Why #MeToo Hasn’t Transformed the Stand-Up Scene

Comedian Mona Shaikh spoke with The Hollywood Reporter about what it’s like to be a woman in stand-up comedy and the pervasiveness of misogyny and sexual harassment among male comediens. Her personal experiences with harassment fueled her to create a documentary on the objectification of women in the stand-up scene. Shaikh is a Pakistani American who has made a point to promote diverse comedians through her series, Minority Reportz, a live showcase that has featured comedians like Margaret Cho and Tiffany Haddish. 

Shaikh recalls one incident with a male comedian who followed her to her car after she left the venue that night. “He goes, ‘Can you roll the window down a little bit?’ I was thinking, ‘If I drive off, and his foot is underneath [the wheel], he’ll call the cops.’ So I do, and he moves his fingers into the window, gets really emotional — tears down his eyes — and starts telling me about how things aren’t going well with his wife. I go, ‘Sorry to hear that.’ Then he calls me a shithead and asks to hang out.”

In the initial stages of producing her documentary, Shaikh found herself having familiar issues with her male colleagues. According to THR she “contacted more than 50 women and began shooting interviews at the beginning of 2021. But it was foiled by what she contends turned out to be a toxic relationship with her male producing partner, who she alleges made undercutting remarks about her in front of the documentary’s subjects. (He counters that she’s mischaracterized their mutually caustic banter yet acknowledges their overall disagreements have put the project at a standstill while their lawyers seek a resolution.)”

Many of the women Shaikh spoke to told THR “of a bleak, seemingly intractable side of their work — from microaggressions to assault, the unfunny business behind a career dedicated to making people laugh.” Women experience a whole range of harassment on any given night in a comedy room, from microaggressions on stage to harassment in the green room. Shaikh says, “If you have a structure that’s created for and by only one gender, and then the other comes in, it creates a struggle. If you’ve not had to share your power, it’s jarring.” 

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