Mini Q+A with Jo Firestone

Jo Firestone is a Brooklyn-based comedian who can be seen on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, Joe Pera Talks With You, High Maintenance, Shrill, The Chris Gethard Show, and more. She can be heard on Maximum Fun’s Dr. Gameshow, a podcast she co-hosts with Manolo Moreno. Her album, “The Hits” is available on Comedy Central Records, and if you like puns, check out Punderdome: A Card Game for Pun Lovers. She is very willing work with animals please consider her for animals. Jo also performed at our first GOLD Comedy LIVE!


Favorite response to a heckler or troll?

“Stop it, father.”

On your deathbed, what transcendent advice would you croak at a young comedian?

This question is unnecessarily morbid. Just try to be yourself and dive into what you think is funny.

What’s your first impulse when someone says “women aren’t funny”?

😘

When you were coming up in comedy, what helped you stick with it?

Supportive friends. Some really memorable shows.

Best comedy advice you ever got?

Lukas Kaiser once told me if you need a bigger audience at your show, offer free pizza. It works without fail.

Describe your worst gig.

There’s so many bad ones they all blur together. I guess that’s somewhat comforting— you do years of “worst gigs” and you won’t remember any of them on the day you have to fill out someone’s questionnaire.

Feelings about the word “comedienne?”

Seems like it should be a fancy cheese.

Photo via: Mindy Tucker


Jo Firestone is a Brooklyn-based comedian who can be seen on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, Joe Pera Talks With You, High Maintenance, Shrill, The Chris Gethard Show, and more. She can be heard on Maximum Fun’s Dr. Gameshow, a podcast she co-hosts with Manolo Moreno. Her album, “The Hits” is available on Comedy Central Records, and if you like puns, check out Punderdome: A Card Game for Pun Lovers. She is very willing work with animals please consider her for animals. Jo also performed at our first GOLD Comedy LIVE!

How to get a job as a (funny) copywriter

If you’d told me when I was a teenager that I was going to write for a living I would have laughed and then worried about why I wasn’t going to be a Broadway star. I had tried, and failed, to test into high school AP English twice and definitely didn’t think writing would be part of my future.  

Fast forward six years: I now work as a junior copywriter in a Manhattan advertising agency—basically Mad Men meets Entertainment 720—and as we say in advertising, “You can too!” In fact, I recommend it. Why?

  • It’s my literal job to write creatively and work with fun, smart, interesting people all day.
  • There’s a community-oriented work culture, the opportunity to work with people my own age, and insane snacks.
  • I’m encouraged to continue exploring my interests outside of writing (comedy, music, politics).
  • I get to think about ways to embed untold narratives into one of pop culture’s most dominant media.
  • I get to turn on the TV and go, “Whoa, I helped make that!”

There are a few cons, such as:

  • Advertising is generally a boys club—but we’re changing that!
  • Capitalism
  • Worrying about the importance of a hashtag. #doesanybodyusehashtags #notreally

But it’s all worth it. While I’m not a stand up comedian, being funny has helped me hone skills in copywriting and creative advertising. What’s more, writing comedic sketches, advertisements, and learning about improv, has also made me more confident in my own voice. So if you want to be funny and get paid, try copywriting! Here are 5 essential steps for getting there.

Pay attention to the world.

I decided to study journalism in college and eventually added an emphasis in advertising. I had the opportunity to visit agencies in Portland and New York and became enthralled by the prospect of casual work attire, ping-pong tables in the office, and coffee on tap. I knew I wanted to work in an environment that encouraged having a sense of humor and a point of view.

I also knew early on that if I was going to work in advertising I wanted to work on campaigns that were culturally relevant and hopefully funny as well. When advertising is tone-deaf it can reinforce negative stereotypes or be blatantly offensive—a prime example being the Kendall Jenner Pepsi campaign.

So while 24/7 ping-pong and cold brew in the office are major benefits, it’s still important to make sure that the work you’re producing never loses touch with reality.

Create a portfolio.

The key to a job in advertising, or creative media, is a portfolio. Your portfolio is really just a website of your work and can consist of real projects that have been produced, spec work that you create on your own, or anything else that showcases your writing ability and personality.

Since none of the projects I created in college had a comedic tone, I knew I had to showcase my personality elsewhere. I started a blog on my site where I wrote about important subjects like why everybody should be a fan of musical theater. For any writer, having a blog is a great way to play with different tones while sharing your thoughts and opinions.

Play up your writing-adjacent skills.

