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Published on March 17th, 2011 | by Sharilyn Johnson

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Burden of proof

Guys, I’m tired.

I’ve been a journalist, in one capacity or another, for over 15 years. I’ve done print, radio, and now online. I’ve functioned as a writer and as a photojournalist. I’ve paid my dues, earned my stripes, etc.

I’ve been running this blog for the last two and a half years because I wanted to continue doing what I was doing before I moved to Toronto.

But I’m tired. I’m tired of the expectation that I should apologize for wanting to cover comedy. I’m tired of having to beg for access. I’m tired of proving my worth, and then being treated like I haven’t.

This post should feature photos of Michael Showalter performing in Toronto last night. I like him, but I know a lot of you LOVE him. So I requested access from the promoters, and got it.

I showed up at the venue (a bar), gear in tow, prior to door opening.

I was met by a gentleman – and I use that term loosely – who refused to let me in to set up.

“You’ll have to talk to the box office.”

Box office is inside, I pointed out, and I’d be happy to speak to anyone else who can help me with that.

“No,” he told me, pointing at the line snaking down the street.

Assuming he misunderstood me the first two times, I explained I was shooting, had been cleared to do so, and wished to speak to someone about positioning myself before the hoards of people entered this standing-room (intended for music) venue.

“Well, you’ll still get in.”

His mind was made up before I even opened my mouth the first time. I was to be sent to the back of the line.

He was half-right: I got in. But as I predicted, fans stood crammed in front of the stage, like some awkward comedy nerd mosh pit. I had at best a half-decent position to shoot from. I wasn’t going to wait an hour and a half, alone – which meant never leaving my “spot” – to get mediocre shots of a show I was only half inclined to see in the first place.

In order to do my job properly, I should have arrived hours earlier to wait alongside the die-hards.

I left. Hence no photos, and no report beyond what I can piece together via Facebook statuses (“awesome”, and some drunk woman was heckling).

This is not an uncommon experience. Journalists, more and more, are treated like garbage, especially with the advent of what I call “prove it” journalism.

Anyone can start a blog, and anyone can call themselves a journalist. So as a group, we get painted with the wide “amateur” brush by guys who work the door unless we can prove otherwise. Frankly, short of getting my j-school diploma screened on a t-shirt, and carrying around a portfolio of yellowed clippings, I don’t know how to do that.

Look, “no” is part of all this. You can’t always get what you want. I haven’t landed every interview I’ve ever requested, or every comp I thought I had coming to me. And all’s fair, because I’ve said “no” to publicists just as often as they’ve said “no” to me.

But last night was a special kind of “no”, which came from the secondary layer of bullshit I sometimes encounter.

We ladyfolk have a little alarm that goes off in our brains when we’re not being condescended to as a person, but when we’re being condescended to as a woman. It happens only occasionally, but there’s no mistaking it when it does.

I perform a bit. I’ve done some improv, and I do standup whenever I’m asked to. And the is-it-hard-for-women-in-comedy question is often posed, even at that level.

Funny thing is, being a woman has never been a disservice to me onstage. Honestly. Others’ experiences may vary, but I’ve never been treated as anything other than a human being by audiences.

Offstage? Well, god help you if you take interest in this industry.

The common assumption by some of these gatekeepers (usually men) is that I have an ulterior motive.

I do not. I have a clean track record in that regard, although I occasionally kick myself over some of the hook-ups I’ve turned down for the sake of my reputation.

But people who don’t know me enough to know this just assume the worst. I must be there for one reason, and that reason must be sexual.

Even applying the outdated-unless-you’re-a-Winnipeg-judge idea that dressing one way or another communicates what I’m “asking” for doesn’t work.

Show up in a hoodie and a ponytail? I’m assumed to be a cocky kid. Make an effort to look polished? Comes across as slutty. When I go with the cardigan and glasses? I get the “aww, it thinks it’s fuckable!” condescension.

There is no winning in that situation.

I’m confident that the result of my encounter with the bouncer would have been vastly different if I were male, and he didn’t automatically imagine that he was heroically thwarting my secret plan to give Showalter a blowjob.

Even the self-proclaimed judge of Toronto journalism excellence (or lack thereof), Mondoville, freely draws their own gender-based conclusions with no sense of self-awareness. When they tweeted a link to my interview with a well-known comic, they chose to comment not on the questions I asked, nor on the quality of the portrait I shot, but only on the fact that I ventured into his hotel room to execute both components. Classy. (They love being called out, so watch for a “whiney inconsequential blogger whines about being treated like a whiney inconsequential blogger” headline coming soon.)

I’m a professional. I conduct myself as such. I don’t have the wherewithal to act competitive or territorial. I respect the needs of the people I work alongside, and I don’t try to get away with asshole behavior by applying the infamous “easier to ask for forgiveness” strategy.

I do everything right, but at the end of the day, that matters very little. Me and my gear are still hauling ass back to the subway before Showalter’s opener (the great Nick Flanagan) has even gotten on stage.

The good part is that I can get off the subway and spend my beer money where I’m actually respected. I hung out at Comedy Bar for a while, got the latest news (Doug Benson will be performing here for one night only, April 30, after he checks out the UFC match), and chatted with some local improv folks.

But overall? But I don’t have the energy for this anymore. It isn’t worth it.

This isn’t a hiatus notice, but an explanation of why you’re seeing a decrease of new content. I’ll continue dealing with those who are interested in a positive professional relationship, but I’m done with trying to impress those who aren’t.

My heart just isn’t in it anymore. I don’t think you can blame me.


About the Author

is the author of the book Bears & Balls: The Colbert Report A-Z. Called "one of the city’s most discriminating comedy critics” by NOW Magazine, Sharilyn has been covering comedy for longer than she cares to admit. She served as the comedy reporter for Winnipeg's Uptown Magazine for five years, and was the host of the radio show Laugh Tracks for three seasons. Her work has also appeared in the Toronto Star, the Winnipeg Free Press, The Apiary, and on CBC Radio's national comedy programs LOL and Definitely Not the Opera.



3 Responses to Burden of proof

  1. Peter Cianfarani says:

    Wow. Sorry to hear this but completely respect your decision. At least you’re not stopping outright and those of us who respect your opinion will still have somewhere to read it.

    Thanks for the laughs and the insight.

  2. Meagan says:

    Thanks for posting about your experience. I love this site and your photography, and hate that there are people who make it difficult for you to do what you do for comedy (FOR FREE).

    “Offstage? Well, god help you if you take interest in this industry.” — This resonated with me pretty strongly. Sing it.

  3. Andrew Johnson says:

    I live in England and have no interest in Canada, Toronto, women’s issues or even rather perversely the comedy scene you write about. But I do enjoy reading your blog. There is a humorous, precise, clarity in your thoughts that I appreciate and love. I will happily read anything you have to say because I know it is fuelled with a passion and is honest and true.

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