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The State of Comedy

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Three local female comedians discuss the Austin comedy scene as they prep for the Out of Bounds Comedy Festival this weekend.

By Courtney Runn, Photos by Nkechi Chibueze, Daniel Solano,  Steve Rogers Photography

Austin is known for its music, but this week, the stage belongs to comedians. In its 17th year, the Out of Bounds Comedy Festival is Austin’s longest-running comedy festival and attracts comedians from throughout the country. This year, more than 500 performers will take on six venues in town during the course of seven days. From stand-up comedy to improv to workshops, the festival offers comedians freedom to try anything and is doing its part to keep Austin weird.

Austin Woman sat down with three local comedians who will perform during the festival to their take on the state of comedy and their experiences as women in this entertainment industry.

Jasmine Ellis

With a background in communication and radio, Jasmine Ellis was accustomed to talking to large groups of people and making them laugh, but she never tried stand-up until 2013. It immediately clicked and she didn’t have a “life-altering bomb” until a year in. She’s performed throughout the country, including at Austin’s Moontower Comedy Festival, and co-hosts the podcast Extra Salty.

Austin Woman: You co-host your podcast Extra Salty. What are you salty about right now?

Jasmine Ellis: You know what’s funny? I’m a little bit salty I still have a day job. I did this weekend of colleges and they were so fun and then I literally dropped off the headliner and got on the road and drove three hours to go [work again]. I’m very blessed to have a day job. It’s super-flexible, but I am working close to 60 to 80 hours a week. I’m my own stage mom.

AW: What has your experience been like as a woman of color in comedy?

JE: As a black woman in particular, [I know] black men have dominated comedy for so long. When you talk about the comedy Mount Rushmore…you put [Eddie] Murphy on there, you put [Dave] Chappelle on there. So, no one really thinks there’s underrepresentation for black men, but when you talk about the most famous female comics, most of the time, you talk about white women. So, there’s this overlap where we just kind of get left off. [That’s] not to say Tiffany Haddish isn’t killing everything because she’s amazing. But that’s just one person right now. Before that, there’s like a 10-year gap before you can think of another black female comic who is selling out stadiums. So, it’s nice that there is no path set in front of you, but it’s hard because people don’t know what to expect from you.

AW: When the #MeToo movement exploded last year, lots of comedians were exposed. What has your experience been like with sexual harassment in the industry?

JE: Comedy is really a community that thrives off of silence. I think there are a lot of people who are really problematic and are allowed to continue to be that way, and it feels like you need to have 20 women say the same thing for people to believe it. [Sexual harassment] is not a normal part of the job; that is not a normal hazard. Being tired, that’s a hazard. Not getting laughs, that’s a hazard. Why should there be a completely different set of obstacles for women? Why should there be extra things to worry about? I should be able to accept work and not be concerned I’ll be assaulted. I will say this: Austin is not one of those scenes, or at least it tries not to be. Women’s voices are heard.

AW: Are you hopeful for the future of comedy and this space for women?

JE: I’m seeing more platforms owned and operated by women.We’re creating spaces for each other and supporting one another, and I think that whole crabs-in-the-barrel-scarcity mentality is really dying out. I’m very hopeful for the future.

See Ellis at Out of Bounds: Ellis will host her podcast at the Velveeta Room Saturday at 7 p.m.

Nikita Redkar

Nikita Redkar originally thought she would have a career in finance. After realizing it was the wrong industry for her, she stumbled upon stand-up and immediately fell in love with its potential for creativity and vulnerability. She’s performed in the Del Close Marathon and at the Moontower Comedy Festival, starred in a local web series and performs with Asian-American sketch group Hot Pot Comedy.

AW: What inspires your material?

Nikita RedkarAs a woman of color, I definitely bring a different perspective to the table and [try]to address my culture when I can, but it’s not the only thing I focus on. I draw from my life experiences as inspiration but I don’t ever want to give the message that, “Hey, because I’m different, pay attention to me.” I only want to go onstage and be funny and essentially have people forget about their issues…and if I can do that, that’s all I need. That’s all I want to do.

AW: What is the stand-up community like in Austin?

NR: Everyone understands the struggle so well, to the point where I recently lost my joke notebook and another comedian found it and he was like, “Don’t worry, I have it. I’m going to drop it off.” We just know how much our joke notebooks mean to each other, and that’s just one example of really understanding and empathizing what we go through in this profession.

AW: What has your experience been like as a woman in comedy?

NR: I think there are certain things women go through that men definitely don’t have to go through. For example, I’ve been doing a show and [been]introduced as the “very beautiful Nikita Redkar.” That’s just a weird thing to be introduced to. People are already paying attention to your appearance when you get onstage. To have that reinforced is just totally unnecessary. At the end of the day, I want to be seen as a comedian and not a female comedian.

AW: You’re part of Asian-American sketch group Hot Pot Comedy. Have there been any unique struggles performing as an Asian-American comedian?

NR: Being represented is a powerful thing. … Something that I’ll be thankful for is that when I go onstage and as long as I can be funny and relatable…there will be another woman in the crowd or there will be another Indian woman in the crowd who will [think], “Maybe this is something I can do as well,” or just feel validated in her opinions and her presence.

See Redkar at Out of Bounds: She will perform stand-up Friday night at the Fallout at 7 p.m.

Carina Magyar

Carina Magyar is going on her 10th year as a comedian. After admittedly being terrible “for years,” she says she finally found her voice and style several years ago. She’s performed at the Moontower Comedy Festival, opened for Jen Kirkman, performs weekly at Cap City Comedy Club and was the 2017 runner-up in the Funniest Person in Austin contest.

AW: What has your experience as a transgender comedian been like?

Carina Magyar: It’s definitely a big part of my identity onstage as a source of a lot of material because there are a lot of things that are sort of inherently funny…so, it’s a different perspective than a lot of people have here but it’s really not that much different than any other comic that’s getting up there and talking about their experience. If anything, it’s…given me an experience to share. That’s usually the root of good comedy, somebody who’s had a real experience that’s worth sharing.

AW: How have you seen Austin’s comedy scene evolve?

CM: We don’t have a lot of drama or cliques, compared to other comedy scenes, and it’s been that way since the beginning, which makes it in a way supportive, which is strange for stand-up, very strange. We had a bit of [a]boom three years ago, with a lot of homegrown talents exploding and getting real big real fast, and then a lot of people moved away from that group. We’ve been in a renewal phase since then. New faces are bubbling up and now they’re leaving, so, what I’ve noticed over the course of 10 years is [that people]come, they get good, they get really funny and then they move on to New York or Los Angeles or Chicago. It’s like being on a Triple-A baseball team: It’s not the big leagues but everyone here is just as good as the people in the big leagues.

AW: What is special about the Out of Bounds Comedy Festival?

CM: I think this is the most important comedy festival in Austin for the reason that it exists purely to promote and highlight the great comedy that happens year-round at all these venues because people who aren’t used to going out to comedy go try them out and see what the Velveeta Room is about or see what Hideout Theatre is about. Out of Bounds is a weird festival and we try to make it that way and keep things a little off-kilter and unusual.

See Magyar at Out of Bounds: She will host Date or Die, her favorite performance, during which three comedians go on blind dates live onstage, at the Velveeta Room Saturday at 11 p.m.

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