Women in Comedy Are Coming Together for a Sad Reason

March 9th 2016

Laura Donovan

Many female comedians are speaking out about the fear, gender discrimination, sexual harassment, and abuse that's often swept under the rug in the industry. And recently, former Chicago improviser Belinda Woolfson launched a campaign called Mad Funny Women to give female comedians facing these issues a place to share their stories in video or written format.



Woolfson, whose project includes a 4-minute video of female comedians describing their respective stories, created Mad Funny Women after hearing many horrific experiences facing women in comedy:

The project was also partially inspired by a recent incident regarding major improv institution, Improv Olympic (iO). In January, iO founder and owner Charna Halpern faced widespread criticism for writing in a viral Facebook post arguing that some women "just like to either cause trouble or get revenge or just want attention so they make up stories" about sexual harassment. This came a month after comedian Beth Stelling broke her silence on Instagram about being sexually and physically abused by her former boyfriend, who is also a comedian, after staying silent for a long time out of fear of hurting her professional prospects.

It's not just about comedy.

Woolfson, who told the Chicago Tribune in a recent interview that she experienced a broad range of harassment as an improviser, acknowledged in a phone interview with ATTN: that sexism is also a major problem in the entertainment industry at large.

"It is a boys club for sure," she told ATTN:, adding that some women are afraid to speak up because they know they might lose parts or be replaced as a result of coming forward. "There are so many other people who would be willing to take your spot in a second because it is very competitive."

Woolfson, who had roles revoked after turning down dates from directors, said people in powerful positions in comedy can also perpetuate the problem, and this issue is reflected in her video.

Woolfson, however, told ATTN: that a lot of men in comedy have been very vocal about confronting this issue alongside women.

"There have been so many supportive men," she said. "It's been really wonderful, and I think that is such a huge part of fixing the problem: having both parties involved and willing to make changes. I think anyone reacting badly to it is coming from a place of fear, and who knows [whether] that fear is about getting in trouble themselves or fear of necessary changes taking place."



Woolfson said that the increase in women publicly drawing attention to some of this negative behavior has empowered other women to do the same.

"I think in the past, women who have called attention to it or spoken out have in fact experienced backlash, and sometimes it's in the form of being acknowledged in the community as a troublemaker or someone who is difficult to work with, [or] a difficult women," she said. "The act of simply sharing your story and experience can be so empowering because you shift from being a victim to, 'I am speaking up, I'm sharing my experience, I'm not scared anymore.'"

You can go to Mad Funny Women's website to share your own experiences with this issue.