Greenwich comic sticks to PG-13 material in an R-rated era
With Amy Schumer’s best-selling memoir still riding high since its August release, and Vanity Fair writer Leslie Bennett’s much-anticipated biography of Joan Rivers (“Last Girl Before Freeway”) coming out in two weeks, the role of profane female comics in our culture is being discussed once again.
Add to the mix the raunchy, hot-button new Amazon series “Fleabag” — about a sexually confused London woman —and everybody appears to have an opinion about “dirty” female comics.
Brad Axelrod, who has run the Connecticut Treehouse Comedy Club brand for the past 33 years, says the shift to frank female comics has been in the works for many years. “Lisa Lampanelli (a Trumbull native) started at a Treehouse open mic night. I think she was a bit of a trendsetter who opened the door for Amy, with the idea of being dirtier,” Axelrod says. “That started a shift away from Roseanne (Barr) and Ellen Degeneres and Paula Poundstone. I think ‘Sex and the City’ played a role in the change, too.”
In this age of increasing raunch, Greenwich comic Jane Condon continues to make people laugh with an act that could probably qualify for a PG rating. (Axelrod, who has booked Condon many times, says she might get a PG-13 for some jokes.)
Condon’s stories about feeling like an outsider in Greenwich — she grew up in working-class Brockton, Mass. — and doing the best she can as a wife and mother of two (now-grown) sons in the Connecticut suburbs have made her popular in comedy clubs and at benefits for the past 30 years. She was named audience favorite on “Last Comic Standing” and won a Ladies of Laughter contest where she was judged with 107 other comics.
“In Greenwich, everyone is either above average or a poor test-taker,” Condon has joked in her act. When she plays elsewhere in Connecticut, the comic will tell audiences, “I live in Greenwich, but I’m still a nice person.
“I think women in comedy and politics both have to walk a tightrope. You have to be likable,” she says.
Condon’s role models include Lily Tomlin and Richard Pryor, who both emerged in the 1970s and who both told hilarious and personal stories drawn from their own lives. She believes the profanity in Pryor’s act was organic to the people he was bringing to life on stage.
Condon is “clean” in an era dominated by Schumer, who has proven that female comics can be as forthcoming about their sex lives as male stars like Louis C.K. Schumer walked through a door that was opened by “Sex and the City” almost two decades ago, with its then-shocking bluntness about finding laughter in a frank treatment of women’s sexuality.
The Greenwich comedian thinks the new female voices — which include comic actresses/writers Tina Fey and Lena Dunham — are not a threat to their male peers. Instead, they are loosening up the whole field to new topics and new ways of finding laughter in honest storytelling.
“The guys did a great job when they were in charge. But you have a lot of other groups now who are ready to step up and take on some of the burden,” Condon says of the rise of female and gay comedians.
Politics has never been a major part of Condon’s act, but this year the fact that she is an old friend of Hillary Clinton’s (they are fellow Wellesley graduates) and the irresistible comic target provided by Donald Trump have pushed her into the satirical arena.
“It’s very hard for (comics) because Trump is already an exaggeration and he doesn’t leave much wiggle room,” Condon says of such easy targets as Trump University and the fact that Melania Trump famously borrowed her Republican convention speech from Michelle Obama.
Condon thought long and hard about being more politically overt in her comedy and on her social media this year, but feels an obligation to the truth of this moment in history and the future of America.
“I had to make a decision of what’s more important — my career or my country.”
She says the only advice she gives to younger peers is to create material that reflects them honestly and then to keep working.
“You have to be out there,” Condon says. “It’s working a muscle just like athletes do. It also becomes an addiction, but I think it’s a positive addiction.”
Condon believes her comedy “tribe” has two major categories. There are the comic actors, who can put across material like a role they would play, and there are the writers whose ability to create new material keeps their acts fresh.
“I think the writers might have more longevity because we keep coming up with new ideas,” she says, adding it was her work as a journalist that led her to a career in comedy. After she and her husband spent several years in Japan during the 1980s, Condon wrote a book about the experience that led to speaking engagements where her stories about being an American outsider in Japan garnered lots of laughter.
The journalist enjoyed the immediate positive feedback of those live audiences, and when she started testing the waters at open mic nights she fell in love with the experience of giving an audience pleasure through laughter. Condon realized as soon as she started talking about Greenwich being as much of a “foreign country” as Japan that she was on to something.
“I think my Irish background played a part in my career, too,” Condon says. “We’re instinctive storytellers.”