Yerington: College campuses and stand-up comedy go hand in hand

Stand Up comedy needs to evolve and Iowa City needs to start taking steps into offering ways for comedians with different voices and point of views can entertain and feel safe while doing it.


Chris Kalous

Kate Berlant performs during the CAB comedy show on Sunday, April 29, 2018 at the IMU.

Austin J. Yerington, Opinion Columnist

Standup comedy needs to evolve, and Iowa City needs to start taking steps to offer ways for comedians with different voices and points of view to entertain and feel safe while doing it.

Standup comedy has a long and fruitful relationship with college campuses. Whether it’s touring comics stopping in to perform or for University of Iowa CAB events, standup comedy has a strong connection with college campuses. It also has an inherent sexism to it that causes men to get ahead far more than women.

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I’m currently taking a Standup Comedy Practicum class; because of this, I have attended open mics all around the Iowa City area. I have been quite surprised to see that Iowa City has a handful of opportunities for this type of entertainment to be showcased and outlets for first-timers to try it out without much stress. Though the standup scene has been inviting, I have been disheartened to hear the lack of diversity of entertainment it offers.

In my class, there are 15 students, with only four males and 11 females. After attending a few open mics, I see they are almost entirely populated with one point of view: male. The first open mic I performed at had a 6 to 2 ratio of male to female comics. I know, being a white male, this may come off a bit weird. But when I attend events such as this, I prefer a diverse style of entertainment.

After being part of this community for more than two months, I know that there are countless amazing female comics in Iowa City who simply don’t get a voice in the community because of the lack of welcoming and safety in open-mic environments. Standup comedy needs to evolve, and I think Iowa City needs to start taking steps toward offering ways for comedians with different voices and points of view so they, too, can entertain and feel safe while doing it.

I spoke with Griffin Murray, a local UI student who hosts Secret Standup, a long-running monthly event, about his experience running an open mic in a college town.

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One of the questions I asked was why he puts on this standup show.

“Open mics are great, but having it in a student house run by students gives off a totally different vibe than in a bar basement,” Murray said. “It’s packed, hot, dingy, and wonderfully uncomfortable. It gives people a safe space to perform and a safe space to come and watch. It’s more than something to do on a night out, because people work hard on their material and really care about their performances. It’s not an official comedy showcase or anything, but it is still people putting themselves out there and taking pride in their work.”

The strongest thing I think that standup offers, as Murray said, is a safe place to voice opinions on things performers find to be important and want to make people listen and laugh as they express this. This form of entertainment is something that thrives on people’s unique points of view, and because of this, it needs diversity to survive. In a world in which women are more than 50 percent of the population, it is depressing to see that only 10 percent of the standup industry is made up of women, according to The Independent.

Open mics need to be safe and welcoming, because if they’re not, they are no longer unique and, most importantly, hostile. Human beings should never feel unsafe in an environment, let alone in a place where they are about to perform such a very personal form of entertainment.