Despite Tina Fey, Mindy Kaling, Amy Poehler, Jessica Williams, Maya Rudolph, Amy Schumer, Ellen DeGeneres, Melissa McCarthy, Sarah Silverman, Tracee Ellis Ross, Kate McKinnon, and many more, some men think you can’t be hilarious and also have boobs. So when I started doing stand-up in 2008, comedy club bookers and established comics shared a tip: Dress down so the focus stays on the jokes. No skirts allowed (short ones read video vixen; long ones suggested sister wife). No clingy shirts or deep Vs because: boobs. No LBDs or high heels. I took the advice to heart, striving mightily to forget everything I’d picked up from fashion magazines and present myself instead as a walking fashion don’t. At my early gigs, I dressed all in black, like I was about to bust a Bob Fosse move in a dinner theater rendition of Chicago. My standard getup was some variation of jeans, sneakers, vest, and button-down. I was like an alien arriving on Planet Slay Me: “I come in peace. I’m wearing Chuck Taylors. Give me a chance, dude.”
Thanks to another “rule” about women not being “girly,” I avoided jokes that revolved around dating, periods, feminism, and sex (unless at my expense). Every time I had a good set, I worried that a male comic might get mad. (This happens a lot.) I deflected compliments from audience members.
Then I turned 30. It struck me: I was living in New York City. I’d found my calling. I could afford Netflix and Hulu. I was killing it at my shows and parlaying my comedy into acting gigs and writing jobs. Not once had someone commented, “Oh, wait. Now that I notice you’re a woman, every bit you’ve ever performed retroactively sucks. You tricked me into thinking you were a guy by wearing jeans.” I was on fire. Didn’t I deserve to look hot on stage?
I began overhauling my work wardrobe to mirror what I wore in real life. Boho maxi and body-hugging sweater dresses with Louboutins or thigh-high boots. Leather miniskirts and skintight jeans that made no excuses for my butt. (I eat a lot of bread to maintain that tush!) If I was going for greatness, I couldn’t keep hiding—from my true style or my best material. I retooled my act and started drawing on breakups with guys, awkward moments in interracial dating, and funky female grooming habits. I got used to standing Os, and I stopped worrying about whether anyone would resent me for them.
I recently performed braless in a tiny tank top and jeans. Granted, I’m only a 34A, so not that big a deal, but I did devote five minutes’ worth of jokes to it, probably because I was a little self-conscious. #ImAWorkInProgress. No one in the audience seemed to fixate on the fact that my boobs were roaming free like loose blueberries in the bottom of a Whole Foods shopping cart. They only cared that—like all the women before me—I made them laugh.
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