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‘Hysterical’ Documents The Strength of Standup’s Women

Kicking off a film festival with a stellar documentary on boundary-breaking women in standup comedy is an incredible way to start! Director Andrea Blaugrund Nevins’ standup comedy documentary Hysterical premiered at South By Southwest (SXSW) Film Festival. 

Geek Gals is no stranger to comedy. The very first festival I covered for Geek Gals was Dallas Comedy Festival back in 2018. I even wrote a recap of the top standup acts by women! I knew as soon as I saw the official listing for Hysterical on SXSW’s website that I had to register to watch this documentary. Comedy, like many professions, began as a boys club. So it’s finally time for women to shine. And crack us all the f*ck up. 

***CONTENT WARNING: Sexual assault is mentioned later in the article.***

Summary of Hysterical

Hysterical is an honest and hilarious backstage pass into the lives of some of standup comedy’s most boundary-breaking women, exploring the hard-fought journey to become the voices of their generation and their gender.

About Andrea Blaugrund Nevins

Andrea Blaugrund Nevins is an Academy Award-nominated, Emmy-winning, director, writer and producer. Prior to Hysterical, Nevins directed the acclaimed documentary features Still Kicking, The Other F Word, Play It Forward, and Tiny Shoulders: Rethinking Barbie.

An inside look behind the scene for women in standup

Promotional "Hysterical" documentary film poster

The documentary explores the journeys of Nikki Glaser, Judy Gold, Jessica Kirson, Iliza Shlesinger, Carmen Lynch, Sherri Shepherd, Fortune Feimster, Margareet Cho, Kathy Griffin, Rachel Feinstein, Lisa Lampanelli, Bonnie McFarlane, Marina Franklin, Wendy Liebman, and Kelly Bachman.

You have the mic, it’s your turn.

Rachel Feinstein

Why Standup?

Standup comedian Marina Franklin
Standup comedian Marina Franklin / Photo credit: FX

For some comedians, it stems from childhood

What makes you want to stand up on stage alone? Fortune Feimster jokingly responded “damage.” However, all jokes aside, she suggested that on a deeper level, we’re all filling some sort of void. 

Sherri Shepherd shared that when she was a child, her family moved around a lot. “I didn’t like to fight, I didn’t like confrontation… so I tried to make people laugh.” 

Margaret Cho shared that she loved the artform. “I knew I was meant to do it in some capacity… I’ve never seen Asian Americans do it; I’ve never seen that many women do that.”

Comedy is a sort of outlet or therapy

Marina Franklin shared an anecdote about when she went to camp as a young girl, she dealt with racism from other kids. “Back then, you had to just live with it,” she said, and she chose comedy as her outlet.

Issues that standup women deal with

It’s not that women weren’t funny. It’s that women weren’t allowed to express themselves.

Iliza Shlesinger
Photo credit: FX

Nevins really hit it home, pulling back the curtain for viewers to learn about the many issues that standup women deal with in the industry, just because they’re women. Obstacles touched upon in the documentary included horrific sexism, competition among standup women, trouble getting stage time, unequal pay, sexual assault and harassment, meeting society’s ridiculous standards just because men got to do comedy first… The list goes on and on.

Judy Gold recalled one incident where someone grabbed her boob. Nikki Glaser once asked a security guard to be on the lookout for anyone trying to attack or harass her. Margaret Cho revealed in an interview that a man half her size locked her in a dressing room and tried to rape her.

And as for unequal pay, Nevins reminds us in the film that Netflix pays WAY MORE for male comedians than female comedians. Netflix paid $100 million for Jerry Seinfeld’s comedy special “23 Hours to Kill.” However, Ellen DeGeneres only made $20-25 million from her comedy special “Relatable.” Now… that’s another rant altogether.

Changing the Narrative

Despite all the obstacles, there are some silver linings. We learn about opportunities that come up when women support women.

Marina Franklin said, “It’s definitely going in the right direction for comedy for black women. But I think there’s still some roadblocks.”

Concluding Thoughts

I loved watching the documentary. Each woman included in the film had a unique and compelling story to tell. Nevins weaved so many clips, from standup acts to intimate group conversations to archival footage, to one-on-one interviews, in such an organic and thought-provoking manner. This documentary is a must-watch. By the end of Hysterical, viewers leave with a lot of respect for the women who put themselves out there to become comedians.

Thank you Andrea Nevins for highlighting these incredible women. And thank you to women comedians everywhere. I loved the empowering message the documentary wrapped up on. In Sherri Shepherd’s words, “It’s your time now. Make a difference. You’re gonna change the world. And don’t sleep with other comics.”

Hysterical will premiere on FX on April 2 and on Hulu on April 3.

Read more of ChinLin’s articles.

Check out more SXSW coverage.

Learn more about the Hysterical documentary on Imdb.

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Featured image credit: Campfire and Milestone TV & Film

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