As the host of a new late night show on Freeform, Iliza Shlesinger has been having a very successful 2017 so far, but this week the standup has come under fire for some comments she made about women in comedy. It all started with an interview with Shlesinger Deadline posted on Monday, in which she’s asked for her thoughts on the way women are represented “or represent themselves” in comedy. Here’s the full response in question:
As a comedian, I have a set of morals. I have a specific point of view. I think a lot of what I see out there, out in comedy clubs, watching contests, watching TV, watching movies—gathering data from these different matrixes… When you’re a woman in comedy and you get a break, people get so excited about it, but while we have to work hard to get that attention, I do think many women think, “Oh if I just act like a guy, if I go for that low hanging fruit…” Everything’s about sex, or how weird I am. It all just kind of runs together. I could walk into The Improv, close my eyes, and I can’t tell one girl’s act apart from another. That’s not saying that 30-something white guys don’t all sound the same sometimes, but I’m banging my head against the wall because women want to be treated as equals, and we want feminism to be a thing, but it’s really difficult when every woman makes the same point about her vagina, over and over. I think I’m the only woman out there that has a joke about World War II in my set. I think shock value works well for women, but beyond that, there’s no substance. I want to see what else there is with such complex, smart creatures. That’s why women like Tina Fey do well. It’s smart, and men can laugh at it, too. I consider myself one of those comics, and quite frankly, I’m appalled by what is expected of women, and what women offer in response in that.
Over the past 24 hours, tons of standups have been responding to Shlesigner’s comments on Twitter, and to say the least, the reaction has been pretty brutal:
. @iliza I talk about my pussy and fucking and I’m a better stand up comedian than you will ever be. Save your money cause you a hack.— Liza Treyger (@GlitterCheese) June 15, 2017
Iliza, you’ve joked about sex & vaginas. Why police what other women are saying? We can talk about whatever we want. Why focus on this? — Sara ❄ Schaefer (@saraschaefer1) June 15, 2017
I don’t care if you think we’re too dirty, self-deprecating, sexual, or ukulele-dependent. Men get to use all their words, so do we. — Eliza Skinner (@elizaskinner) June 15, 2017
How is discouraging women from discussing their everyday life (I have a pussy every day) and doing WWII jokes to impress dudes feminist? 🙄🙄 — Rae Sanni (@raesanni) June 15, 2017
WAIT IS THIS A WORLD WAR 2 JOKE pic.twitter.com/GPEQxgzh8m — Chelsea Peretti (@chelseaperetti) June 16, 2017
“I think I’m the only woman out there that has a joke about World War II in my set.” Have to hawk my CD here- closes on a WW2 callback.— Laurie Kilmartin (@anylaurie16) June 15, 2017
I, for one, love comics giving wild, shit-talking interviews that throw half the industry under the bus. Why else even give an interview? — Anthony Jeselnik (@anthonyjeselnik) June 16, 2017
Guys, Guys, let’s agree: *I* am the only good female comedian.— Guy Branum (@guybranum) June 16, 2017
Highly overrated Iliza Schlesinger slamming fellow female comics. NOT NICE! — Donald J. Trump (@TrumpComedyNerd) June 16, 2017
Shlesinger has been extremely active on Twitter throughout the backlash, and while she’s firmly standing by her comments, she deleted most of her tweets today. Here they are, edited together:
If you are actually upset that I am calling out female comics for imitating each other and doing the same pussy jokes over and over then perhaps you are part of the problem. If you are original then that’s awesome. We need more independent thinkers and less shock value. If you take umbrage with my interview and it doesn’t pertain to you then you should be happy. It’s odd how offended people are at something that, by virtue of the fact that they are incensed, shouldn’t be offended by since it doesn’t pertain to them. How’s this- instead of thinking because you’re a girl that you can just yell “pussy” and think it’s a revelation, try doing better and working harder. That’s all there is to it. The comic women I’m friends with have done the same. I respect hustle and originality. Always. Anyway, I stand by what I said. The stakes are too high in comedy to phone it in. And if you work hard, you’re golden. If you have an issue with my work ethic, ask any comic who knows me. I’ve earned this opinion. So I cite Tina Fey and a bring women on the road with me and I wrote about women and Feminsm- but the second you read one thing that someone tells you upset them, then you all decide I’m a bad feminist? Because I’ve spent my entire career noticing a trend? You are gonna sit there and disqualify my saying there are men who go for low hanging fruit to and just group think on how I said women do this too? You not only got the wrong girl, but the wrong feminist. And what you are doing is discounting my work and me on a personal level when I was making an observation about many comics over many years and many night and hours of watching. You are being specific while I’m simply saying what no one will say. I didn’t target one woman in particular and the fact that any of you take issue with this means you are part of our issue or you don’t see yourself as part of it and can help to be better. But if you look at what you are really upset about, it ain’t me.
So when I defending the girl who a male comic ripped apart on TV OR WHEN I write a whole special on body issues, when I spend my nights doing 3 sets, my weekends doing hours on all male line ups, when I help women,- none of that counts Bc your feelings got hurt from one line. Instead of coming after me, why not go work on your material? Inteas of blaming men for everything, why not be better? Why is this so hard? To all you men and women who are angry that I dared to challenge your small mindedness?Let’s play a fun game.I’ll go up and you follow me. Oh, and please, feel free to debate me on this when you see me at a club. I’m at the Comedy Store almost every night, I’m not hard to fine.
