An All-Women Comedy Show That’s, Well, Just a Comedy Show

What’s considered funny has long been dictated by the white male perspective. This Brooklyn comedy show is doing its part to change that.

By Frida Oskarsdottir

Of the “25 Best Stand-Up Comedy Specials on Netflix” compiled by Paste last year, only four featured women. In 2015, Bitch Media assessed the three-year period from 2011-2014 at Caroline’s on Broadway, one of New York’s most established comedy clubs. They found that out of 1,346 headliners, just 110 were women, equating to roughly 8 percent.

In the wake of the sexual misconduct allegations against Louis CK and other high-power men, Lindy West posited that “the solution isn’t more solemn acknowledgements from powerful male comedians. We have those. The solution is putting people in positions of power who are not male, not straight, not cisgender, not white.” If you listen quietly you can hear people furiously typing responses to this on the internet, “But, but, but!!”

The reason people bristle when you suggest intentionally seeking out and supporting more women in comedy can be packaged easily into a hashtag, #notallmen. Not all men use their power and influence for evil. Not every man makes rape jokes. Not every successful comedian will masturbate in front of you without your consent. Comedy is a meritocracy! If you’re funny, you’ll become successful. The problem with this mode of thinking is that the world of comedy, like the world of corporate America, professional sports, or entertainment, is not an even playing field. What appeals to a lot of people is a straight, white male’s perspective. Not because it’s the best one, but because it’s what we’re used to.

Kendra Cunningham has been doing her part to address this discrepancy, hosting Drop The Mike, a Brooklyn comedy show featuring all women and one “token male,” for the past two years. The monthly event is currently found at Three’s at Franklin and Kent in Greenpoint. I discovered the November edition of the show on The Skint and realized afterwards it was the first time I’d seen live comedy intentionally crafted around a lineup of women. The setting in the back room was intimate; my friend and I arrived a little late and weren’t shot any dirty looks when we decided to sit down on the floor in between rows of seats. The feel was inviting but not cloyingly so.

When you see a lot of stand-up that’s skewed male, the one-off female performer might stand out as, well, feminine. But when you see woman after woman performing, like during Drop the Mike, the diversity of their styles becomes apparent. Some joked about their families, some joked about hating children, some were raunchy, some more traditional. Some drew easy laughter while others had to work for it. In an interview with the Washington Post, Ali Wong, whose 2016 Netflix special, “Baby Cobra,” was a smash hit, balked  when discussing some of the language surrounding her success. ‘“I hate when people are like, ‘Support female comedy.’ That’s not a real genre of comedy! I think if you have true respect for women as three-dimensional creators who are innovative, you wouldn’t group them together like that.” She’s right, of course. But in order to assess comedy from women the way we assess comedy from men, we have to see it.

In her 2016 memoir, Shrill, West details her own personal reckoning with stand-up years earlier, which followed the stinging realization that in order to uphold the values she based her life and work on, she’d have to apply them to what she laughed at. She describes an incident in 2010 watching a friendperform a joke about herpes to a riotous crowd. “It wasn’t a self-deprecating joke about the comic’s own herpes. It was about other people. People with herpes are gross, ha ha ha. Girls with herpes are sluts. I hope I never accidentally have sex with a gross slut with herpes!” Her anger grows thinking of recently consoling a friend dealing with the stigma of a herpes diagnosis herself.

That’s the thing about humor: widening up your circle of acquaintances, friends, coworkers, or entertainers to include people different from you, whether by gender, race, sexual orientation, or class, might make it feel like there are more “off-limits” topics to joke about, lest you offend someone. But “off-limits” doesn’t have to mean you’re being censored or silenced or the PC police are out to get you, it just means “not funny.” If the joke is that herpes is gross but you know a lot of people who have herpes —what’s funny about it?

What’s brilliant about comedy, though, is that the best comedians can turn a lazy trope on its head – so nothing is “off-limits” as long as you’re smart enough. Take “Baby Cobra,” wherein Wong posits after revealing that she likely gave her husband HPV that “Everybody has HPV, okay? Everybody has it. It’s okay. Come out already…If you don’t have it yet, you go and get it. You go and get it. It’s coming. You don’t have HPV yet, you’re a fucking loser, alright? That’s what that says about you.”

The token male at Drop the Mike drew a lot of laughs and was clearly a seasoned performer. At one point he made a joke which included the idea of a woman not being good looking enough to decide when to settle. It wasn’t taken as offensive and the crowd was on board with the set up. But he stopped short of the final punch line, noting that it had a certain ending but given that this was a woman-centric show it probably wouldn’t work. He was laughing, the mood was positive. Maybe he’ll do that joke again and maybe he won’t.

A week after Drop the Mike, I met up with Cunningham before she did a set at a different show at Halyard’s in Gowanus the following week. She greeted me with the same warm hug she gave all of the performers while she was hosting before they took the stage. “I can’t take credit for the concept,” she says, “Steven [Sheffer, the producer of Drop the Mike] wanted to have it be all girls.” There is definitely something appealing about the novelty of the token male performer: “It’s funny because I get more men messaging me and asking me to be on the show than I do women,” she says.

