Ticket for One

If women travel more often than men, why do travel guides treat us like babes in the woods? 

by Gabrielle Sierra

Any woman who announces her plans to travel alone will inevitably be faced with some form of the following helpful suggestions.

“Be careful.”

“Make sure to check in.”

“Watch who you give your information to.”

Don’t get Taken, or I’ll have to use my special set of skills.”

Friends and family, who know and trust your ability to live and exist in the world every day as an adult female, suddenly revert back to giving advice that should only be delivered to a child walking alone to school. Gone is the faith that you wouldn’t take an open drink from a stranger in your hometown let alone a town halfway across the globe. It is as though as soon as you pick up your backpack and a ticket you suddenly lose all ability to tell right from wrong, adventure from stupidity, bright street from dark seedy alley.

This impulse to give safety and planning tips to quivering helpless waifs is a strange one, especially because women are leading the way when it comes to travel. Eighty percent of all travel decisions are made by women, even when accompanied by a group or a big strong man. Additionally, according to research performed by the George Washington School of Business in 2016, nearly two-thirds of travelers are women. Closer to home, a 2014 study by Booking.com found that 72 percent of American women are actively taking solo trips. And those numbers are only on the upswing, as seen by the 230 percent increase in the number of women-only travel companies created in the past six years.

What’s more is that these traveling women aren’t necessarily in their twenties or thirties: in the UK solo female travelers with an average age of 57 are currently dominating and driving the travel industry.

Yet this need to, above all else, highlight safety and security tips in women’s travel guides persists, often to the point of being downright insulting.

A listicle aimed at women traveling alone on a blog called Nomadic Matt opens with this passage: Traveling the world as a solo female? Worried something might happen? Nervous? Think your friends and family might be right about the world “being dangerous”? Not sure where to begin? Fear not. Many women travel the world alone and end up fine.”

(Well I am glad “many” of us end up fine. The rest are, obviously, fucked.)

Sadly, Nomadic Matt isn’t the only author offering adventurous women safety guides instead of destination guides.

A quick internet search brings up a plethora of similar results. Typing “woman traveling alone” into Google surfaces a never-ending scroll of content created to “help” women travel safely. Articles like  “Best Places for Women to Travel Solo” and “26 Best (And Safest) Places To Travel Alone For Females” and “46 Incredibly Useful Safety Tips For Women Traveling Alone” are a dime a dozen, offering advice and guidance not based on the most beautiful or unusual or friendly places, but the safest. These lists don’t focus on helping you select the best backpack to take for an eleven day journey, but instead on which tool is best when fighting off scary strangers.

“Mace (which you can’t bring on the plane, but you can put in a checked bag) or a whistle or a cat keychain all work for self defense, just in case,” advises Buzzfeed.

A quick Google search for “man traveling alone” is pretty much the opposite story.  Solo Traveler advises men to wear a condom when having sex with women abroad. Some lists advise solo males to keep an eye out for pickpockets, which seems to be the extent of safety and fear-based tips given to men.

(A fun aside: Googling “man traveling alone” also surfaces this piece by Elite Daily which is an actual guide on how to find yourself a man while traveling alone as a woman, and features the statement, “Don’t just bring your athleisure and sneakers… break out the flirty dresses and espadrilles while you still can. And if you’re planning a trip in winter, bring some cute booties and skirts with tights.”)

Other articles either aimed at men or written without a specific gender in mind offer general travel tips and list the exciting aspects of spending time by yourself, such as this piece by Smarter Travel that promises, “People who have never traveled alone often describe their first solo trip as an almost religious experience. To take in new surroundings unfiltered by the prejudices, tastes or preferences of a traveling companion can be heady stuff. Traveling alone gives you the chance to indulge yourself fully.”

Where were these articles when I was searching for “woman traveling alone”? Five pages in? Six? How many bullet points of “dress modestly to minimize attention from men” and “wear a real or fake wedding ring, and carry a picture of a real or fake husband”, must I scroll through before I find the tip that tells me the best sneakers for hiking or the best city for off-the-grid art museums?  

