“Speaking up for what you believe in is terrifying,” tweeted Minnesota-bred comedian Andy Erikson last Thursday. The tweet linked to an Interrobang post, by comic Kristen Becker, about how Erickson had dropped out of the upcoming sixth annual St. Luis Obispo (SLO) Comedy Festival. Becker stated that “Erikson’s withdrawal stems from the inclusion of another comedian who has a reputation for being unable to locate boundaries with women after a few drinks.”
While Erikson declined to speak about the reasons for her withdrawal from the SLO Festival with City Pages, she did agree to a Q&A about being a female standup and misogyny in the comic industry. The kooky, unicorn-obsessed comedian’s career began over eight years ago at Acme Comedy Co. in Minneapolis. Since then, she has relocated to L.A., taken second place in season nine of Last Comic Standing, and released her debut standup album, Secret Unicorn, on Rooftop Comedy Records.
City Pages: What has your experience with misogyny been like? How has it manifested in your comedy career?
Andy Erikson: I started when I was 20, so I didn’t really think about it. I spent the beginning of my career trying to disprove it. I thought, “I’m funny. That’s all that should matter.” As I grew up, I started to realize that things weren’t the same for women. Now you see it more in everyday life. It’s such a broad thing.
CP: Is misogyny more visible because of social media, or do you think it’s occurring more often?
AE: I think it’s more visible because of social media. I think people are talking about it more. Why I’m talking about it is because other women have talked about it. Had I not seen other people talking about it, I never would have, because it’s scary.
CP: There is a danger in talking about it. If you put yourself out there, you may be re-victimized because of it.
AE: People feel like they’re not going to be believed. If it was easy to do, women would be doing it. It wouldn’t even be a problem. I’m actually trying to find examples of how groups of people or industries have made changes to make it better. How do you call people out? Do you have to get the law involved? That’s traumatizing in and of itself.
CP: And it doesn’t always work.
AE: No! It doesn’t!
CP: It seems like when women speak up about misogyny, it gets dismissed as “drama.”
AE: I think that’s a natural defense mechanism. I think men don’t understand. I was on a bus once and a guy started masturbating next to me. I felt so afraid. I couldn’t move. I felt like I wanted to die. I didn’t tell the bus driver. I just ran past him and got off the bus and walked the mile and a half. I told that to people and they were like, “If that happened to me, I would’ve punched him. I can’t believe you didn’t say anything. What about the other people on the bus?” I felt so small. But unless you’ve felt that feeling, I don’t think you understand. Just thinking about it, I’m getting scared again.
I used to say, “Men and women are not different.” But we are different. Men aren’t afraid of women. They’re not. You don’t have a woman in a car drop them off and try to lock them in the car to have sex with them. They don’t have women chasing them in alleys.
CP: Is misogyny particularly prevalent in comedy or have you seen it in other areas of your life as well?
AE: I think [I've seen it] in every industry I’ve ever been in. When I worked at Wal-Mart, there was sexism. In schools there’s sexism. I think in comedy, it’s tricky because there’s no HR department. If someone does something shitty, they can keep coming around. They don’t get fired and go to a different office. They’re everywhere. It makes it harder and scarier to come forward because you’ll be seeing people potentially for the rest of your life. You could move, I guess, but comedians travel a lot, too.
CP: Have you noticed any difference between the scene in California and the scene in Minnesota?
AE: I feel like in L.A. there’s a much bigger scene and there’s more competitiveness. It’s so imbalanced in Hollywood. On the Minneapolis scene, I’m close with so many people that it doesn’t seem as big of a problem. People just don’t talk about this stuff, and all we really know are our own experiences. On the Minneapolis scene, people are more private.
CP: The line between funny and offensive is very thin in comedy. How do you negotiate that?
AE: I believe that people should be able to say whatever they want. If they want to go edgy, that’s fine. But if people aren’t laughing, they’re going to have to deal with the backlash. And I think people should be intelligent. Jokes do scare people, they do traumatize people, and they do have lasting effects. People need to be aware when they’re telling them. I’ve told jokes that I’ve regretted, but I just stopped telling them. It’s too hard to police and tell people what to do, but I think telling people it makes you uncomfortable is a good place to start.
CP: Are there precautions female comics can take to protect themselves?
AE: It’s a tricky industry, because we all hang around and drink. Every night. You’re constantly hanging out and having fun. I think guys are apt to eventually do something. But that shouldn’t be an excuse. People want to say we shouldn’t have to take precautions but I think until things change, it helps to stay in groups, try not to drink, and be aware. But we’re realizing that that’s not working, because we’re already doing those things. No one wants to get harassed. It’s not like we’re asking for it. So now we’re trying to have men involved in the discussion, and have men policing each other, too.
CP: That often gets left out of the conversation — that men can hold each other accountable. They have a lot of influence.
AE: We have a lot of amazing men [in the industry] who want everything to be good. But they’re afraid, too, of being accused. It’s like, “You’re a little afraid of being accused? At least you’re not afraid of getting attacked!” If that’s what you’re afraid of, behave better! What do you have to lose by behaving better? It blows my mind.
CP: So where do you go from here? It’s such a big problem. What can one person do?
AE: I want to do research. I want to use my strengths, my intelligence, my humor, to draw attention to it, but I also want to do research. I want to read about different ways that people are dealing with this. I want to find other examples. I want to talk to other people. At the same time, it’s hard, it’s scary. I don’t want to be the center of all of this because it’s not fun, even though it’s good to do.