anna, atsuko & emily

Season 1 - Episode 4: At The Pack, an underground comedy theater, Graham meets with his friend Sunanda and a group of female comedians. They discuss the different expectations for women in entertainment, what they find funny, and why diversity matters.

For the full conversation, listen to the podcast below:


Graham: So we're at The Pack Theater.

Sunanda: Yeah I started coming to The Pack about a year ago. The Pack is a newer theater in L.A. People who have a lot of talent, who have a lot to say came here to start doing things that they weren't allowed to or had space to do other places. And today we're going to be talking with three women who do comedy here in L.A. And I chose them all because they all individually impressed me in one way or another.  

Sunanda: Emily Candini, who is one of the people here at The Pack Theater. She teaches classes as well. She's super rad and she's very outspoken.

Sunanda: Atsuko is another guest we have. She comes from the stand up world. She is a first generation immigrant. What I love most about Atsuko is when I first came to L.A. she was one of the very first people who I feel went out of her way to create a space for me and other people like me.

Sunanda: Anna I met doing CBS Diversity Showcase. I want to bring Anna on because she is so smart. Super Woke. Also one of the only female directors of a house team at iO Theater. They're all amazing, super smart, really funny, ambitious, inclusive, and encouraging women. So I'm super excited to talk to them.

Graham: Yeah, me too. And you're driving the ship. You're the captain. So I'm really enjoying just kind of listening and even more than usual.

Sunanda: Something I heard: I think Phyllis Diller said something like, "Beautiful women can't be funny." She believed in making herself more grotesque. What do you guys think of that? Where does beauty fit in with comedy or not in general. And as a woman and, you know?

Anna: That is something I think about a lot, because it's true. We are brought up young girls. That's one of things that's prioritized. Like, "Make sure you look good. What outfit are you wearing?" We compliment little girls on their looks before we compliment them on their intelligence or their skills or their interest in a way it's way more heightened than we do with young boys. And I think that translates into adulthood and I think it kind of translates into internalized misogyny where when I first moved out here and I would see an improv team with five guys and one or two girls. If they're like super good looking, you're thinking of, "She's probably just there because she's the hot one. She's not there because she's funny and it's like a hurdle you have to jump over. And I think being in the comedy community now for as long as I have, I've had to squash that with myself. Which is more frustrating because it's not just coming from men. I think it comes from how we're taught to view ourselves. It's frustrating.  

Atsuko: But I think if you're funny that's what people are going to concentrate on. Always. I think you know. I tell my film students, I tell them when I'm talking about realism and how do you not get distracted by the fact that it's Brad Pitt or that it's George Clooney playing a guy who his wife divorces him. You know what's that movie, The Descendants, we're supposed to buy that George Clooney one of the most handsome men on earth would get divorced by his wife and be down in the dumps and wear sandals and cargo shorts. We're supposed to buy that. But you got to act. It's his acting. You know what I mean, like if you're funny if you're doing your job right. Like I'm not thinking about how hot. Hopefully human beings aren't just thinking about, "Oh she's so beautiful it's so distracting. I can't picture anything past that." I don't know. And if you do then you've got to re-educate yourself.

Anna: And I don't know. I had someone come up to me once, and I feel like an asshole saying it because I feel like I'm saying I'm cute. But after a friend of a girl on my team, who's also a woman, came up. And she was like, "I just have to say at the beginning of the show I thought you were just like to be like the hot one and then you were funny." And I was it was a struggle like thank you for thinking I'm hot but also go fuck yourself for not thinking I would be funny. Yeah. Thanks so much. I don't know. I want to agree with you and feel like people don't think that way, but I think people do.  

Atsuko: But then she thought you were funny.

Anna: She did think I was funny. But it is I think it's like this hurdle that people have to jump over. Viewing women first for their looks and then later for their skill sets.

Emily: Speaking to the George Clooney thing, I think the reason we accept it is because we've normalized that type of beauty so much in film and television that we're so used to it, that we're like, "Absolutely it could happen to him." I think there's like a certain level of hot to where you're never going to be funny funny because you don't have that fundamental understanding of life because everyone gives you everything. Like hot people just get shit. But yeah I do. I think there's like a certain level of attractiveness that doesn't necessarily that makes it more difficult for them to tap into an understanding of what's funny because for a lot of really funny people it's been a defense mechanism and pretty people don't have to defend themselves.

Anna: What if it's like a "She's All That" situation? Where like you were super ugly. And then you took off your glasses and then you were beautiful. Like you had all of that ugliness to build up your comedic sensibility?  

Atsuko: I mean like it could be: What if you had a rough childhood but you were so hot. So hot but your house burned down when you were a kid, your parents got divorced and you actually have two dads but you're so hot.

Sunanda: Since we kind of touched on how well tragedy feeds comedy. So if we look at it like a socioeconomic framework of the people in most comedy arenas whether it's standup or improv or sketch or on TV and film it's dominated by straight white men. However compared to people in the frindge I would assume the straight white men had less tragedy. How do you balance that idea that comedy comes from tragedy but also explain why there are so many straight white men when it should be the people who are marginalized and have gone through a lot of shit.

Emily: Because they have the privilege to take part in comedy. The majority of people in comedy tend to be: there's a lot of like upper middle class white dudes. Because their parents can help them pay their rent so they can go do open mikes all night so they don't have to have a full time job and support themselves. And that's just what I've witnessed in running two training centers now.

Atsuko: Historically they've been making us the tragedy of their comedy. And so assuming that straight white Cis-gendered men don't have as much tragic. They don't have a dark story or immigration story, for example. Maybe you know queer story having to come out or something. They've historically made us the butt of the joke. And so that is why. You know what I mean, like bad Asian driving jokes to "Ugh, women. Right?" Like we were the tragedy in their jokes. And I think that's why they had a leg up. It's never like I had a rough childhood it's like I saw this bitch the other day. You know what I mean. It's so that's what they've been making. You know what I mean.

Graham: Well the other side of the coin I also like to offer maybe you'd be more interested in is a young comic that's not a straight white guy. Can you give them some advice something that you've learned.

Emily: Yeah I'm just going to say come find me and we'll do it. Yeah. I'm here. Until I get a better job then you're all on your own. Yeah no I think it's going through it with them. I think you, especially if you're a teacher or a director, you need to be available in more ways than just notes. Yeah.

Anna: I think so much of it. One reason I'm never pursued standup is that it's one of the things that people tell you like, "Oh, it's scary like people are going to say mean things to you and you're going to bomb and it's going to suck." And people scare you into not doing it. And I think so much of it is about confidence and just believing yourself and continuing to pursue it even though yeah, you're gonna bomb. You're gonna have a terrible show. You're gonna write a sketch and no one is going to laugh. Just telling people, your perspective is important. Your voice is interesting and it's going to take a while to develop it. But you can do it, just keep at it. Because it's the people who are telling you like, "It's going to suck and you're not going to like it." Those are the voices you need to drown out.  

Atsuko: It's important because when we all move up together. We are lifting each other up and progressing in that way. Meaning you know just because I'm Asian I don't just think about Asian American issues. I want to be there for Black Lives Matter when the next black kid gets shot, when the next black man gets shot. When they're trying to tax tampons it means. I mean I have... You know what I mean. When the President is making up stuff and possibly trying to kick transgender people out of the military that means a lot to me. You know it's about all of us moving towards a place that makes life easier for every person as it's supposed to be.

Atsuko: It has nothing to do with comedy. That was not funny.

This interview was transcribed using a third-party service. Please excuse any errors.