CatAList’s new all-female biweekly sketch series, “Dirty Shirley,” is a show ripe for comparison: the casts of “Bridesmaids,” “Girls,” “Broad City” and the women of “Saturday Night Live” (SNL) all spring to mind when thinking of female comedy groups. Yet the members of “Dirty Shirley” do not want their gender to define the show.
“We’re just trying to be funny,” creator Shannon O’Hara (senior) said.
Not that O’Hara or her four co-writers—sophomores Abigail Lowenthal, Katherine Torrey, Jane Drinkard* and Wellesley Daniels*—shy away from the feminist label. O’Hara’s original vision for the show was to contrast the many all-male CatAList shows such as “The Creamy Boyz”, “OMG” and “The Antolini Brothers” that ran in past years. The idea was to create a platform for women to demonstrate their comedic talent.
“If you had a whole group of men doing the same thing, you would just think, ‘Oh, they’re just a group of men doing a comedy show.’ But we kind of have to hop on the feminism bandwagon,” O’Hara said. “Which I’m fine with—we’re all feminists here.”
The performers began their sketch series knowing that feminism would be an integral part of the equation.
“It’s just going to be inherently feminist because we’re all women sharing our opinions and feminism is about wanting things for women,” Lowenthal said. “It’s just natural to the circumstance.”
As women increasingly carve out a space in comedy, it remains a challenge to separate their identity from the craft. Women are not identified as comedians, but as female comedians—even at times distinguished as “comediennes.”
There are artists who embrace this, focusing on their sexuality and making female-specific jokes. “Last Comic Standing” contestant Amy Schumer’s Comedy Central show “Inside Amy Schumer,” for example, features topics like cheating boyfriends, flirting with coworkers and sexting. In the popular web series “Pursuit of Sexiness,” SNL cast member Sasheer Zamata and “Girl Code” contributor Nicole Byer unabashedly tackle the most uncomfortable aspects of their dating lives.
However, some women find these topics limiting. Lowenthal and O’Hara, for example, envy the ability of their male counterparts to perform without necessarily making a statement for their gender.
“When you look at the late night talk show hosts, they’re all white men,” O’Hara said. “And the one late-night woman is Chelsea Handler, and—God love her, vulgar as ever—but Jimmy Fallon doesn’t have to be vulgar to be funny.”
Instead, Dirty Shirley’s humor focuses on problems understandable to any Occidental student. Their first episode features Torrey fumbling around on the oddly-shaped chairs at the Green Bean, while Daniels panics at the thought of eating alone in the Marketplace. This week’s segment is a Jimmy Kimmel-inspired “man-on-the-street” prank.
According to the cast, “Dirty Shirley” has also fostered a great working environment. Lowenthal said she appreciates working in an environment where her humor and opinions are taken seriously.
“Even though we’re all ridiculous, it’s important that it is something that we are dedicated to doing and being serious about, even though it’s founded in comedy,” Lowenthal said.
And that passion, Torrey said, also turns script meetings into a steady flow of ideas.
“In the editing room, each of us are contributing an important idea and we want to make it right,” Torrey said. “We have a vision for what we want for a final product.”
It seems as though the hard work has paid off—the cast members report that many of their friends and peers enjoy the show, as does CatAList’s head of production, Oliver Benezra (junior).
“I think most people’s first reaction is that it’s a hilarious show and it’s hilarious content and it’s really witty,” Benezra said. “With the success of this, and with the feedback I’m getting and with the overall message it sends, more shows like this would be a great thing.”
*Drinkard and Daniels are both staff writers for the Occidental Weekly.