, “and I just made my students crack up all the time. But I’m not sure I ever thought I was ‘officially funny.’”
Brewster said that moment came when she was asked to join her friend’s comedy group and perform “That’s What She Said.”
“Part of being funny, I think, is that you can’t be very self-conscious,” Brewster said.
Brewster will be performing on two separate days during the festival, April 21 and 23.
Austin Creel can be contacted at [email protected]