“All right, everyone. Lean in!”
This past Saturday, in Brooklyn, over 200 women gathered together at Littlefield for a photo opportunity reminiscent of class picture day, but with one major difference: everyone in this photo would be a comedian, or a part of New York City’s comedy community. Also: no boys allowed.
Organized by comedian Jessica Delfino, the event was planned like all good things in 2016 are: a word-of-mouth Facebook group calling for any and all female-identifying comedians in the area to gather for a group photo, a semi-choreographed video, and individual “senior class” portraits by noted comedy photographer Mindy Tucker. Tucker, who is known throughout the city for quietly documenting the last decade of the comedy scene.
“I asked Mindy if she had any interest in taking a photo of as many female comedians as we could get into one room and much to my shock, she said yes,” Delfino explained. “I’ve been a woman in comedy for a long time. How many times can I read media quotes like, ‘We wanted to hire a woman but we couldn’t find one,’ or ‘There are no women in comedy,’ before I feel inspired to do something about it?”
Knowing it would be hard to not only fit the 300+ women who RSVP’d for the shoot into one photo, but capture the individual personalities of such a diverse group, Tucker chose The Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” album cover as the template and instructed each woman to dress as up or as down as she liked, wear a costume, bring a prop, or whatever else they felt represented one’s own brand of comedy. Comedian Mindy Raf wore a blue vintage dress. The Reformed Whores wore their signature country dresses. UCB’s Livia Scott wore a silver unitard. Twitter personality Stacey Nightmare wore her bug-eyed glasses and giant claws on each arm. Those who could not be there in person were instructed to post a selfie to be included in the “not pictured” section.
“In general, I find comedians – especially female comedians – to be complicated, whip-smart, hard-working, clever, ambitious, and tons of fun,” Delfino said. “And the photo really shows our diversity in one quick slice: black, white, Asian, Italian, short, tall, large, waif-ish, gay, straight, nerdy, athletic, moms, standups, characters, improvisers, comedic musicians… We are everywhere, we do it all.”
The shoot had the look of a cattle call, with individual numbers on slips of paper given out to identify each person, announcements over the PA system and even catered food. Donations were accepted to help with the $2,000 worth of rented equipment, including professional lights and risers, that the passion project required. It was run smoothly and efficiently by all the women involved, including booker and producer Marianne Ways, The Creek And The Cave owner Rebecca Trent, Late Show digital producer Carol Hartsell, and more who buzzed around Tucker, moving equipment and corralling women who couldn’t stop joking about everyone’s menstrual cycles syncing up.
“When Jessica had this idea, I thought it would be a caper just to pull it off, but so worth it just to see everyone together,” Tucker said. She explained how so often, one facet of comedy can go years without meeting the other (like comedy writers who don’t have time to go see standup at night, or comics who don’t interact with sketch or improv performers because of conflicting shows).
“To just take an afternoon to meet everyone seemed like a rare but important thing,” Tucker added. “My dream is that some cross-pollination occurred. If not for shows or projects, then just supporting one another.”
That support was obvious at the shoot – I lost track of how many times someone said something along the lines of, “I can smell the estrogen in here!” – and those who weren’t there for a free headshot and slice of pizza would at least leave with a few new Facebook friends or shows to check out.
After an hour of preparation, all the women assembled on risers as Tucker climbed on top of a ladder to get the shot, while other women spotted her from behind. A chant broke out:
“Min-dy! Min-dy! Min-dy!” The ladies screamed while Tucker collected herself and raised her camera.
“Take a second,” Tucker said once the crowd quieted down. “We’re all here.”
“I’ve been in comedy a long time and this has never happened before,” Tucker pointed out to the crowd, who immediately erupted back into cheers before it was time to take the photo.
And, trust me, the irony of the directive to “Lean in” wasn’t lost on anyone.