It used to be that women weren’t funny. That’s what men said, anyway.
These days, that idea seems pretty laughable, as female comics like Tina Fey dominate our screens, both big (Date Night) and small (30 Rock). But they’re also doing some funny-ass routines right here in Philly. Like Amie Roe and Kristen Schier, Philly Improv Theater alums who wax poetic about their vajays in some of the craziest, most entertaining improv you’ll ever see. Or Mary Radzinski and Carolyn Busa, whose stand-up acts are known to routinely upstage their white-dude counterparts. And Meg Favreau, the primary source of estrogen within our local sketch community.
The point is that women are hilarious, and it’s about damn time we acknowledged it. Philly’s bursting with female talent. Sorry, gentlemen: It turns out these broads got a lot more going for them than a uterus and a couple one-liners.
Improv can be an intimidating field to break into, but for Amie Roe and Kristen Schier it’s like second nature.
“We’re about to be stunned by two hot babes,” announces the emcee at the Actor’s Center in Old City. Describing their show as “an undeniably girlish romp,” the ladies seamlessly teeter between kittenish and obscene. Over the course of the next hour, Roe, 27 and Schier, 32 morph into an obscure array of characters with equally obscure foreign accents. Within the first 10 minutes of the show, the women go from bouncing around the stage as two sumo wrestlers to running in circles singing “Turning Japanese.” This paves the way for the next scene in which Schier plays a therapy patient who thinks she’s turning into different ethnicities.
“You’re not turning Irish, Cynthia,” Roe—her therapist—assures her.
“But the other day I was eating potatoes and I really enjoyed them,” Schier whines. “Also, I added an ‘O’ to my name just for fun.”
At one point, Schier elicits moans of disgust from several guys in the crowd after comparing her “snatch” to an iron maiden—a German torture device that “stretches things.”
Briefly breaking the fourth wall, she turns and addresses the audience.
“Hey, I’ll say whatever I want about my vagina.”
That puts an end to the moaning.
The comedic duo’s success is no surprise to Philly Improv Theater (PHIT) founder Greg Maughan. “The strength of women in improv in Philadelphia is something unique,” he says. “Last year when we had our auditions, we had one of our house teams get cast with more women than men, which is the opposite of what usually happens around the country.”
“I think we found an identity for what we wanted to do really easily because we are such good friends and our friendship has a real quality to it,” Roe says. “Kristen and I have an immature, playful sense about us ... We don’t half-ass being silly, we fully commit to it.”
Roe and Schier first met while taking classes at PHIT in 2006, the first year it opened. It wasn’t until last year that they decided to take their friendship to the next level and become an improv duo, but already they’ve scored themselves invites to improv festivals in Seattle and Baltimore. Later this month they’ll be heading to the Chicago Improv Festival and in May, they’ll perform for the second time at Philly’s Duofest.
“I think Philly is doing something right in terms of attracting more women in the improv scene,” says Roe, adding she thinks it might have something to do with the fact that PHIT has several female instructors. “I find that when I teach a class, whatever level it is, there’s more women in it than other classes.”
Meanwhile, at the most renowned improv schools in the country, she notes you’ll find only maybe one or two women teaching.
Which is odd because women may actually have a funny bone. Biologically speaking, many comedy scholars argue that improv is actually a feminine art form. “We have twice as many connections as men’s brains in our corpus callosum,” Roe says with a laugh. Men communicate better side to side because they’re programmed to hunt something” while “women’s brains are wired to connect to people face to face.”
The women stress that a good improv scene is grounded in relationships. “Instead of chasing what’s funny, you follow what you create and keep committing to that,” Schier notes.
And with the ladies, as Roe puts it, there’s not so much of a “my comedy dick is bigger” mentality getting in the way of that.