I’m shocked and saddened that the women I have spent years defending were so easily turned on me by jealousy. I’m saddened. I work so hard to stand up for women and because you don’t like A word I used,now I’m evil?Put Twitter down and work on your hour. Go work on your hour and think about how to stand out instead of just trying 2tear down a woman u see as competition. Be better. Be smarter. Sorry I had the balls to point out the obvious. Sorry that those of you smart enough to write better jokes didn’t just read this and laugh. So to show what good feminists you are you are choosing to attack a woman who had a legtimate opinion in a field she is an expert in? Great. So hiring a female show runner, head writer and director for my show where I interview an Dr for @PPact wasn’t feminist enough, when I make a show on #freeform encouraging women to love their bodies and their rights, that is t enough. When I wrote this that wasn’t enough. When I bring @katethewasp or @calasich or @JessWellington2 or @JodiMillerComic on the road, that isn’t enough. But when I say too many women do too many of the same pussy jokes and we can do better- then it threatens you? You are misinformed and wrong. And I hate that you are so angry at me. I am your champion and you can’t see beyond your own Twitter thread. My book #girlLogic is out in Novemeber. It will be out and so will a new Netflix special, celebrating women. I look forward to your armchair quarterback critiques.
Shlesinger followed up today with a new round of tweets announcing a Facebook Live event tonight, where she will apparently be discussing her comments further. But those tweets have also been deleted:
I will see you all on my [Facebook] at 6pm PST.I’m going to break this down for everyone so you can give your pitchforks a rest. There will be no apologizing to women who figured out who I was yesterday, there will be no backing down from what I believe. There will be me substantiating my feelings based on years of work and data gathering. There will be me explaining trends in comedy, trends that many of you don’t remember because you were in high school while I was on the road. I will be, not only reiterating my sentiment that there is a handful of successful women but I’ll also be explaining why that is. An opinion I have expressed in hundreds of interviews I’ve done over the last several years- no one ever bothered to care until now. Which means doing something right.
I won’t be doing anything other than explaining why what you read has offended you, whether you want to admit it or not and I’ll explain how we as women and as comics can do better. I will also explain why this bushit faux feminism being espoused by any girl who ever got rejected by a guy is a fad. This idea that women judge other women by a sentence or an action and condemn them as bad feminists is total bullshit invented to make you feel holier than though.
This “use your platform” garbage when you are yelling at someone you know nothing about is self serving and is the reason that women are known for being catty- Bc we love to tear down women for the smallest thing to make ourselves feel better. Isn’t it possible that other women are different and have knowledge you don’t and that you can separate opposing views from feelings? Anyway, this will all be addressed later today. After that I won’t be tweeting about this inane subject anymore because you have all the facts. See you then.
pic.twitter.com/kBvNx95tJA — Iliza Shlesinger (@iliza) June 16, 2017
Perhaps there’s a case to be made here that women in comedy who call out fellow comics for what they perceive to be hacky jokes face way more criticism and backlash than their male counterparts, but there’s an added level of complexity when sweeping, stereotypical generalizations are made about female comedians by fellow female comics in particular. Women are still underrepresented in late night (not to mention women of color, who currently aren’t represented at all), they’re much less likely to land a special at Netflix or Comedy Central than men, and there are still, in 2017, entire networks that have no shows created by women.
In other words, women face enough of a battle every day when it comes to dealing with and responding to a constant onslaught of sexism and the tired “women aren’t funny” argument, so to see Shlesinger use her success and newfound platform in an attempt to separate herself from the majority of female standups – essentially saying “I’m not like the other girls, who are mostly hacks, by the way” – is disappointing, if not damaging. Obviously Shlesinger has every right to say what she wants, just as any other comedian has the right to respond. I do think, though, that she should take her own advice:
This “use your platform” garbage when you are yelling at someone you know nothing about is self serving and is the reason that women are known for being catty- Bc we love to tear down women for the smallest thing to make ourselves feel better. Isn’t it possible that other women are different and have knowledge you don’t and that you can separate opposing views from feelings?
Anyway, here’s a good thread by Conan writer Laurie Kilmartin:
Early in my career I also wanted to be THE female comic that changed men’s minds about women. Then I realized there were tons of….— Laurie Kilmartin (@anylaurie16) June 16, 2017
Funny women and it didn’t matter to sexist men if I was funny. They remained their awful selves. — Laurie Kilmartin (@anylaurie16) June 16, 2017
My fav audience members are ones who want a good show. I don’t want “compliments” from men who think they’re doing me a favor by giving it.— Laurie Kilmartin (@anylaurie16) June 16, 2017
But standup is still so fun and thrilling and if you don’t believe me, ask Tina Fey. — Laurie Kilmartin (@anylaurie16) June 16, 2017
Trying to “change minds” is exhausting. It will break you, one day, because it’s an unattainable goal.— Laurie Kilmartin (@anylaurie16) June 16, 2017
And if anyone could’ve done it would have been Marsha Warfield or Sue Murphy, who were both club MURDERERS. Unfollowable. — Laurie Kilmartin (@anylaurie16) June 16, 2017