Cunningham has been doing stand-up weekly for nearly a decade, and says now that she feels more established she can be pickier about looking for shows with a more even lineup. “I always have more fun when there’s an all women show. I cancelled a show recently because I was going to be the only girl and I didn’t really know anyone. I don’t need stage time that bad; I’d rather wait for a show where I know I’ll have a couple of buddies that will make it a more supportive environment.”

There certainly was a supportive environment at Drop the Mike that felt unique from other shows I’d been to. One of the performers was Radhika Vaz, co-creator of the webseries Shugs and Fats. Having done a lot of all-female stand up in India, Vaz, whose background is in improv, notes that there’s a sense of “less self-consciousness and trying to come off as any way in particular,” in relation a heavily male lineup or audience. She relates an experiment her improv coach conducted with an all-female cast performing male and female roles, as a way to assess whether they acted differently than when in more traditional roles. The difference was marked, she says, “they were playing stronger characters, not playing a generic woman character that you often get pushed into playing or push yourself into playing, there was something about being all funny chicks together at the same place, something about that energy.”

Julia Johns performed at the very first Drop the Mike show as well as the most recent, and has been doing stand up in the city for eight years. Despite loving the crowd the show brings, she notes that the ideal future would be one where predominantly female stand-up didn’t have to be as intentional. “I really love it when I see a lineup that’s half women, half men and they don’t even say anything about it,” she tells me. “When I’ve produced shows in the past and there’s four comics, I try to get two men and two women, it’s not that hard! That’s what’s so frustrating is seeing lineup after lineup of all men and no women, or just one woman.” Sometimes the “ladies night” lineup can get a little schticky. Johns recalls a certain show, “The guy running the show just kept pointing it out, joking, ‘Can you guys feel the estrogen in here??’ and it just felt like it was going backwards.” At Drop the Mike though, “Kendra does it in a joking way, mocking that there is usually one token female. It’s lighthearted and the guy performing is always on board with the joke, but at the same time she’s proving that there are enough funny women to have a packed lineup each time.”

The next Drop the Mike show is on December 14th and features Aparna Nancharla. The last show of the year is also its two-year anniversary and holiday celebration, and Cunningham laughs that she’s asked the performers to all wear something “festive.” After she and I wrap up our conversation I watched the show at Halyard’s. Because of a change in the lineup, Cunningham was the only woman to perform.

There’s Dignity in This Undignified Behavior

Our Art Director was too busy to bring our shameful behavior to life, so we took it into our own hands.

Drawings Painstakingly Crafted by Frida Oskarsdottir and Sara Afzal

No matter how good of a person you may think you are — how dignified, smart, or sophisticated — we all have a few secret behaviors we’d rather no one else knew about. For this issue, we pulled from personal other people’s experience to bring you our illustrated journey through some of our other people’s not-so-good habits. Our Queen Art Director has been swamped at her Real Art Job these past few weeks, so we asked ourselves, how hard can it be to art? We’ll let you decide.

1. Putting your bag down on the subway platform

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2. Posting a shitty picture of your friend (because you look great)

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3. Ignoring the “tip” option on the screen at the coffee shop. 
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4. Popping zits at age 30

 

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5. Taking selfies on the train

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6. Stealing milk for your coffee from the communal fridge. 

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The Internet Never Forgets

In our first episode, three of us discuss, what else, deeply embarrassing stories from our past.

If you’ve been waiting with your breath bated, you can finally breathe easy: the High-Strung podcast has arrived. That’s right, we flipped on the mics and filled up our wine glasses and for that you are welcome. For our first episode, Monica Torres, Frida Oskarsdottir, and Gabrielle Sierra journeyed into the past and explored the shame that can be brought on by our ever-present digital footprint—from resurfaced Hanson message board diatribes to far-too-easy-to-Google “Yu-Gi-Oh!” fanfic. Join us as we present “The Internet Never Forgets,” and please let us know what you think on iTunes!

Music: “Shine” by Katie Thompson & Duffy Sylvander.

5 Summer Drink Recipes for People Who Are Already Drunk

You don’t have to be a mixologist or own the “correct” ingredients or be fully “sober” in order to come up with a creative summer cocktail.

by Gabrielle Sierra

You don’t have to be a mixologist or own the “correct” ingredients or be fully “sober” in order to come up with a creative summer cocktail. You are a strong and confident member of this community, and damn it you can replace club soda with tonic and lime juice with milk if you want to! So whether you like your booze in a martini glass or out of a paper bag, these five “mixed” drinks are sure to fit your every warm-weather whim no matter what you have handy.