When I started applying for copywriting internships, I found success when I focused on my skills and interests outside of copywriting—primarily my background in political research and my interest in comedy. Throughout the interview process, I was able to show that I was funny by answering questions both comedically and confidently. There is really nothing more cringe-worthy than trying to make someone laugh—but when you are hoping to work in a relaxed environment, especially as a writer, hiring managers are often looking for candidates that are smart but don’t take themselves too seriously. I also incorporated humor into my cover letter by explaining how I didn’t think I could become more of a hipster cliché until I moved to Brooklyn and started playing the mandolin.

Also, social media is often a part of a copywriter’s daily duties. Make sure your own social game is strong and shows professionalism (and humor). Everything counts!

Know the agency’s sense of humor.

There are agencies with a reputation for producing comical spots. Some lean slapstick while others focus on a lighthearted concept for an entire campaign. In my experience, the comedic campaigns that are most effective are the ones that are rooted in a cultural trend or observation. This idea mirrors the principles of improv—that it’s not one line that makes something funny, it’s coming up with a funny and unusual concept in general. But during the interview phase, make sure you know and can contribute to whatever their style is.

Find female mentors.

Though there isn’t nearly as much sexism in the advertising industry as there was on Madison Avenue in the 1960s, it can still be difficult to work in a male-dominated industry. I can’t underscore enough the value of having strong female mentors that will have your back as you navigate the field of advertising. Having a community of women to share experiences, discuss wages, and learn tips from, is essential to success. We all have unique perspectives that we bring to the table and it’s important that we surround ourselves with mentors who understand the power of using comedy to share our stories and creativity—whether that’s through an ad or another format entirely.

So come hang out with me! I might not be gracing the Broadway stage, but it’s immensely powerful, and fulfilling, to work in a collaborative environment and write for a living. If you’re hoping to begin a career in advertising, I encourage you to think about how your voice and point of view could positively impact a brand. Oh, but first: take AP English if you can!

Top photo via: AMC. Bottom photo via: Will Nielsen


Talia Berniker is a copywriter living in Brooklyn, NY. When she isn’t writing ads, she studies improv at the Upright Citizens Brigade, attends as many indie concerts as possible, and loves rooting for all things Oregon Ducks.

7 reasons why comedy needs more girls

We need more women in comedy.

The more women do comedy, the more women define comedy.

And “more women in comedy starts with more girls in comedy,” as tweet-noted by GOLD fan/fam Daniel Radosh, senior writer/producer for The Daily Show with Trevor Noah (and formerly of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart).

What’s the rush?

Change is happening in comedy RIGHT NOW, and you can help it happen faster.

Where we are: Dudes still dominate comedy, both onstage and behind the scenes. Comedy bookers are STILL weird about booking women, with female comedians STILL being told (directly or otherwise) that sorry, there’s “already a woman” in a given show. Female comedians in the trenches still get less stage time than their male counterparts. And! Only one female comedian—Amy Schumer—has ever made it onto Forbes’s highest-paid comedians list; that took until two thousand freaking sixteen. And no woman has made it since. This is why “it’s a terrible time” for women in comedy, according to none other than Tina Fey. As she told Town and Country, “If you were to really look at it, the boys are still getting more money for a lot of garbage, while the ladies are hustling and doing amazing work for less.’”

As New York Magazine’s (and Good One podcast’s) Jesse David Fox noted: “The pool of stand-ups networks can draw from is largely based on already-established comics, meaning previous bias factors in, and it can be difficult for up-and-coming talent—especially women—to get noticed in the first place. The point being there need to be more female comedians progressing through the stand-up stages, and that will take time.” (So YOU! Start now!)

Where we’re going: “The emergence of new female voices over the past five years has brought us to a point where the importance of women in American comedy cannot be glossed over,” Yael Kohen writes, “and there is no going back.”

BOOM. Why? Because, Kohen notes, today we have:

  • Demand for points of view beyond those of white men.
  • The growth and dominance of niche audiences.
  • The power of social media to LIKE (or NOT)
  • YouTube, podcasts, etc. that enable creators to skip the middleMAN

“Women have been thriving in these alternative channels for years, and now that the alternative is the norm, female comedians are especially prepared to take advantage of a new climate,” Kohen writes. “Female comedians have always been ahead of their time; now, at last, their time is catching up to them.”

AWESOME! But why comedy?

We need more women in many professions, such as president of the United States, and Ghostbuster. But bottom line, comedy matters. So there are at least 7 reasons why women—starting with you!—matter to comedy.

