I learned how to perform stand-up comedy in Hampton Roads, first with a class at the Muse Writers Center, then as a semi-regular on the open mic and workshop scene.
I even briefly hosted an open mic at The Taphouse in Ghent, where I tried to force needlessly complicated bits and characters on a largely uncaring post-trivia crowd.
I moved to New York City about three years ago to pursue comedy, but I’ve often wondered if staying and committing myself to the local scene would have been ultimately more fulfilling. I was frustrated by a lack of female representation in the Hampton Roads comedy scene. But, observing it over social media as an outsider, I see a scene where women are leading and thriving.
Women like Push Comedy Theater manager Alba Woolard, who produces and directs the yearly all-female sketch show Panties in a Twist, or Kristen Sivills, a Z104 on-air personality and stand-up comedian who frequently opens for Anjelah Johnson, have proven that Hampton Roads can be a capable breeding ground for high level female performers.
Why didn’t it feel like that when I was there? If I had more opportunities to meet women, work with them, and learn from them — if it was women who showed me the ropes of the local scene — I can only imagine how connected, invested, and supported I would have felt. Motivated by my personal experiences in the industry, I set out to talk to as many women in as many local comedy scenes (outside of New York and LA) as possible, and I’ve been displaying my interviews on this Women in Comedy Map.
It’s my hope that, eventually, I’ll cover enough ground that women anywhere can zoom in on their city and state and learn about their local scene from a woman’s point of view.
Naturally, I wanted Hampton Roads to be well represented. I’ve interviewed four women from four of the Seven Cities so far who are valuable members of the growing comedy scene — and I plan on expanding the list from here.
Donna Lewis is a Configuration and Data Manager at NASA who, just a few months after starting comedy at age 55, was opening for out-of-town headliners. She told me about taking classes at the PUSH Comedy Theater and how she wants to encourage women of color to pursue sketch and improv comedy.
Holly Owens runs the weekly workshop show for stand-up comedians at Cozzy’s Comedy Club in Newport News, a staple for many local stand-ups and one of the best free comedy shows in the area.
Liz Barlow and I had a frank conversation about the struggles of being a woman in the local comedy scene.
While everyone had words of encouragement for beginner comedians, Susan Sussman came prepared to the interview, with lots of practical advice.
Do you know a woman in Hampton Roads comedy who should be my next interview subject — and pin on the map? Email me! firstname.lastname@example.org.