Garden of Earthly Delights

Ingredients: Mint snatched from your neighbor’s yard, rum, club soda, ice

Steal the mint and shove it into a cheap bottle of rum. Store the bottle for a few days and make sure to tell everyone about how you infuse things now because you are classy and take advantage of fresh summer herbs. Retrieve the bottle while hosting a barbeque and realize the rum turned brown. Play it off like you meant it to be brown and anyone who thinks it looks gross just isn’t earthy enough. Make a loud toast to Mother Earth and cast a sharp eye at Debbie who clearly hates the earth because she is refusing to drink your cocktail.

The Beach Towel

Ingredients: Warm vodka, a splash of warm iced tea, suntan lotion rim

Enjoy this delightful beverage at the beach after you realize that the beer stand only takes cash and you don’t have any cash but you do have a water bottle half-filled with vodka and a few sips left from a can of Arizona iced tea. Bonus points if you just applied sunscreen all over your face and it transfers to the sandy rim of your bottle to capture that perfect summer flavor. Cheers to you, you clever bathing beauty.

Summer Sangria

Ingredients: Back-of-the-fridge white wine, rum, apples, canned fruit (drained)

Hey, there is an open bottle of wine back here! It smells okay, what do you think? Eh, yeah I wouldn’t drink that, but I bet we can make sangria with it! What goes in sangria? We have an apple I’ll add that. Yeah just pour in the rum, I don’t think we have to measure. Oh, we have no other fresh fruit. Hey here is a jar of fruit cocktail! That will work, right? Let’s drain it first though, we aren’t savages. Shit, no one filled up the ice trays. Oh well, I am sure it will be fine.

The August Night Margarita

Ingredients: Tequila, old bottled lime juice, tonic, salt rim

It is midnight and you and your friends are ready to go out and enjoy the hot summer night but everyone wants one more drink. You search your fridge and pantry for the margarita mix you could have sworn was in there but after realizing you don’t have any you decide that tonic water should do the trick. Pour in a bunch of that sticky sweet juice you found in that lime-shaped plastic bottle because maybe that will make it taste more like a margarita. Sprinkle salt around the edge and serve with a flourish. Bottoms up, you genius.

Watermelon Crush

Ingredients: Vodka, fresh watermelon

Chop up that half of a delicious sweet watermelon you found at the store and place it in a bowl. Pour vodka over the top. Keep pouring. Store the watermelon in the fridge for a day and then serve to your family for a light treat. It tastes like pure vodka and now everyone is drunk. Keep eating pieces until your mother’s judgmental gaze and teenaged cousin’s vomiting fades into a thick beautiful summer fog and all you remember is your great contribution to this year’s family reunion.    

Defining Mother: A Quick Vocabulary Lesson

A guide to all the convoluted, contradictory meanings the many words around motherhood have taken.

By Gabrielle Sierra

Mommy: a term often used by young children to address their mothers. Term may also be used by adults when calling their mothers in search of comfort or money.

Not to be confused with:

Mami: Spanish for mommy. Term is also used affectionately in romantic relationships or not so affectionately by that guy who follows you down the street while making catcalling sounds even though you already pointed to your headphones and told him to fuck off.


Mother Fucker: a disparaging term for a nemesis that doesn’t actually seem like an insult when you spell it out because, like, congrats you have sex with moms and that is just normal life.

Not to be confused with:

Badass Mother Fucker: affectionate term for someone who is tough, even though they are still having sex with moms which seems to be the disparaging part? I don’t understand.

Not to be confused with:

Tough Mudder: a track of muddy obstacles for insane people with a masochistic streak and too much time and money.


Mom: a term used by children to address their mothers. Term is also used by youths on social media in order to shower praise on a celebrity.

Example:

Me: Will you be my mom, Beyonce?

Beyonce: No.

Not to be confused with:

Mommie Dearest: the term that actress Joan Crawford demanded her children call her.

Term was also used as the title of the tell-all book by Crawford’s daughter and a film in which Crawford is portrayed as a lunatic. Probably just a coincidence though, since this seems like a totally normal thing to make your children call you.


Motherboard: a circuit board inside your computer. Often referenced in early 1990’s hacker movies or by nerds in the office.

Not to be confused with:

Motherboy: An annual mother-son contest and dinner-dance attended by Lucille Bluth and Buster Bluth on “Arrested Development.” (Motherboy was also a heavy metal band that used to rock pretty hard in the 70s. We are legally obligated to make the distinction.)


Mama Mia!: a term that can be used while you are going undercover as an Italian chef and you have to exclaim excitedly about something.

Example:

Me: “Mama Mia! This sauce is delicious! Mangia!”

Actual Italian person: “Shut up.”

Not to be confused with:

Mamma Mia!: a musical based on the songs of ABBA that tells the story of a young woman seeking to find her father before she gets married. In retrospect it seems like a missed opportunity to not call this Papa Mia.


Mama: a term used to reference a mother. Often used lovingly between female friends or in bad insult jokes. Also used in that Black Eyed Peas song “Hey Mama” that was inescapable in 2003.

Not to be confused with:

MoMA: The Museum of Modern Art. It’s great you should take your mom.