Comedy is power.

When you tell jokes, you are in charge. You’ve got the mic, the spotlight, the punch. You can tell your story any way you want. That’s power. More women should have that. (More women—and people—of all colors and shapes and lifestyle choices should have that.) More women in comedy would mean that the default setting for FUNNY—and all the power and perks that come with it—would, and could, no longer be DUDE.

Women are a gender, not a genre.

Imagine this: You arrive to do a standup show. You find out you’re the only woman in the lineup. To introduce you, the emcee says: “And now we’ve got a laaady coming to the stage!”

Then you have a big job. A dude comic just has to spend the next eight minutes proving that he is funny. YOU you have to spend the next eight minutes proving that WOMEN are funny.

This is also why Aparna Nancherla says “‘What’s it like to be a woman in comedy?’ 1% jokes and 99% answering this question.”

More women in comedy would mean that each individual woman does not have to represent her entire gender, which no woman (or man, or person) can do anyway. More women in comedy would mean that people would finally stop talking about two kinds of comedy: comedy, and “women’s comedy.” Or two kinds of comics: comedians, and, God help us, comediennes. It’s numbers. We need enough women in comedy so that we’re no longer DIFFERENT, or INTERESTING. We’re just comics.

Comedy is business.

Comedy is work. It might be fun, and even funny, but—like ditch digger and yogapreneur—it’s a job.

So if you get treated differently from men when you do your job, that’s uncool, at best. Illegal, at worst. (You may also be aware that comedy also has a serious sexual harassment problem.) As with any other business, there’s individualized and institutionalized sexism (and other -isms and -phobias) that keep women (and others) down, sidelined, or out.

That’s bad for individual comics, and for business. Setting aside the discrimination and harassment, more women in comedy means more jokes! More jokes about more things! More jokes about more things from more than only 50% of the population! And more jokes means more laughs, which means more dollars. People should do more math.

Take it from movies: Among the 25 top-grossing movies 2006 to 2015, those about women “earned $45.5 million more than movies about men,” Mic reported, noting that 97 of those 133 movies are about men. “Only 36 are about women—the people who are the bigger box office draw. That’s not just poor representation, it’s also bad business.”

Or television! James Poniewozik on Why diverse TV is better TV: “Audiences for everything are smaller now, which means networks aren’t programming each show for an imagined audience of tens of millions of white people. On top of that, there are younger viewers for whom diversity—racial, religious, sexual—is their world. That audience wants authenticity; advertisers want that audience.”

More women in comedy makes everyone funnier.

Comedy, like almost anything else, is better with more voices.

And comedy especially benefits from more outsider voices. “Just as women have emerged as the leaders of the nascent [#resist] movement, so are women behind some of the sharpest political satire of the moment,” wrote Laura Zarum in Flavorwire. “Not because we’re inherently superior to men but because it’s easier to punch up when you’re already one rung down.”

That rising tide lifts all boats—even S.S. Straight White Dude. The magnificent Cameron Esposito breaks it down. “If you are a straight, white, 22-year-old dude and you do stand up comedy, there are a lot of you. So if you put a woman who is black and 35 in between two straight, white, 22-year-old dudes, those dudes look more interesting. They get to be a counterpoint, and that’s something that straight, white men rarely get to experience. Not only were the people that had historically less representation benefitting from being around more diversity, but the people who were in the majority were too.” (Extra credit: read this.)

Comedy has something to say.

Comedians are “today’s public intellectuals,” as The Atlantic put it. “People look to Amy Schumer and her fellow jokers not just to make fun of the world, but to make sense of it. And maybe even to help fix it.” (According to Salon, we also expect comedians, in the face of public tragedy, to “comfort us.”)

In a different Atlantic article, Megan Garber observes that much high-profile comedy today is “distinguished by the fact that it isn’t content simply to elicit laughter. It has an ethic and a vision, and strives to convince its audience of the rightness of that vision. Comedy that argues and insinuates and in general has Something to Say about the world.”

And if more minds could be opened to more ideas from more people who don’t necessarily look like them, we’d all be better for it. We’re talking to you, late night comedy. Sam Bee is lonely out there.

Funny women open people’s minds (including women’s).

If every single personal ad ever is any guide, we are all looking for a partner with a “sense of humor.” But science breaks that down a bit: “Women want men who will tell jokes; men want women who will laugh at theirs.”