Look, life can be scary, and women are not always safe. We have all seen Taken and Brokedown Palace. We have read the articles about women who disappear while traveling alone, or are assaulted or kidnapped. We know there are places we probably shouldn’t go, alone or otherwise, due to unstable governments, violence, trafficking, or high rates of terrorism. The world is not always easy or kind, and women in particular have to be aware of where we go and what we do. Safety tips are sometimes really smart and great, and it is nice to know that people probably have your best interests in mind when they provide that sort of content.

But leading women’s travel guides with fear-based tips is simply ignoring the obvious: women already know how to exist in the world. We know how to dodge catcalls and avoid shady men and extricate ourselves from shitty situations right here at home. Women already know what it is like to have a guy follow us down a block or attempt to lull us with drinks. We know.

Adventurous women who decide to travel alone or with a female friend or a mother or an aunt or a sister are already confident in their ability to exist without the “protection” of the familiar. Check the stats buddy; leading with the antiquated notion that we are helpless is not recognizing our dominance in the world of travel. The underlying message of every, “Be careful walking into your hotel room” is “Are you sure you want to do this?”, and the answer is a resounding, “Yes.”

Yes, yes we do. We considered the safety aspect within the first few minutes of this decision, and have come to the conclusion that we are capable of undertaking this journey. So thank you for asking.

It is time for the travel journalism industry to catch up to the times, and cater to their prime market. So next time instead of a sweet tip warning about stranger danger, just let us know where to get the best cheese, tour the most incredible architecture, or join the best mountain climbing tour. We can take it from there.

15 Things That Might Just Happen When the L Train Shuts Down

The L is the quickest way from Brooklyn to Manhattan. Here are some prophecies for what might happen on that first fateful day.

By Frida Oskarsdottir

In New York, the subway falls under the umbrella of things people are as quick to defend to outsiders as they are to deride to their fellow citymen, like cash-only everything, or muggings. Brief commutes are heralded; half empty rush hour trains are discussed in the hushed tone usually reserved for urban legends. We console each other about our missed appointments, and the cramped compartments wherein people refuse to heed the conductor’s pleas to please, stand clear of the closing doors. 

New York City’s transit system is a clusterfuck the most complex in the world, with its twenty four subway lines spanning 659 miles of track, and that’s without the 5700 buses. So many moving parts and an average of 5.7 million riders each day make it a struggle for the city to find the stressors that most need addressing to avoid disaster and to keep commuters happy, or whatever the word is for when you don’t see a penis on the train.

One teeny-tiny wrench in the already strained system is the apocalyptic 15-month shutdown of the L train slated to begin April 2019. The L is the quickest way from Brooklyn to Manhattan and the lifeblood of 400,000 daily riders. So far, the MTA’s plan for mitigating the impact of the shutdown has been met with audible groans skepticism and continued uncertainty for how its policies will play out. The countdown clock has officially begun, so here are some prophecies for what might happen on that first fateful day.

1. New Yorkers will recognize they’re all in this together, and face the challenges of the shutdown with respect and dignity for their fellow commuters.

2. Just kidding – you will get hit by a train after a wave of rerouted passengers becomes a rat king-esque cluster of intertwined arms and legs, moving as one, squirming until it shoves you off the platform.

3. A new app will help you calculate how many items on your person you would have to barter in order to take a the newly surcharged Lyft home instead of waiting six hours for the train at 1 a.m.

4. Private vehicles may see serious restrictions from the city, following in the footsteps of other progressive metropoles. As a result, flowers will spring forward through the pavement, lush green will overcome the concrete jungle. Man and beast will once again live in harmony.

5. You will get hit by a car because someone’s grandma who has been taking the L train like a champion for the last 20 years had to renew her license to make it to her craft circle. But don’t worry, it will have more than 3 riders in thanks to the HOV3 requirement.