Mother’s Milk: Milk produced in the breasts of females who have recently given birth. This substance is free, natural and nutritious and feeds newborns and infants.

Not to be confused with:

Mother’s Milk Stout: a dark and creamy beer made by Keegans. This substance is not free, natural or nutritious but has hints of oatmeal and chocolate and can get your Saturday night buzz going.

Revisiting the Movie “Stepmom”

A play-by-play of the 1998 film, starring Julia Roberts post-“Pretty Woman” and Susan Sarandon pre-Bernie Sanders. Watch with us.

 

By Frida Oskarsdottir

For those of you who don’t know, “Stepmom” is a 1998 film starring Julia Roberts post-“Pretty Woman” and Susan Sarandon pre-Bernie Sanders. I was 11 when it came out and probably watched it ten times over the next few years. I think I was finally at the age where I could appreciate a good weepy movie and I cried Every. Single. Time. It’s been a few years since then, so I figured it was time to take a look with fresh eyes at a movie that allegedly dives headfirst into divorce, family dynamics, and death, but also has a montage of dancing using hair brushes as microphones and a LOT of horseback riding. So, here I am at the ripe old age of 30 taking another look. Won’t you watch with me?

Fun fact: if you google “Watch ‘Stepmom,’” the 1998 family drama does NOT come up first, but a lot of other “close looks” at “family relationships” do!

We open on a shimmery New York City, quiet before the dawn as a super cool radio DJ narrates that he’s about to play a great record for us. I feel like there are 15 movies from the ’80’s-’90’s that start with this exact introduction. If this were 2017, it would be a podcast.

“Under Pressure” plays and I think solemnly about Freddie Mercury and David Bowie. Miss you guys!

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Cut to a flouncy-banged Julia Roberts waking up and smiling for no reason because it’s just so great to wake up in the morning (?) before frantically realizing it’s 7:44 am and she’s LATE and rushing around the house with a scrunchie in her hair.

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She’s yelling names like “Ben!” and you think, oh my does this young blonde-ish waif, in what appears to be the largest apartment in Manhattan, have CHILDREN?! But she’s so beautiful!?

She runs into Ben’s room and is startled to find he’s not there, then heads to another bedroom on a different floor of the same apartment (in this fantasy, apartments have many floors) to find a creature of sarcasm (Anna, played by Jena Malone) going OFF about Purple Shirt Day and how Julia Roberts forgot to wash her Purple Shirt:

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In case we weren’t sure, Julia is STRESSED – “Under Pressure” keeps blaring and toast pops forcefully out of the toaster – EGAD – Ben is located and Julia wrestles him to the ground in attempt to dress him, Anna keeps sulking, and then…

THE VIRGIN MOMMY APPEARS:

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Susan Sarandon, just a few years after being one saucy half of Thelma and Louise, is straight up wearing high-waisted khakis and a canary yellow cardigan DRAPED OVER HER SHOULDERS; GOOD GOD, MAN.

She could not be cooler or calmer and Julia Roberts is a literal Cathy comic right now, which I kind of find hard to believe given her general demeanor. Can you frazzle Julia Roberts? Anyway, now the audience knows that, thank god, Julia has never given birth because, I mean, look at her. Also we learn that Julia Roberts’ name is Isabel because Susan goes “I’ll take it from here, Isabel” and Julia is all “I’m sure you will, Jackie.” A-plus storytelling, really.

P.S. Jackie remembered Purple Shirt Day, she is really out-moming herself

Jackie takes the kids to school in her mommy SUV and manages to mock Isabel in front of her children while also negging Anna when she does the same thing – so, in order to be a good mom you have to be a master manipulator? Noted.

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Cut to Isabel on set of a fast-paced, New York City photoshoot complete with 80 kinds of fruit trays, bright lights, and not an autumn hue in sight – this is how we know she is a Childless Woman with a Real Job, and that job is being the most high-powered photographer of all time. She takes a single polaroid and then DEMANDS THE DIGITAL CAMERA RIGHT NOW. She has a genius idea of shooting the models in a non-traditional way and then says “that’s a wrap everybody” after roughly 2 minutes.

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Uh oh, but Isabel is in hot water because she was late and didn’t shoot very long and her boss is nervous in front of…the investors? The board? There are like 30 People in Suits milling about who seem to be really interested in this single photo shoot. This tension proves to us that in order to be successful you must first and foremost have no children, because children make you late. Thank god this has only happened to Isabel once and her boss is willing to look the other way – I’m sure it won’t happen again or become a central theme of the movie.  

At one point, Isabel makes a joke about her boss hiring her even though she wouldn’t sleep with him but LOL dude is literally wearing an homage to Elton John, but I guess this is the 90’s.

Isabel runs to edit her genius photos on the first Macintosh computer invented:

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Finally, her brilliant idea is presented to the clients. First, the men say they like it and then the only woman jumps on board and agrees in a super progressive, very cool way. Cue Julia Roberts’ Million Watt Smile!

