This year marks the 10th annual Women in Comedy Festival, a four-day celebration of funny females. From Thursday through Sunday, more than 100 veteran and emerging comedians take over a dozen venues throughout the city for stand-up, improv and musical comedy shows, plus short films, podcast recordings and workshops.
The festival was founded by comedians Michelle Barbera and Maria Ciampa. Barbera explains, “[Maria] and I had been doing comedy in Boston for about seven years. We both did improv and sketch, and Maria did a lot of stand-up. We got tired of seeing lineups with one, two, or sometimes no women on them, versus seven or eight men. We decided it would be a cool idea to start our own comedy festival that flipped that typical ratio.”
When it made its debut in 2009, the comedy climate was a bit different. “Though comedians were excited to be a part of the festival and we got a lot of positive feedback, some people balked at a female-driven festival as sexist or unnecessary,” Barbera recalls. However, the success of that first festival told a different story. “The numbers didn’t lie, and haven’t really changed as much in the last 10 years as one would imagine, though the visibility of women in comedy has greatly increased. Back then, Amy Poehler and Tina Fey were exceptions to the rule for success beyond ‘Saturday Night Live.’ Now, one can easily name dozens of women who are creating their own TV shows and films.”
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The festival’s scope has changed quite a bit, too. “It started out with a focus on improv and sketch,” Barbera explains. “After a while, it started to attract more stand-up comedians. It’s easier to travel on one’s own, and you can fit a lot more stand-up into a showcase. We all still really value improv, sketch and musical comedy, and believe it brings a lot to our festival, as many comedy festivals are almost completely stand-up-focused.” In fact, this year’s lineup is a bit of a return to WICF’s roots, with a renewed focus on sketch and improv.
As WICF has continued to gain momentum, there have been many highlights, including huge headliners like Wanda Sykes and Lexington native Rachel Dratch. This year, Phoebe Robinson of the “2 Dope Queens” podcast and Nikki Glaser will headline at the Wilbur Theatre.
What can fans expect from the festival in 2020 and beyond? One focus is the expansion of the festival’s film component. While a short film festival has been running as part of WICF since 2015, Barbera sees the opportunity for even more big-screen events. “We hope to grow the film festival to include feature-length films and get it to the size where it can spin out as its own multi-day festival,” she says.
Continuing to prioritize diversity is also a major focus. “Our popular diversity showcase series, ‘38.7%,’ created by comedian Bethany Van Delft, is being sponsored by HBO. Performers of color make up 30 percent of our live acts, and we hope to increase that percentage to around 40 over the next few years.”
Barbera is also quick to distinguish the festival from traditional comedy competitions. “We strive to create the most fun, creative experience for our audiences and artists alike. There’s no competitive aspect to the live comedy, which means comics can relax, support each other, and do their best work. I think there’s plenty of room for comedy competitions, but we’re filling a different need. We offer workshops and panels that are all open to the public.”
So, if you think you missed your calling as a comedian, it’s not too late. “It’s inspiring to see so many different people up onstage, and believe it or not, most people can be funny in front of an audience,” she stresses. “It just takes an initial leap of faith, practice and practical instruction.”
Find out more about the Women in Comedy Festival at wicf.com.