6. The soar in Lyft Line and Uber Pool prices will make way for new ride-sharing experiences – think PiggyBack and WheelBarrow. These will also double as dating apps.

7. You’ll save money by cancelling your gym membership – who needs it with all the extra steps it takes to walk over the Williamsburg Bridge? Bonus: the angrier you are, the faster you’ll go!

8. Despite the fact that bus ridership in New York City has decreased by over 100 million rides over the past eight years and is the slowest out of all big cities in the nation, everyone will seamlessly switch to buses and for sure make it to work on time during rush hour.

9. You will get hit by a bus.

10. Anyone remember this article about a woman in San Francisco who wakes up at 2:15 am to get to work by 7:00 am? Don’t worry if not, you’ll have time to read it again while you’re tucking yourself in at 5:00 pm.

11. The new additional cars on the G train, until now the stumpiest of all lines, will serve as makeshift studio apartments for those who have had to sell their billion dollar Williamsburg properties at a loss.

12. On April 1st, 2019, 1-2% of The Rerouted will take the form of cyclists, removing the tags from their spandex and strapping on their shiny new helmets, triumphant in newfound liberty and pursuit of a fun and exhilarating personal commute since the city’s plan proposes a two-way protected crosstown bike lane on 13th Street, the first in Manhattan.

13. You will get hit by a bike, because all of a sudden there are thousands of uneasy bikers on Manhattan’s only crosstown two-way protected bike lane.

14. #EastRivering will trend when a desperate workforce population braves a swim in the murky green waters rather than sit on the stopped J train for another second.

15. Everything will be OK because New York is the greatest fuckin’ city on Earth and I’m walkin’ here alright???

Thinking of Riding Really (Really) Far on Your Bike? Read This Zine!

If you’ve ever thought of trading in stale AC and cramping legs for fresh air, maybe bike-touring is for you.

by Frida Oskarsdottir

The first thought that comes to mind when someone says “cross-country road trip” is probably not a bicycle. But if you’ve ever thought of trading in stale AC and cramping legs for fresh air…and cramping legs, maybe bike-touring is for you. For stories from all types of people embarking on the open road with nothing but what’s strapped to their backs and in their panniers, check out “Must Be Nice,” a zine compiled by Jessica Garcia, a social worker and jack of all trades living in the Pacific Northwest. Contributions include funny stories about flat tires and one-horse towns and real advice for newbies. Among the hot tips for someone considering his or her first bike tour: “Don’t overthink it. Just go.”

For your own copy, email mustbenicezine@gmail.com.

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High-Pitch: Gone Baby Gone

No matter where you’re staying or going, you’ll need a soundtrack to guide the way.

Travel is as much an enlightening experience as it is an escape. These rhythms and refrains can allow us to traverse time and space while remaining stationary or can lead the way as we cross the globe. Let the canticles keep you grounded; let the strains shoot you into outer space. No matter where you’re staying or going, you’ll need a soundtrack to guide the way.

Wait, this was supposed to be about 2017? Sh*t.

I made a typo so this is about 2007.

By Frida Oskarsdottir

Are you tired of hearing about 2017, reading think piece after think piece about this absurd, surreal, soul-numbing year and worrying about impending nuclear disaster? How about we take a trip in our time machine back to the year 2007 to peek at a few reminders of the state of politics and pop-culture (when there was a difference between the two) 10 years ago. Which celebrities were dating? What constituted a political scandal before our collective outrage meter imploded somewhere around Mike Pence? Most importantly, what was I doing?