In that same article (again with The Atlantic!), Olga Khazan writes: “The way men and women laugh and joke has been so different for so long that it’s hardened into a stark, oppressive social norm. Norm violators get punished, and often, that means funny women are punished, too. These biases have a chilling effect on women. The idea that women aren’t supposed to make jokes can trigger stereotype threat, a phenomenon in which simply telling someone that their ‘group’ tends to be bad at something hinders that individual’s performance. Told that their humor isn’t wanted, many women don’t bother.”

But it is wanted! Comedy: support and promote women, all kinds of women, and more women will “bother,” and more people will get used to it, and more people will watch more of your shows, and more people will PAY TO watch more of your shows.

More women in comedy means more women in comedy.

White dudes who try standup or improv invite their friends to their shows. Their friends are, perhaps, mostly white dudes. When white dudes in the audience see funny white dudes on stage, audience white dudes go, “I could do that.” Then those white dudes try standup or improv and INVITE THEIR FRIENDS. And: THE CYCLE CONTINUES.

Here’s the flip side. “Women are limited in our imagination by the things that we have seen women do,” says Cameron Esposito. “So if you just go to a room and you watch other women tell jokes, there is something that switches in your mind where then you realize that you can tell jokes. We also don’t see ourselves as presidents because we never have female presidents.”

Comedy needs more women—and more everyone—so that more everyone will get into comedy.

So what do we do?

Get more women into comedy.
How?

People with power in comedy should work hard to book women, hire women, represent women, and mentor women. They’re there.

Don’t just say “no one sent me any packets from women.” At this point, that’s just hacky. Just ask Trevor Noah. In a conversation with Lupita Nyong’o and the New York Times about hiring his writing staff, he said:

I said, “I want more diversity.” They said, “But this is what we’re getting.” So I went to all the young comedians I knew—black, Hispanic, female, whatever—and I said, “Are you interested?” And they all said: “Are you crazy? Of course, I’m interested.” So I asked, “Why didn’t you audition?” And they said, “We didn’t know about it.” But they told me they’d sent it out to all the agents and managers. And they all went: “Oh, that’s where you made the mistake. We can’t get agents or managers.” We can say we want diversity, but there’s this little roadblock that no one tells you about.

Agents and managers: go out of your way to agent and represent women. (And all sorts of people outside the mainstream.) That’d be a start.

GOLD likes to start even earlier by telling teen girls that it’s good to be funny. That you are already funnier than you think. GIRLS: Being funny means being exactly who they are already, just with a few more punchlines. Comedy is not what dudes do and girls laugh at. Comedy is YOURS. Whether you want to be standup funny, or YouTube funny, or improv funny, or Instagram funny, or funnier stump speech for class president funny, comedy is power, and that power is YOURS.

Read Lynn’s bio here.

Are any jokes off-limits? Punching up vs. punching down

A student in one of our workshops once tried out a joke about wanting to hide a knife in her hijab to cut the boys who tried to take it off.

Can she do that? It’s edgy, but sure.

But could a white dude do a joke about trying to take off a girl’s hijab? NOT RECOMMENDED.

This is all a way of answering the very, very common question: Are any jokes off-limits? The answer is YUP! But the real questions are: Which ones, and how do you figure it out?

Put another way:

Is stabbing people funny? NOT REALLY.

Can you do a joke about stabbing people? MAYBE!

It all depends on your joke, on your intention, and on you.

This is why people talk about punching down versus punching up.

Simply put, punching down means making jokes about people with less power than you. Punching up means making jokes about people with more power than you. When you make fun of a mean principal, you are punching up. When you make fun of the dweeby kid, you are…bullying.

Comedy is better when you punch up.

Punching up is morally preferable, generally kinder, and most likely to make the world a better place, as awesome comic and beloved friend of GOLD Negin Farsad notes. “It’s vital to understand the job comedy can do in actively providing a counterbalance to bigotry and prejudice, as well as understanding the types of humour that reinforce negative stereotypes,” she says. “I want to make sure I’m punching up, not punching down.”

But let’s also look at it simply from the level of craft. A punch line is a surprise. A punch line takes some work. A punch line reveals something new, or says a familiar thing a new way. A punch line may even, at best, not just be a rando wisecrack, but a joke that only YOU can tell: a window into your unique point of view.

So for instance when you make fun of someone short, you’re revealing that they are SHORT—and showing us nothing about what makes YOUR POV unique. When you make fun of the mean principal, you’ve got much more to work with: you can reveal something about how you relate to the grownups who boss you around, and you’ll get people on your side without ganging up. And bonus: no one in the crowd will think, “Eeep, that comic’s kind of mean.”

