Arts & Entertainment

Setting the stage for female comedians

The University of Pennsylvania’s new comedy festival challenged perceptions of women in comedy.

Women aren’t funny—at least, that’s what University of Pennsylvania senior Nina Kao always hears.

But Penn’s female comedy troupe Bloomers challenged this idea with an all day comedy festival called LaughtHERfest, encouraging young women interested in comedy.

LaughtHERfest was held at Platt Performing Arts House and the Irvine Auditorium on Penn’s campus Saturday. The event hosted guests like Vanessa Bayer of “Saturday Night Live” and Aparna Nancherla, a new staff writer for “Late Night with Seth Meyers” who was named one of Time Out New York’s 10 Funniest Women in New York.

“We wanted to highlight and celebrate women in comedy and entertainment,” Kao said. “I think a huge part of this festival is that we don’t need to be talking about [women being funny] that much during the day; we’re proving our point just by doing this, by being here.”

Alana Nacherla performs her improv set as the closing act. | Zach Fischer TTN

Alana Nacherla performs her improv set as the closing act. | Zach Fischer TTN

LaughtHERfest began with an idea from Bloomers’ event coordinator Laura Petro at the end of last year. It quickly took off as the group received overwhelming support from Penn’s administration and advisors. After a 30-day Kickstarter, Bloomers received more than $9,000 in donations to fund the woman-centric event.

Petro said LaughtHERfest is not about excluding men, but “giving women the first chance, which is usually not the case.”

“I actually think that there’s a huge upswing of women in comedy right now,” Petro said. “There are so many female-dominated shows right now that I think look positively towards the future of comedy, but that doesn’t mean we should think it’s not an issue.”

“Typically, women have fallen into the margins of comedy,” Kao said. “Usually discrimination against women in comedy and entertainment is not intentional or malicious; women are just forgotten.”

Through LaughtHERfest, Bloomers aimed to bring women into the spotlight by “asking female comedians to perform who maybe wouldn’t be a first choice at most mainstream festivals, and making sure the female groups at other colleges are the first people to be asked the way they are not always asked at co-ed conferences,” Kao said.

Sophomore film and media arts major Ruby Wortis, a member of Temple’s comedy show Temple Smash, attended the event and was inspired by seeing other women in the spotlight.

“I went home and wrote 15 minutes of stand up,” Wortis said. “I was never the class clown but I’ve wanted to be a comedian my whole life, just very quietly, so seeing girls go on stage for the first time, somebody who says, ‘Yeah I’ve only been doing this for a couple months,’ was really inspiring.”

Late Night with Seth Myers Writing Supervisor Michelle Wolf improvs for a packed house at LaughtHERfest. | Zach Fischer TTN

Late Night with Seth Myers Writing Supervisor Michelle Wolf improvs for a packed house at LaughtHERfest. | Zach Fischer TTN

The festival not only allowed female comedians to shine but also gave minorities a chance to perform instead of being written off as “too much,” as Bloomer’s assistant director Angela White describes.

“Occasionally—but also too often—we are labeled too angry, our humor too racially charged, our bodies and voices good only for nailing the punchy stereotype,” White said.

But at Bloomers, White said, diversity is recognized as an asset used to “start thoughtful, serious dialogue” with the multiple female comedians of color featured at  LaughtHERfest.

The event also featured a panel of female comedians, showcasing professionals like Bayer and “Odd Mom Out” comedy writer Julie Kraut. Improvisation and stand-up workshops were also available throughout the event, ending with a performance series of professionals and student-run comedy troupes from surrounding colleges.

“LaughtHERfest is about … just providing that space that being funny isn’t about your gender,” Kao said. “We don’t need to argue about why women are funny; we’re proving our point right now. They’ll make you laugh.”

Emily Thomas can be reached at

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