2007 was the year I turned 20. TWENTY. A glance through my shockingly inactive Gmail account reveals some desperate post-break-up emails sent to my best friend who’d just moved across the country. They included a lot of angst but not much punctuation: “i just feel as if im not really living, im not really meeting my full potential or complete self.” These were followed alarmingly shortly with sappy emails to and from my new boyfriend, one of which included his senior philosophy papers as a way to impress me. To be fair, I was so impressed I married him ten years later. Our budding relationship is also featured prominently in 66% of my Amazon purchases from that year, which in 2007 meant literally two out of a total of three. One of the gifts I got him was a fun retrospective of Woody Allen, his then-favorite director. Ah, youth!

“But enough about you, Frida, what was going on in the zeitgeist?” is probably what everyone who is not my immediate friend and family member may be wondering. I’ll tell you! Please note that I’m still the person writing this, so it will largely revolve around what was interesting to a 20-year-old college student who believed adding tuna to Tuna Helper was cooking.

In 2007 it was a joy to have a celebrity obsession. Instagram didn’t exist, putting absolutely nobody at risk of figuring out how mundane or racist their favorite actors were. We still stalked Perez Hilton and US Weekly had real A-listers on the cover, not the most recent contestants of Dancing with the Bachelor: Teen Mom Reunion. One of the biggest scandals was a dude getting fired from “Grey’s Anatomy” (a show I recently found out is STILL ON THE AIR) for using a gay slur. Britney Spears shaved her damn head. Lindsay Lohan went to rehab, like, four times. Paris Hilton went to JAIL. Break-ups that sent the collective unconscious reeling included Justin Timberlake and Cameron Diaz (!), Rachel McAdams and Ryan Gosling (!!), siblings Owen Wilson and Kate Hudson, and Puff Daddy/P Diddy/As-of-two-days-ago-Love and Kim Porter.

The final installment of the Harry Potter books, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows,” was released—the end of an era for millennials if there ever was one. 2007 also marked the year the US housing bubble burst, the end of the era of finding success and earning enough money to purchase a house and avocados. Being 20 and having a limited understanding of the economy meant I likely wasn’t paying attention to that news, but rather watching “Chocolate Rain,” which also debuted that very year. I don’t know if I’ve ever laughed as hard as the first time I saw little Tay Zonday awkwardly move away from the microphone while the words “I move away from the mic to breathe in,” flashed across the screen. Memes today feel inevitable—let’s all take a moment to remember those early days when your friend couldn’t wait to show you a video in her living room, and you huddled around the warm glow of the computer together. Speaking of computers, I was on Facebook in 2007. I’ve been on Facebook for more than ten years. I wrote and received a lot of personal messages on my wall, like “Hey wow I remember u from Mclean how are u doing?” which is pretty hilarious considering I’d graduated high school two years earlier. Save the remembering for a little later, bro!

Politically speaking, W. was President and we thought we knew the extent of what having a dangerous ding dong in office meant. I can almost see us now—complaining about his grammar and his goofy face. I want to run but my feet won’t move. As his two terms were nearing their end, a woman named Hillary Clinton announced her intent to run for Democratic nominee for President. So crazy—a woman in the White House! Anyway, glad we gave up on that dream before things got out of hand. In other extremely unfunny news that shouldn’t be political but is, in April a Virginia Tech student went on a shooting spree and killed over 30 people, which at the time was the largest mass shooting in American history. That record is now held by the Las Vegas shooter, who in October, 2017 killed 58 people and injured 546. Ten years later, I still remember sitting in my living room in Richmond, Virginia —three hours east of Blacksburg— feeling the world hold its breath. Family from around the world contacted me, worried. Now when a shooting happens, we blink.

For less devastating political fodder, does anyone remember Larry Craig, Senator from Idaho whose political career ended in 2007 after he propositioned an undercover police officer in an airport bathroom by surreptitiously tapping his foot and waving his hand under the stall? Me either, but apparently that was the scandal of the year, which is as unsurprising for its ubiquity (anti-gay politician is gay AF) as it is surprising that we still care so deeply about people’s sexual proclivities and pay law enforcement to hide out in bathrooms hoping to entrap people just trying to get laid. Let them at it airports are so boring!

