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It's a Woman Thing

"Ladies Night" at the Memphis Comedy Festival.



Everyone knows women aren't funny -- at least, not as funny as men -- or so goes the long-held belief. When one thinks of comedy and comedians, names like Eddie Murphy, Chris Tucker, and Jim Carrey come to mind. And in the world of improvisational comedy, the same holds true, with Drew Carey, Ryan Stiles, and Wayne Brady of television's Whose Line Is It Anyway? as the most recognizable figures.

But at this year's Memphis Comedy Festival September 5th through 8th, the women of comedy are looking to shake things up and tickle a few funny bones in the process. Call it a laugh riot, because on Saturday night, 12 women will get onstage for the female-only performance of "Ladies Night."

"Our goal is to have a damn good time," says San Francisco comedian Shaun Landry, co-founder of "Ladies Night." "There are a lot of talented women coming to this festival, and it's all about getting up and performing with someone you've known for years." Although Landry cocreated the improvisational troupe Oui Be Negroes, nothing beats laughing with the ladies. "There are so few women getting good play in the world of comedy. I dig the idea that we can get together out of our respective dude companies and bring the estrogen!"

"Ladies Night" was spawned from Chicago's annual Funny Women's Festival. After hamming it up with female comedians from across the country, Karen Herr, of the all-female group goga (girl-on-girl action), came up with the idea to keep the excitement going. "We had such a good time in Chicago that we didn't want it to end. So I thought, Wouldn't it be wonderful if all of these talented ladies could perform together all the time at other [comedy] festivals around the country?"

The show will feature comedians chosen by Herr on their reputation for "being funny." Most of the women are also members of their own improv troupes, with names like Slap Happy, All Jane No Dick, and the Village Idiots. The show will also include stand-up comedians who regularly perform solo. "[Female performances] provide different points of view and different sensibilities," says Landry. "There is a liberating feel to [the show], and there is a lot of support from the other women involved. It's like Waiting To Exhale for comedy."

But don't expect to be lulled with jokes about women as comforting mothers, supportive wives, or helpless victims. The ladies' show is all about attitude. Landry says the show is set in the "badass" style of ladies in the '70s. "[The '70s was] an era when women were bad. They were powerful. They weren't taking any crap," says Landry. "This was a time when we had strong images from Charlie's Angels and Wonder Woman -- women who could kick some butt and look beautiful doing it. And that's what this show is about: strong women being happy about being themselves."

The ladies say the show is about "pushing the envelope" and creating fun topics and situations that are not normally thought of as female subjects, including atypical relationships and fantasy storytelling.

"In general, men have a license to be more raunchy," says Herr. "This show is about breaking down the gender-based restrictions on women. It's all-women and very physical, but we don't have to male-bash in the process." In fact, the women have challenged the men at the festival to hold an all-male night of improv comedy. According to Landry and Herr, they readily accepted but "were not nearly as organized as the ladies."

When approached with the "Ladies Night" concept, Memphis festival organizer Greg Childers was still putting together ideas. "It seemed like a good idea because females are underrepresented," he says. "I hope ['Ladies Night'] will continue to be part of the festival."

While it was designed to showcase local talent, the two-year-old Memphis Comedy Festival will include more than 30 performances by comedians from across the U.S. and Canada. This year, the festival will be held at the Bonkerz Comedy Club at Bally's Casino in Tunica, Mississippi. In addition to evening performances, the festival will also feature comedy workshops taught by veteran comedians. "Last year, all of our performances sold out," says Childers. "I hope the festival grows a bit more but does not get out of hand. What we need is more Memphis participation."

"With these shows, we hope to raise consciousness of the value of female comedy. We want to develop a stable of women who are constantly learning, performing, and connecting with other women," says Landry.

Ladies Night hits the Bonkerz stage Saturday, September 7th, at 10:30 p.m.

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