Later at a parent teacher conference we meet DAD played by Ed Harris, whose beeper goes off immediately but he’s all “I won’t get that” and you can see in Jackie’s eyes that no sir this is not the first time that beeper has gone off. A pattern emerges wherein the audience realizes that if you have a job (re: Dad and Isabel) you do not get to love your children or any children but you do get to roll in the dough and buy clothes for yourself that aren’t yellow, unlike Jackie.

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The reason Dad and Jackie are meeting with the school is that little Anna has been spreading QUITE the rumor that her parents are getting remarried and moving to Switzerland (the scamp!). But what could she be acting out about?

Don’t worry, as becomes apparent throughout the rest of the movie there is literally nothing this family can’t handle with a heart-to-heart chat! All conversations take place in their mansion in a faraway land called “Outside the City,” in a kitchen designed by Beatrix Potter. After her mom looks at her for approximately one second in the eyes, Anna realizes the error of her ways and basically self-therapists herself: “I guess if I just said it out loud I thought it might come true.” How old is this freak supposed to be again? The most well-adjusted 12-year-old of all time.

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Anna comes to this conclusion while working on her watercolors (as 12-year-olds do) as her brother reaches Peak Precociousness practicing his magic routine – quick question, have the creators of this film ever seen a family?

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No, no they haven’t. This child is a Manic Pixie Dream Boy.

Later in a different, sleek, city-slicker kitchen, Dad and Isabel have some sexy kissing time and there’s a super funny joke about Isabel not liking to cook because duh she’s a HIGH POWERED CAREER WOMAN GOD DAMNIT how can she cook with all the photos that need taking?!

Dad ruins sexy time by bringing up the kids – yawn – and Isabel gets annoyed he doesn’t trust her. This is a good time to point out that to date Isabel’s crimes against humanity are:

  • Waking up late
  • Not washing the Purple Shirt

As their discussion gets more heated the phone keeps ringing but the person calling is hanging up. Finally Isabel answers, “What is your problem asshole?” and the caller turns out to be Anna, who in five minutes went from mature watercolor angel to bratty stepchild and goes, “YOU ARE MY PROBLEM.” ZING. Then Isabel goes “Call your daughter,” and they reconcile and she goes “Lol don’t fight with me when I’m hungry,” even though she totally just called his kid an asshole?? Isn’t that kind of a big deal??

Sidebar: I still wish I owned basically everything Julia Roberts wears in this movie – it is ’90’s gold. These white baggy pants, have I died and gone to Express heaven?

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So because everyone in this family hates Isabel so much she gets the kids a puppy. Again, because she dares to exist and date their father THREE YEARS after a divorce, she has to prove her worthiness with a golden retriever. Anna is less than impressed and tells Isabel she smells like a dog; very cool. Obviously, that bandana is going in my look book.

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This movie seems to be a series of picking up the kids and dropping them off. The next morning, Anna CAN’T EVEN because she walked in on Isabel and Dad getting it on in the shower (unpictured, stupid PG-13 rating). When Isabel explains to Jackie, she shames her for not having a Harrison family conversation about it (Harrisonation) and Isabel gets to drop the one f-bomb of the movie:

“I’m not June-fucking-Cleaver”

No you aren’t Isabel, this blazer/shirt combo make that crystal clear:

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Oh, did you want to know what Jackie is wearing? NO PROB:

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Poor Susan Sarandon, we all know what she’s got going on underneath all that squash coloring.

Later, Jackie is toiling over Anna’s custom-made Halloween costume when Anna walks in and says “A hippie? That’s what I wanted to be last month.” As in, “Mom, you created this from me for scratch but I’m changing my mind on a whim” and Jackie JUST GOES WITH IT AND LAUGHS ALONG AS ANNA TELLS HER SHE WANTS TO BE ELVIS HA HA HA YES DARLING I WILL NOW MAKE YOU AN ELVIS COSTUME?!??!?!?! I don’t know if anyone else reading this has a mom but if I had told my mother after she sewed me a couture Halloween costume that I wanted to be something else I wouldn’t have fingers to keep writing this with. Jackie. Get a grip.

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Then she has a sex talk with her (re: steamy shower scene that the audience was deprived of) and I don’t think I’ve ever seen a 12-year-old enjoy talking about sex with her mom so much?? She like begs her to describe it and then says she likes talking to her mom about “stuff”??? WHAT IS HAPPENING?? There is such a thing as TOO well-adjusted.

Next scene, Isabel is shooting another masterpiece in Central Park. Naturally the kids are there because for some reason even though everyone thinks Isabel is completely inept at handling children THEY’RE ALWAYS ALONE WITH HER?!

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Because the “light is so good” and other photography reasons, she loses track of the kids and Manic Pixie Boy plus puppy vanish. But it’s fine because in this movie children and puppies alike are instantly found by helpful police officers.