2007 was a long time ago, but not so long. The language to describe the passage of time in the new millennium has always eluded me —the aught’s, the 2010s—- it never comes as easily as the 80s or the 90s. Similarly, a memory I thought about in one way when I was 20 could mean something entirely different to me ten years later. Maybe that’s how it feels to anyone who is coming of age, until they decide to look back. Maybe in 2027, when my digital footprint has reached epic proportions, things will have arranged themselves in a way that’s easier to understand. But probably not.

My 2017 Quote Board

I started 2017 off unemployed. Here are words of creative inspiration that got me through it.

           By Monica Torres

I started last year unemployed and in need of creative inspiration to help me keep going on in—what felt at the time—the deluded belief that I could still be an employable writer. I am forever a literary nerd who is turned on by words, so it makes sense that it’s in the words of people I admire that I would find solace.

Here are the words I wrote down in my journal that helped me grit through six months of funemployment:

1. “I wrote my own deliverance.”

I’ve been told by musically-smart friends that “Hurricane” is arguably one of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s weakest songs in his musical “Hamilton,” but I’m still moved by his bold declaration. Miranda as America’s first Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton is recalling when Hamilton was lower than low: a soon-to-be orphan who has just survived a hurricane that has crushed his island home.

“When my prayers to God were met with indifference /
I picked up a pen /
I wrote my own deliverance”

Even as all the family he knows is dying or killing himself around him, even as everyone around him sees little value in him, Alexander Hamilton maintains the arrogance it takes to keep on living, to see yourself as something worth saving.

It works. Young Hamilton writes a poem about his suffering that is so good it inspired benefactors to pay for his education. (Ironically, Hamilton is remembering this moment of confidence right before it sours into hubris, and he self-destructs his personal life, but we all are large, we contain multitudes!)

When I felt outmatched for a project I wanted to do, this is the kind of confidence I would remind myself to channel.

2. “I’m having lunch with my son.”

“I went to go see [the late journalist David Carr] in late January 2015 for lunch at the Times, during a workday. People were coming up to him in the lunchroom, and he just shooed them away, telling them, ‘I’m having lunch with my son.’ I was having a rough time with something at the time and he just kept saying, ‘I’m not worried about you. I’m not worried about you. You’ll be fine.’ We went downstairs afterwards, and I remember it was raining. He lit a cigarette, and we talked for a few more minutes. Then he hugged me, told me he loved me and went back inside. That was the last time I ever saw him. He just worked so hard, and yet, helping and mentoring me always seemed just as important as anything else he had to do.”

—Sridhar Pappu, journalist, former intern at Washington City Paper on being mentored by David Carr

This is the mentorship story I think about now that I’m employed and am in a position where I can give back the way people did for me. My “I’m having lunch with my son” moment happened shortly after I was laid off. I reached out to a successful mentor figure who I had only met a few times. It had been over a year since I last talked to him. I expected him to write me a short It Gets Better Kid email, because that’s what many others did when I told them what had happened. Instead, he did much more. He reserved us a table at a restaurant where we talked for hours. In between bites of delicious food, he listened to all my worries and earnestness and, most importantly, he took me seriously, more seriously than many of my previous bosses had. The next day, he CC:d me on emails to editors he knew, calling me a “talented editor” who they should meet. At that point, weeks of job rejections were eroding my self-esteem, seeing him vouch for me and call me a talented journalist helped me believe that I was.

I still think about that kindness. Someday, I promise I will return the favor. When others come to our table, I’ll shoo them away —“I’m having lunch with my son.”

3. “There is a supreme moment of destiny calling on your life.”

