Megan Gailey has a joke about why women should flush tampons down public toilets during a Trump presidency. Ever Mainard has a bit about the futility of shaving her pubes in the bathtub after a breakup. Emily Heller, who like Mainard loathes going to the gym, says her only fitness goal is to look like the red M&M character. Rachel Scanlon has a bit about all the dirty things she’s accidentally said to her gynecologist during a Pap smear. And Dana Eagle, a self-described “gay bipolar Jew with a lazy eye,” says her cancer treatment was so safe that all the nurses walked out of the room during it.
It would be an understatement to say that the five comedians, all of whom performed at November's edition of the monthly stand-up show Ladies Room Comedy, have no problems talking about their bodies onstage in a bar full of strangers. More than that, they've found ways to turn the intimate, sometimes revoltingly visceral details of their bodily functions into comedy. It doesn’t hurt that in an audience of mostly women, many of these details are also excruciatingly familiar. Which might explain why Gailey’s monologue about unbuttoning her pants at the movie theater and then forgetting to button them back up again after the credits rolled elicited roars of laughter. Or why Mainard's joke about having to fart compulsively when she gets anywhere near a treadmill provoked as many chuckles as it did cringes. And yes, there were plenty of jokes about tampons, IUDs and Pap smears, perhaps indulging the old stereotype that all women comics love to talk about their vaginas. But to the hosts of Ladies Room, there’s no shame in that.
“Literally, every single person is like, ‘Oh, do you guys just tell jokes about your vaginas?'” says co-host Jen O’Donnell, repeating a common response she hears when others find out the show exclusively books women.
“Yeah, like about how men suck?” chimes in co-host Jessie Stegner, mimicking the show’s critics.
“But like, sometimes, guess what? We do tell jokes about our vaginas, just like 60 percent of all male comics tell jokes about their dicks. And that’s fine, too,” O’Donnell says.
It’s not that the comedians onstage are encouraged to talk about their gender or to detail any number of embarrassing moments at doctor’s offices, gyms or public restrooms, but Stegner and O’Donnell hope the environment at Ladies Room makes it a lot easier to do so. “It’s literally why we called it the Ladies Room, because [it’s] like when you’re in the bathroom and you’re in front of the mirror and somebody’s like, ‘You have lipstick on your teeth, I love your necklace, or, Hey there’s a guy out there who won’t stop talking to my friend, he’s really drunk, stay away from him,’” O’Donnell says. “There’s something really powerful that happens behind that closed door that we were like, ‘That’s what we kind of want to capture.’”
The show, which is held the third Wednesday of every month in the back room of Hollywood bar Three Clubs, celebrated its one-year-anniversary last month. From the beginning, it has aimed to give women the microphone as much as it has to give female audiences the chance to hear jokes that resonate with their own experiences. “Not to generalize, but when you have an all-male show all the time, there are just certain things you’re never going to hear,” Stegner says. O’Donnell recalls, for example, the time she joked about owning two dozen bras but only ever wearing two of them. “So many women came up to me and were like, ‘That’s so stupid, but that’s so true,’” she says.
Stegner, a grad student in UCLA’s screenwriting program, and O’Donnell, a consultant for reality TV, met about two years ago at a women’s comedy competition. The circumstance, O’Donnell says, was “sort of funny and weird in general because it’s like, ‘Hey! We’re all female comics! But we’re also competing with each other.'” Their first clue that they’d become good friends was when they both ordered Jack and Diet’s at the bar after the competition. But the moment they realized they might also make good collaborators was when Stegner pitched the idea for Ladies Room Comedy and O’Donnell responded with, “I think we should start a Google spreadsheet,” Stegner recalls. “I was like, ‘That’s it, we’re going to be fine.’”
Even still, O’Donnell and Stegner wondered if they had the chops to host their own comedy show — a concern that, looking back now, they say most male comedians probably wouldn’t have thought twice about. To gain more experience, Stegner enrolled in a comedy show hosting workshop but discovered she was the only woman in attendance. “A bunch of guys were just talking about how all the women that Bill Cosby molested were lying and they were just talking about how servers, if you tip them extra, they’ll give you a lap dance,” Stegner says. “I felt really small and quiet and I felt like I had to sort of represent all women in this moment and teach them something, which is not my responsibility.”
That experience helped convince Stegner that maybe creating a female-oriented comedy show was more important than she’d realized. O’Donnell likes to joke that, prior to hosting Ladies Room, she’d been booked for so many all-male stand-up shows that at one point she was the only woman on the lineup along with four different guys just named Josh. The other benefit to starting their own show, Stegner and O’Donnell say, was that they no longer had to deal with bookers who seemed more interested in hitting on them than in listening to their comedy. “Jessie and I joked before that when we first started out in comedy, we would pretend that we had boyfriends if we didn’t,” O’Donnell says of her attempts to dissuade bookers from acting inappropriately.
“So we were like, ‘How about we just literally skip the middle man and book our friends, book people who we think are funny,’ and then I don’t have to get a text from somebody who’s booking me and be like, ‘Oh, do they really think I’m funny or is this like [an attempt at flirting]?’”
The first show Stegner and O’Donnell ever hosted got off to a rocky start. It was held just days after the 2016 election, and the two hosts had planned their opening monologue around their assumption that Hillary Clinton would be elected president. “We were like, ‘We have to write new jokes. Like, what do we say?” O’Donnell says. “And we really had to be like, ‘Holy shit, not only do we have to get ourselves together for the world, but this is our first show and it’s a big deal, so how do we deal with this?'”
In the end, the two ditched their empowerment-themed, utopian-leaning jokes and went for a decidedly darker monologue. A year into the Trump presidency, and with allegations of sexual harassment and assault emerging against entertainers like Louis C.K. on a seemingly daily basis, O’Donnell and Stegner’s material hasn’t gotten any more positive, and they're OK with that. At November’s show, they joked that they’d been tossing around a list of potential new names for the Ladies Room. It included “The Nobody Will Whip it Out Show” and, simply, “Don’t Rape.”
Now they see their show — which may come off as gimmicky with its cupcakes, pink balloons and Google spreadsheets — as more than just an excuse to avoid lecherous bookers and grant women the microphone. At a time when women are beginning to publicly call out harassment and men are starting to face real consequences for it, O’Donnell and Stegner say Ladies Room and other female-oriented comedy shows like it are more vital than ever. That may be true even, and especially, if it means just having a space to get together once a month to tell filthy jokes about Pap smears.