While Jackie yells at Dad about Isabel, Isabel interrupts and goes,“Don’t take this out on him.” FAT CHANCE LADY. I’m pretty sure nobody in this movie plans on blaming anyone but you for anything. “Is it about to rain?? Fucking Isabel.”

Later, Jackie explains again why the family hates Isabel so much (re: how dare she lose my precious baby), this time perched atop a horse in another unbeatable sweater khaki look.

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Manic Pixie Ben asks if Isabel makes a lot of money at her job, and Jackie answers “People like Isabel who only think about themselves often do make a great deal of money.” DAMN! Then Pixie goes, “Mommy if you want me to hate her I will.” BOOM GOES THE DYNAMITE. JACKIE, YOU ARE PLAYING A DANGEROUS GAME.

She realizes she may be mommy-ing too hard, so when Dad asks her to go easy on Isabel and not call the lawyers she says, “I’m going to give you one last chance,” a line people say all the time outside of movies. 

Back in the Manhattan photo-loft, everyone is making art and wearing black. Isabel and her Elton John boss are fawning over her photos while listening to pop music and discussing cosmopolitan things with this going on in the background, because photography:

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The phone rings and turns out Perfect Mom forgot to pick up the kids I mean who can you trust in this movie? To her boss’s dismay, Isabel rushes out because she cares about these kids more than literally anything. I’m beginning to think she’s only going out with Dad to get to hang out with the kids? This movie should be called “Who Loves The Kids Most: Not Dad.” Anyway, Isabel goes to pick them up and pretends like SHE’S the one who forgot the kids since she doesn’t want them to be mad at mom, what a damn hero.

But SURPRISE! Out of nowhere JACKIE SHOWS UP, barely glances at Isabel, doesn’t thank her, and takes her precious angels home to roost. Later, Jackie scoffs when Isabel asks her if she can take Anna to a Pearl Jam concert. If you’re keeping track, now we’re on Isabel’s side.

BUT NOT FOR LONG because like in any movie where our sympathy for the characters starts to wane, enter Cancer:

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So Jackie invites Dad to dinner to tell him she’s sick but before she does he says HE has news (oh, Dad, you rascal) and that he’s going to ask for Isabel’s hand in marriage. Wait, they weren’t married yet? Why the hell is she raising his children? Jackie is all “her?” and he’s like “she’s special” and Jackie hits him with this face:

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Jackie is such a babe in this scene, her eyes are all cancer-crying-shiny. Anyway, then she doesn’t tell him. Asking someone to dinner specifically to tell them something and then saying “Oh, it was nothing” is something that happens explicitly in movies. This has never happened in real life. What do you do for the rest of the meal?

Cue Engagement scene: Dad is really ahead of the times with this elaborate but tasteful proposal (no flashmob) wherein he tricks Isabel with this:

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But then makes a metaphor about strings and relationships and I wasn’t really listening and then BLAM:

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Isabel is IN. TO. IT.

Anna, not so much:

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She’s child acting her little heart out when she hears the news, very rage-ful, very teary. However, after another perfect five-minute family discussion she decides she’s cool with it because otherwise everyone will be sad. Manic Pixie Son is cool with it, too. These kids are TOO MATURE. You know the trope of casting 30-year-olds to play teenagers in “Beverly Hills 90210” and “Saved by the Bell”? This is exactly the opposite of that.

Then Isabel and Anna have a small bonding moment because Anna is having a hard time with her watercolors (normal 12-year-old problems) and everything seems to be wrapping up nicely – EXCEPT that they bond over drawing more realistic trees but do these look like realistic trees to you??

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Also, Isabel said she learned the technique after taking “an art class when she was at N.Y.U.,” Uh…ok Isabel, I guess you just happened to learn that one specific tree-realifying method. REAL CONVENIENT. Also these are her pants:

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*Kisses fingers* Perfection.

During a classic car sing-a-long (I’m telling you 96% of this movie takes place in a car), Anna puts on some of Isabel’s lipstick. When she gets home, Jackie goes “Well, you don’t ordinarily see that color on in the afternoon except for on working girls!” DUDE do you have a professional joke writer? This is fire. Isabel gives her this look, and this hat:

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THEN JACKIE STRAIGHT UP EVIL SURPRISES ANNA WITH PEARL JAM TICKETS LIKE IT WAS HER IDEA. MOM?!

But since this movie can’t make up its mind and insists on making its characters complex we’re BACK TO SYMPATHIZING with Jackie as she starts her chemo treatment. She gets weepy on the phone at the hospital with Pixie Magician and suddenly, it’s kind of dusty in here. Anyway, next scene.

Later Pixie Ben is injured after falling off the jungle gym and Isabel is hanging with him at the hospital, and he says “Will you sing to me? My mommy always sings to me when I’m hurt,” which is really too cute, but then Isabel straight up HAS A MOMENT with this little kid staring him in the eyes singing Emmy Lou Harris. He just scraped his leg, you don’t have to get so intimate.

