As women gain traction in comedy, Vassar’s only all-female comedy group Indecent Exposure is celebrating its 12th anniversary of claiming their rightful space in a male-dominated scene. IE held their first show of the 2016-2017 year in Sanders Auditorium last Saturday night, Oct. 1. Like any new year, the group has made changes, including adding new members Evelyn Frick ’19, Ashley Hoyle ’18 and Bianca Barragan ’19.
At Indecent Exposure callbacks each year, the president explains how the group was founded. IE President Elizabeth Snyderman ’17 says she “enjoyed hearing the story directly from the founder after having heard it passed down over the years.” Back in 2004, there were very few women in Vassar’s comedy scene. Heather Trobe ’05 noticed that the women in sketch groups were often relegated to wives, mothers or sex workers, roles that lacked nuance and demonstrated a pervading narrow-mindedness. Trobe created “Indecent Exposure,” a one-night special event showcasing a group of female stand-up sets.
Over the next several years, Indecent Exposure gained its bearings as a feminist group that performed comedy, but eventually as it gained popularity it became a comedy-first organization.
“It very much did start with the idea of proving that women can be funny. We eventually became an org and did stand-up shows and sketch shows, but it’s interesting that for quite a while our idea was about proving the feminist angle,” commented Frick [Full Disclosure: Evelyn Frick is the Humor & Satire Editor of The Miscellany News]. “It shouldn’t be that we’re women who are funny, just that we’re funny in a conversation intertwined with the fact that we’re all women. We want people to divorce those two notions but also remain empowered.”
The group was still in flux early in Snyderman’s Vassar career. Gals and Pals, an evening of stand-up wherein anyone on campus can submit a set, had recently been introduced. While Gals and Pals was originally set in Ferry, Snyderman explained, “We had a small enough audience that we could just do it in Ferry, whereas now we could do it and fill up Sanders.” During the first years, very few sets were submitted, and IE members ended up “begging people to submit.” Frick expressed, “I think it’s fantastic to invite new people to do comedy. With how the comedy group works it seems super exclusive, but Gals and Pals shows that anyone can do it, there are so many talented people on campus.”
As Indecent Exposure gained popularity around campus and shaped itself into one of Vassar’s premiere comedy groups, its members worked to create a distinct identity and maintain their reliable comedic freshness. As Snyderman reflected, “There was a conflict, we were figuring out who we wanted to be. Did we want to take people from other comedy groups? Are we explicitly here for people who don’t get a chance to perform comedy?”
In fall 2014, Gals and Pals was performed in the Shiva, and attendance barely filled half of the seats that night. Presently Indecent Exposure can fill Sanders twice in one evening. Snyderman says a turning point of popularity came during the 2015 Valentine’s Day show. “We had to turn people away. It was amazing how much had changed in that one year. IE used to be just a space to goof around in, but the Valentine’s Day show showed that we were a comedy group. For the next Gals and Pals we got 15 sets.”
Another trait unique to Indecent Exposure is its versatility: it produces both sketch shows and stand-up shows. For the former, members write and revise sketches, then select them a week before they are to be staged. In the latter, each member develops her own routine and after sharing sets the order is then decided upon.
“Before IE, I hadn’t written sets, and I wasn’t sure what part of the writing of a joke makes it funny. Our sets don’t necessarily correspond with what the theme is but after Zoey [Wiseman ’19] proposed Burning Bridges we all wanted to write stuff that kind of called people out,” says Frick.
Looking ahead, Indecent Exposure wants to develop their sketch-writing insofar as finding and standardizing their comedic structure. Snyderman took a sketch-writing seminar over summer break and she said, “We have always told our members to write sketches without talking about what a sketch is, so we’ll go more in depth with that this year.” There will be an emphasis on Gals and Pals, more shows and buckets of laughter.
Frick expanded on these goals: “It [sketch comedy] is a very white-dominated group on campus. My hope is that the comedy scene will become more welcoming to people of color over the time I’m here at Vassar.”
After 12 years, Indecent Exposure still holds true to its initial tenets. “We’re focused on thinking about the social justice, the social implications of what we do,” says Snyderman. “Providing a safe place for women to do comedy on this campus is still a huge goal of ours. We’re always very careful in our material to not be offensive, and we feel like not all groups take that as seriously.”
“It’s been such a powerful experience getting to surround myself with such brilliant, thoughtful, hilarious women,” new member Hoyle remarked. “It feels great that one of the most consistently well received groups on campus is all-female, and our leaders are very cognizant of the duty we all have to remain diligently respectful and thoughtful with our privilege of having a microphone to hold.”