“There is a supreme moment of destiny calling on your life. Your job is to feel that, to hear that, to know that. And sometimes when you’re not listening, you get taken off track. You get in the wrong marriage, the wrong relationship, you take the wrong job, but it’s all leading to the same path. There are no wrong paths.” —Oprah Winfrey to Stanford Graduate School of Business students

I watched this video many times in 2017. I get emotional from pull quotes and proverbs on Pinterest, so any life advice from a master orator like Oprah is going to floor me. She’s so excellent at seeing the divine in the mundane. When I got my nth job rejection letter, I needed to hear Oprah tell me how to make a career story out of failure, and she did. “I have a supreme moment of destiny calling on my life!” was my mantra as I wrote demoralizing follow-up emails to interviewers who were ignoring my calls. It reminded me to play the long game and take the risk of betting on myself.

4. “I can’t be a pessimist because I’m alive.”

The fact that I have a tumblr tag dedicated to earnest quotes would probably have embarrassed me prior to 2017, but after a year of professional setbacks and a year in which a racist, coward, liar was sworn into presidential power, I feel no shame in saying that I needed visible written reminders on how I could keep going.

The one I keep returning to comes from James Baldwin. If you want to hear it spoken in with the weight of Baldwin’s voice, you can watch it here.

Baldwin taught me that survival in America cannot be an academic matter. You cannot just rely on academic theories of social justice, you have to live through it. When asked to explain the future of America and the future black Americans within it, he said that this knowledge forces him to remain hopeful. “I can’t be a pessimist because I’m alive. To be a pessimist means that you have agreed that human life is an academic matter, so I’m forced to be an optimist. I’m forced to believe that we can survive whatever we must survive.”

It’s a lesson that guides why I am a skeptic who is purposefully choosing not to become a cynic. I still don’t believe in benevolent authorities but I do believe in my chosen people and the power of collective action.

So I will keep betraying myself to hope, because survival cannot be done alone. I must keep my unguarded side open to the risk and possibility of connection.

5. “I still believe in the changing the world through words”

During my first months of funemployment, I made the mistake of thinking that curating cheer was optimism. I was curating relentless cheeriness to potential employers (I…love…freelancing!), to worried family members (I love this free time!), and to friends I didn’t want to scare off (I’m a freelancer!). 2017 became the year in learning to overcome that impulse, let my face relax and be vulnerable. Being unemployed got much better when I realized it was okay to openly talk about how terrible it was.

Everytime I reached out honestly as myself —without shame of my self-doubt, without fear of vulnerability— it turned out to be the better move in writing and in life. I’ve learned from the best.

My college thesis advisor Dorothy Wang, a teacher who had the conviction to believe in my worth as a writer long before anyone else did, is the person who taught me to stand up for my ideas, especially if that meant you were going up against your own peers and superiors. When my career was adrift, she reached out and wrote me a note of encouragement that I still keep under the Baldwin and “Hamilton” quotes I tack on my bedroom wall. It helps to keep all of their wisdom written down within eyesight.

“I still believe in changing the world through words,” she told me. I still do too.

 

High-Strung Matrix, Baby

Now that we’ve entered a brave new world – 2018 that is – we want to take a moment and look back on the first year of our bouncing badass baby.

by Frida Oskarsdottir

Now that we’ve entered a brave new world – 2018 that is –  we want to take a moment and look back on the first year of our bouncing badass baby, High-Strung.  We contain multitudes, and our stories, art, essays and interviews do too. We covered everything from serious personal essays to meditative musings on our funniest obsessions. Behold: High-Strung 2017, don’t you want to dive in?

[infogram id=”hs-matrix-1h7z2lw901je6ow” prefix=”ylr”]

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.

High-Pitch: SHAME! SHAME! SHAME!

Too often is shame deficiently dealt and crudely controlled – from lover to lover, perpetrator to victim. Shame plays itself out in vitriolic verses and remorse-ridden refrains.

By Laura Gardiner

Too often is shame deficiently dealt and crudely controlled – from lover to lover, perpetrator to victim. Shame plays itself out in vitriolic verses and remorse-ridden refrains. When the contrition and compunction wear off, the humiliation subsides and voices are reclaimed.

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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