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But really:

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No woman has ever loved children this much. I don’t think this is what Ben bargained for when he asked for a song.

Jackie walks in and this is where the movie takes a turn from bitchy to sad – I’m not sure how much longer I can keep this charade up of mocking it. 

Moving on, Sharon Stone smoking a doobie in her leaf-strewn garden wearing a beret is everything I want to be. Also, yes, I typed Sharon Stone and I don’t even care.

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She deserves to smoke some pot and enjoy her garden in her brown getup. Because she has cancer, sure, but also because she has not one friend outside of her bi-polar kids, ex-husband, and his fiancé? Thing are tough for Jackie.

Pixie is home from his friend Tucker’s birthday party and runs out of the car wearing a problematic Native American headdress. Tucker’s mom, I’m putting you on blast!

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Isabel does some espionage looking through Jackie’s mail and figures out she’s sick. This is in all sincerity some excellent acting between two gifted ladies and makes me miss when actors acted. Their outerwear is also, as always, on point.

Now that the cat’s out of the bag it’s time for, you guessed it, another Harrison Family Meeting. When they tell the kids that Mom has cancer Anna’s reaction is to scream “I COULD NEVER BELIEVE YOU AGAIN,” and “MOM’S DYING ISABEL IS OUR MOTHER NOW,” but then 6-8 minutes later this is them:

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Now it’s Thanksgiving! Because it’s 1998 we see more problematic Native American costumes and a familiar Pilgrim narrative, and because I am an insane person, I recognized a cameo of Susan Sarandon’s daughter in this scene. For those of you watching at home see if you can spot her! It’s fine, I’m seeking help for my celebrity obsession, moving on. 

Suddenly Isabel and Jackie are best buds? They’re gossiping about Anna’s torrid affair with THIS GUY:

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Honestly, you should watch this movie just for this scene and the genuinely hilarious description of what it’s like to “go out” with someone in the 6th grade. Anyway, Blonde Face BROKE UP with Anna in front of everyone after two weeks of going out and she is humiliated. 

Later, she asks her mom for advice and she tells her to take the high road and ignore him. Solid Mom tips from a solid Mom in a solid sweater:

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So at this point, if the question was am I going to cry even though this movie is pretty ridiculous – like, where is Dad? – the answer is yes. Because it snows and Jackie gets introspective and takes Anna horseback riding in the snow in the middle of the night in a perfect Cool Yuppie Mom move. I wept. I’m also going to skip over a lot of the cute sweet stuff because my shriveled heart can’t handle it. If you watch, you’ll know. 

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Speaking of weeping, Isabel doesn’t cry when her boss FIRES HER for dating a guy with kids, basically. She does wear this hat though. 

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Anyway, she loses her job and that is the last we hear about it for the entirety of the movie. Like, her career is gone so now her transformation into Stepmom is almost complete? Great!

So turns out Jackie’s advice didn’t quite work out because Anna is crying because Blonde Face called her “Frosty the Snow Bitch.” Isabel offers to help and Anna gets in one last jab before their bond is solidified. Whew, good because I think the movie is ending soon so we better wrap up all these loose ends and decide who likes who now. 

So Isabel of Genius Ideas comes up with a Genius Revenge Idea for Blonde Face, namely teaching her a bunch of cruel things to say to him and then hiring a male model to meet Anna out in front of school and pretend to be her boyfriend. I’ll admit I still think this is pretty bad ass, although like many things it’s now completely infeasible since the Internet exists.

Other thoughts I have about this whole scenario now that I’m an adult include how young Anna is, like, Jesus Isabel chill out you’re making her say the words LIMP DICK! This is one of those cool things in theory but IRL if your stepmom was like “lol ‘I’m gonna hire a male model to pretend to be your boyfriend,” you’d be like “uhhh Linda lay off the Bailey’s, ha ha where’s Dad?”

So, the hiring a male model and shaming your ex scene unfolds perfectly. Anna, flanked by her girl squad, delivers the perfect monologue with just enough swearing to be edgy (she says ass).

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Blonde face reacts accordingly:

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This kid has the worst friends ever – his ex-girlfriend humiliates him and they just laugh and laugh. Actually, I guess that’s par for the course in middle school. OK, well done.

Oh, did you want to know what 1998 deemed the hottest fantasy dude to play the role of hired hunky teen? Wonder no more!

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OF COURSE this Twilight extra is wearing a beige turtleneck. Clean up on aisle 4, right ladies?? Anyway, Anna killed it. All is well. Or is it?

Not in this movie! Jackie is MAD because Isabel taught her angel not to take the high road. There are words exchanged, meaning a heated argument which basically boils down to who really loves Anna most. But five minutes later they make up with a real love fest at the neighborhood restaurant and I fully admit my face looked a lot like theirs during this scene.