At the level of craft, it’s lazy to write the easiest joke about the easiest target. Comedy is about being CREATIVE and getting people to LIKE you. Do the harder work on your end and you’ll make easier for them.

Where are your up and down?

Up and down are different for different people. It all depends on how up or down YOU are on the existing power structure (#fighthepower). Straight cis white dude, up. Young woman of color with a hijab, farther down. Let’s call them Norm and Nora. Nora could make jokes about Norm. Norm probably should not make jokes about Nora.

But wait. It’s not really that simple. If Norm makes a joke that puts Nora down for being female, of color, Muslim: that’s punching down. If Norm makes a joke ABOUT sexism, racism, Islamophobia with Nora as his main character: bruh, that’s punching up. Because then he’s making fun of the existing power structure itself. Go, Norm.

#elephantintheroom

Can you make rape jokes? YUP!

Quiz: Will the better jokes be about (a) rape victim(s) or (b) perps and the culture that excuses rape, etc. etc.?

If you answered (b), go write some jokes!

There it is: there is no TOPIC that is off-limits. Not even rape! It’s the joke—the target, the POV, the intention—that requires evaluation.   

When in doubt, answer these key questions.

  1. Who or what is my target? Starting point: make sure the target of your joke—the who or what you are making fun of—has more power than you. (Margin of error: one bratty kid sibling.)
  2. Who is my audience? Do they have roughly the same up/down as you? You should be good. If not, tread more carefully. (This interesting counterpoint to the up/down idea is relevant here.)
  3. How’s my tone? YOU KNOW (and so does the crowd) if a joke is coming from a place of snarky mean, or a place of legit anger. (Sometimes legit anger can justify snarky mean, but that’s an advanced move.)
  4. How’s the joke doing? If it’s crushing with the people you want it to crush with, then you’re probably doing fine. (If it’s crushing with a**holes, maybe let it go.) And if it’s just not working at all, even after some tinkering, it’s just not working. Let go of the idea (usually pushed by people on the higher end of the up/down) that COMEDY IS SUPPOSED TO MAKE PEOPLE UNCOMFORTABLE or whatever. Naw. It’s supposed to make people laugh.
  5. What does my gut say? How do you feel when you tell this joke? Delighted and energized, or a little tight and squinched up? Your gut knows what’s up. Your gut is a tough crowd, but a good one. If your gut feels off, maybe the joke is, too. If your gut feels good, punch on!

Read Lynn’s bio here.

Mini Q+A with Grace Holtz

Grace Holtz is a Chattanooga-based comedian and performer. She previously was a co-host for the Once a Month comedy show and helped lead GOLD Comedy’s Comedy Camp at the Chattanooga Public Library.


Favorite response to a heckler or troll?

That even with a microphone and a PA system my voice will never be as loud as an arrogant man still putting his two cents in at a comedy club where he used a Groupon.

BRIEFLY describe your worst gig.

I told several anti-police force jokes before a cop approached the stage to tell me to shut up. I would’ve used the retort to that heckler but all I did was give him my license plate number.

When you were coming up in comedy, what helped you stick with it?

Realizing no one had my voice in my city. I felt unique for one of the first times in my life.

Best comedy advice you ever got?

Make your strongest joke your last.

Worst comedy advice you ever got?

Wear makeup.

Favorite response to “What’s it like to be a woman in comedy”?

Same as a man. Just harder.

Feelings about the word “comedienne”?

Lose it.

What advice do you have for how to level up from open mics + bringers to actual SPOT-spots?

Always get to know out of town comedians in your town. Each booking could lead to a level up.

What single word always cracks you up?

Duty

Was there one person who inspired you to become a comedian?

Joan Rivers and my bff who is way funnier and never had the guts to do it.

How has being funny helped you in your offstage life?

Understanding that all people have a voice. It’s not your responsibility to change their voice, but empathize and move on if they don’t deserve your ears.

On your deathbed, what transcendent advice would you croak at a young comedian?

Your talent is to turn your pain into humor and help someone else’s pain shrink a little bit. Even if your audience doesn’t like you, you’re the one walking home with a paycheck.


Grace Holtz is a Chattanooga-based comedian and performer. She previously was a co-host of the Once a Month comedy show and helped lead GOLD Comedy’s Comedy Camp at the Chattanooga Public Library.

Read Alex’s bio here.