From Jerry Lewis' Chinese chef to Dan Whitney's Larry the Cable Guy, playing on stereotypes has long been an integral element in the fabric of comedy. The reason is simple: It's easier to deliver a quick punchline about a shared preconceived notion rather than explain a lengthy set-up.
No Straight White Guys, a monthly comedy show at Foam Coffee & Beer, attempts to place a mirror in front of cultural and gender assumptions promoted within humor. In the process, however, they may have unintentionally raised questions about stereotypes in the world of comedy itself.
Though hosted by local comedians Amy Milton and Milly Naeger, ironically the show was conceived by Jeremy Hellwig -- described by Milton as "a pretty straight, extremely white man." Aware that he couldn't host the show himself, Hellwig turned to Milton and Naeger, who he described as having "some of the funniest, most original voices I've seen in comedy, and I don't just mean in St Louis."
Naeger sees the show as a reaction to "comedy showcases in the Maryland Heights area [whose] lineups were heavily straight white males." Though she did not mention it specifically, the geographical area mentioned includes the Funny Bone, located in Westport Plaza.
Every Tuesday, the Funny Bone hosts its open mic night -- a showcase for new and up-and-coming comedians. Of the 43 people who signed up to perform at a recent show, club general manager Matt Behrens estimates that about 30 were white males. But what leads to this large homogenous pool from which performers are chosen?
Hellwig thinks it stems partially from historical reasons.
"It's kind of always been that way, and so that's how people think of it," he says. "Sticking around and putting in the time to get good and become part of the scene is hard enough. It has to be even harder when you are not a straight white guy but almost everyone around you is."
For Kirkwood native Nikki Glaser, however, this was never a problem. Glaser, one of the most successful comedians to emerge from the area over the last decade, says she had no problem starting out on open mics that were dominated by men.
"Male comics are a mostly docile, socially anxious group," Glaser says. "They were never mean." If anything, she explains, "It was another woman who made my few first years of comedy the hardest. Saying that I had slept with comics for stage time and material. I was a virgin at the time. It was straight out of Mean Girls."
Her new show, Not Safe with Nikki Glaser, will begin airing weekly on Comedy Central in January of 2016. The show, which she said will examine "the current state of sex, relationships and dating" joins a Comedy Central roster that includes her friend Amy Schumer and new Daily Show host Trevor Noah -- both of whom also fall in the non-white-male category.
"I acknowledge that while being a woman has, at times, probably hindered my success," Glaser says, "it has also probably helped in many ways." She adds that she has "never thought of [herself] as a female comic. I am a comic. It just so happens that I have a vagina. It's secondary. And you're damn right I'm gonna talk about it."
When booking headlining acts at the Funny Bone, Behrens says diversity is always "in the back of [his] mind," but the act who sells the most seats is always going to get the gig.
"It would still be hard to change that perception," Behrens says of the idea that comedy is dominated by straight white males. "Whether the headliner is African-American, female or homosexual, usually a straight white guy seems to get on the show somewhere."
Behrens also says he's noticed that some of the local shows outside the Funny Bone that are promoted the best are often run by non-white guys. Milton and Naeger should consider their show among that group, according to Foam owner Mic Boshans, who says their previous shows have been "well attended by a diverse group."
The show itself is mostly a stand-up showcase, with the two hosts creating characters to work with an overall theme that changes monthly. The theme of the July 24 show will be "The Future," according to Milton and Naeger and, will feature comedian Ty Lewis.
Continue to page two for more.