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Minus the pillowy lips and perfect skin, obviously. They’re just SUCH GOOD ACTRESSES and I know this entire live-blogging experience has been an exercise in irony but I am being completely serious. Also why are these two characters having this meaningful conversation about the future of the children after Jackie’s death without the other half of the kids’ biological parent? WHERE IS DAD?! He showed up at one point a few scenes ago to put up a Christmas tree for Jackie and gives her a shiny-eyed stare and I guess that’s it? Meanwhile Isabel is literally POURING HER SOUL OUT TO HER and they aren’t even MARRIED YET. If you’re keeping track: women feel things, men put up Christmas trees.

If you’ve seen “Stepmom” as many times as I have then you probably remember the last few scenes: they are meant to gut your insides and they succeed. I kept putting off watching the ending of the movie because I knew it would get me good, I mean look at these:

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Jackie sticks around on planet Earth for a final family picture and Isabel sits next to her wearing what is the first primary color of her entire life. She is: Stepmom.

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Fin.

 

 

Let’s Have a Realistic Sex Talk

A fictional “birds and bees” talk from an extremely honest parent.

By Gabrielle Sierra

Hello daughter,

Yep, it is me, your parent. Here I am, perched on the side of your bed. You look angry and mildly uncomfortable and I totally understand. It is because you know what is coming.

Don’t be disappointed in yourself, you put up a valiant effort to avoid me all week, knowing this conversation was bound to happen. But I got you good. Because I when I knocked I said I had your laundry and you still refuse to do your own laundry so you had no choice. A lesson learned for the future, perhaps?

Anyway, here we are, me holding your laundry hostage, and you staring out of your window wondering how easily you could toss yourself through it. (Not easily, your sister tried the whole defenestration thing years ago and I am lightning quick, so don’t bother.)

It is time we had THE TALK. You know the one, the talk about sex. S-E-X.

“Now, when two people love one another very much they have probably already had a lot of sex.”

I know you like to whine and complain that you already know all about this stuff, that your friends talk about it or you read it in a magazine or had a class at school. But I just wanted to make sure you had the truth down pat from an expert. A sexpert if you will. Get it?! Why are you covering your face with your hands?

Now, when two people love one another very much they have probably already had a lot of sex. With each other and with other people. Sometimes in groups or in a public bathroom or in a car while waiting for their kid’s indoor soccer game to end. This also goes for most people getting married, unless it is against their beliefs or religion. Personally, I had a ton of sex before I met the love of my life, Mitch. Yes, I know your father’s name is Bill. I meant to say Bill.

Anyway, you can wait until you are in college to have sex if you want to, but I would get it over with on the earlier side. Mid-way through high school is a good time, but, of course, you do what makes you comfortable.

Pick someone you trust or like or even love for your first time just so you can be open and honest about how awkward it is. Avoid cars or couches or waterbeds; the first time is hard enough without worrying about space issues or making waves or deflating cushions. Spoiler alert: men will orgasm, women won’t.

“Sex is great, but it isn’t always pretty.”

There is really no way to know if there will be any blood, but it won’t be a river, so don’t really worry about that. Why do you look grossed out? Sex is great, but it isn’t always pretty, my child.

Once you get through your first time you will feel better. The pressure will be off, and hopefully you will have a funny story to tell. Don’t worry, you will most likely have a lot more sex with a lot of people and have a lot more stories. And anyway, funny sex stories are the best ones to tell at parties.

College is a good time to experiment, and, as a woman, you will learn how to use sex as a weapon. This will be fun.

Sometimes someone may seem like a great person before sex and then be a jerk after. This does not reflect poorly on you, in fact it has nothing to do with you and everything to do with them.

Anyone who ever calls you a slut or a tease isn’t a human you should care about. Also if you give me their name and address I can go egg their house.

No always means no. And never, ever, even for one second, be afraid to be honest about this.

“Foreplay is important.”

Casual sex is great and you should have it as often as you want. Be honest about your level of interest and commitment. Use protection and don’t be shy about discussing your sexual past. This isn’t something to be ashamed of, so if anyone ever gives you a hard time about it just tell them to fuck off. Or just give me their address and… well you know.

Foreplay is important. Why are you rolling your eyes? Also you should get some sort of vibrator, you can order one on Amazon. You could also just go to a sex shop in the city but why pay up when we have Prime?

If someone tells you you are “really good” at something sexual, it means they just want you to do it again. Avoid sex when you are really full or have to pee. Sometimes quickies are not that quick and someone will be late for work. Oral stimulation doesn’t always work for everyone, but sometimes it is the only thing that works for someone. Learn what works for you and be honest about it. Pets will watch you have sex, they just do. Don’t worry about it.

Well, I guess that is it. I hope you learned from this and that you will someday crawl out from under your desk and thank me for sharing my wisdom. Don’t forget we love you no matter who you choose to love, and anyone who doesn’t isn’t worth a moment of your anger or sadness.

And remember that the most important thing in the whole world is to love yourself for who you are.

Here are your clean clothes. Alright, I’m going I’m going.

Oh! I forgot to mention it, but most people you meet already have HPV.

See you at dinner.