Meghan Ross finds her voice in comedy and raises it for all women and nonbinary people in the industry.
Photo by Gaby Deimeke
On paper (or internet), I might come off as the furthest thing from a troublemaker. As a kid, I was a good student, to a fault. I had a stomachache the entirety of second grade due to school-related anxiety. When my eighth-grade yearbook printed predictable quips about each student, mine was, “And Meghan’s busy stressing out over a test in the hallway.”
For a decent chunk of my life, I checked all the non-troublemaker boxes. Quiet, shy, introverted and whatever word the opposite of “outspoken” is.
If I was to continue with the tropes, this would be the moment where I’d dramatically declare, “And then…I found comedy!” But that’s not how my journey went. I was already spending those formative years consuming all the comedy I could. From Strangers with Candy to In Living Color and Laverne & Shirley. So I didn’t need to “find” comedy. What I needed to find was my voice. (Cue studio audience response of “oohs” and “ahhs” for this corny-but-true reveal.)
Meghan Ross Finds Her Voice
Once I found my voice, gained the tiniest semblance of self-esteem (thank you, therapy) and discovered firsthand the vast inequities across the entertainment industry, you couldn’t shut me up. I soon learned that the comedy theater where I trained, and the TV networks where I worked, didn’t value my voice or perspective. I had to figure out how to carve my own path in an industry infamous for not only keeping more doors closed than open, but binding them shut with a double-bolted lock. And if that didn’t work…try to shimmy through a window or find a side entrance.
That’s when my co-creator, Liisa Murray, and I decided to produce our own late-night variety show, That Time of the Month. It was in direct response to the fact that despite the gender and racial diversity the New York comedy scene boasts, show lineups didn’t depict that at all. There weren’t even any late-night shows with female hosts on TV at that point back in March 2015. But we were determined to create one on our own. Booking women and nonbinary performers in standup, improv, sketch, music and more.
An Uncomfortable Woman
It took the aftermath of the 2016 election for my voice to get even louder. I had just moved to Austin and brought the show along with me. In its new form, I decided to infuse it with topics I cared deeply about—from reproductive rights to civil rights. And invite on experts and activists to educate us. It was during these last few years in Austin, as I got involved as a local activist myself, that I found a way to use comedy to make these issues more accessible for all audiences. While learning from the inspiring women and nonbinary leaders out there doing the work. Another aspect that was important to me was partnering with women-and-nonbinary-owned small businesses as show sponsors. Many of whom had turned their side hustles into careers—a feat I, myself was chasing after with comedy.
When I finally set out to write, produce and direct my first short film, An Uncomfortable Woman, I knew I wanted it to look nothing like the white male-dominated sets I’d been on up until that point. This meant applying an inclusion rider and hiring a crew and lead cast made up entirely of women and people of color. I didn’t wait for anyone to give me permission to do it the way I wanted. That decisiveness is what led me to collaborating with my brother on my next two short films that premiered in The New Yorker last year. Both “Daily Shouts” adaptations of hilarious, feminist pieces written by Sophie Kohn and Rebecca Caplan.
I Am a Troublemaker
While I can say I’ve found my voice over this last decade pursuing comedy and film, that doesn’t necessarily mean I’ve figured it all out. It just means I’ve come to realize what kind of impact I want my work to have. While recognizing there are gatekeepers and decision-makers holding the keys to those industry doors. Unfortunately for them, I’m not that quiet, opposite-of-outspoken child with a sensitive stomach anymore. (Okay, I’m an adult with a sensitive stomach.) I’m a troublemaker, an Austin woman and someone who’s not going to shut up until the industry catches up.