Think Gender Issues Can’t Be Funny? Think Again
Three comedians using stand-up to breakdown gender stereotypes.
1. Combating stereotypes as performance art
Kristina Wong, a third-generation Chinese-American performance artist, breaks the mold for a living. She’s a culture jammer, using comedy to breach the confines of the theater by taking it to the streets. Based in Los Angeles, Wong has a number of interventions under her belt. She’s crashed the Miss Chinatown USA Pageant, created a fake mail-order bride website, and initiated a Kickstarter campaign to marry Jeremy Lin.
Her work challenges preconceived beauty standards, the misrepresentation of Asian Americans and Pacific Islander Americans as perpetual foreigners, and the stereotypes surrounding the “model minority.” For Wong, performance art lies somewhere in the gray area between theater and comedy. “For some people, they have a hard time with my work because they’re like, ‘Is she serious?’ or ‘Why does she want my money?’ or ‘Is she really like that?’” Wong teaches the audience how to watch her show; it’s about setting up a different framework that eliminates projected falsehoods about her and her identity. Rather than creating work that comes from an angry, reactive place, she believes that laughing at oppression is more powerful. “If you react with the same anger that has been thrust on you, it’s like the man has gotten you twice.”
2. Manipulating privilege to be a platform
Sam Killermann is outcome-oriented: What his audience does after the show matters the most. Killermann lives in Austin, Texas, and works as an interdisciplinary comedian—he’s written books, drawn graphics, performed at live shows, and given lectures. He exists in the social justice world and in the comedy one, using humor to make otherwise difficult or overwhelming conversations palatable. “I take the Mary Poppins approach. I think a little bit of sugar helps the medicine go down,” he says.
His show, “It’s Pronounced Metrosexual,” centers on snap judgments, the cycle of oppression, and Milton Bennett’s Platinum Rule. He describes himself as a “pretty man,” whose sexuality people often misunderstand. To be clear: Killermann is a straight, White, non-disabled man. He is under no illusions about his privilege; rather, he wants to amplify the voices of those who are often out of the spotlight. Gender, he explains, is one of the primary lenses through which we see the world. By deconstructing false notions of gender in relation to sexuality, Killermann provides the tools and resources that push his audience to think. Existing labels and associations just won’t cut it anymore.
3. Transcending identity through storytelling
“Is that a girl who looks like a man or a boy that looks better than my man?” The crowd erupts; the show has started. D’Lo’s bio lists him as a writer, actor, and comedian. He’s also Transgender Queer and a Tamil-Sri Lankan American—but he is all of those things in no particular order, transcending those identities through performance. His work covers a range of topics, serious and light. “I’m just trying to create work that speaks to the political climate we’re living in. I’m interested in power dynamics that hit on all different aspects of society,” explains D’Lo, who’s based in Los Angeles.
All of the descriptors listed in his bio distinguish him but do not define him. The job, first and foremost, is to make people laugh. By being himself and telling his story, he resonates with those who dare to question the way things are. Most people have never thought about life from a person of color’s perspective, or from a genderqueer perspective, and D’Lo uses his hour-long spotlight to smash assumptions. “Nobody really knows anybody. I put out my identity all day long, and yet I’m going to be onstage talking about stuff that you’ve never heard before.”