A few years ago, at the Knitting Factory in Brooklyn, a young comedian was doing a set for a crowd there to see the main performer, Hannibal Buress.
"I've never dated a white girl before, and you know what? I didn't think I'd like pink nipples so much. They're like little Skittles."**
My friend—the girl he was dating—cringed beside me. Afterwards, she told me: "To be honest, it would have been OK with me if it was funny."
There are obviously some wonderful things about dating comedians: first of all, obviously, because people aren't defined by their trade—just ask Kyle the colon hydrotherapist!—and there are some lovely, eminently dateable human beings who happen to be comedians. Second of all, who doesn't want to laugh, right?! If these positive elements aren't countered by that moment six months later, when you're sitting in the basement of a club with wet floors, drinking your second watered-down whiskey sour of the 3-drink minimum and watching some dude's ball jokes totally bombing, you've found yourself a keeper. Stick with it!
But hear this: it's like dating a writer... but worse. And dating writers is fucking awful. This might just be a New York thing, but I don't think so.
Significant others to professional funny people is a point of interest because you hardly hear about it. In the last few years some holes have been punched in the male-dominated comedy world and women have joined the critical conversation, so there's that. Nobody ever really seems to talk about the significant others of comedians, who spend a disproportionate amount of of their lives awkwardly sipping a Stella Artois at a house party full of UCB people loudly attempting to out-funny each other. The joke-fodder, the test audience, the support system. I asked some friends who have dated comedian(s) about their experiences.
My friend Amy*, who has dated three comedians (and had a weird one-night-stand with an SNL castmember once), says: "Not even really from personal experience so much as observation, it does seem that a disproportionate percentage of comedy guys are uniquely bad to girls. Maybe this is because girls are treated as second-class citizens in comedy and that somehow gets lodged in their brains and applied to the world at large."
She adds: "I have also seen the girlfriends of comedians cluster together in the same way that girlfriends of guys in any given profession that has groupies, most visibly the Yankee wives."
Another friend, Sophie, who went out with a popular comedian in the Midwest, responded:
The comedy scene in our city was a heavy drinking culture, which I checked out of pretty quickly. The guys got rowdy and gross when they were drunk — which is why I can't speak to how they acted around "the girlfriends," since [her ex-boyfriend] Ben* was the only one who seemed to have one. They treated me like one of the boys, until I (drunkenly) shouted over a "why do girls go for assholes" session that maybe the reason none of them ever got laid was because they'd mastered the asshole part but still hated women.
Hatred, in most cases, is severe, but there's definitely an element of ambivalence-faux-sainthood, even-in many comedians' sets about their significant others. In Sleepwalk With Me, Mike Birbiglia's (totally enjoyable regardless, by the way) semi-autobiographical movie, he struggles with a lack of material for the first third of the movie until he finally breaks through—by writing his first joke at his girlfriend (later fiancée's) expense. Her finding out is foreshadowed by another character ("Does she know you're making these jokes?"), but her reaction to the jokes never really comes to fruition. But she's generally a long-suffering character, patient and kind, waiting for him to stop slacking off and propose already. This has become a popular trope in itself, it seems.
Sophie: "I was never the butt of his jokes while we were dating, which I give him credit for. "X's girlfriend" was usually presented as the character of a bemused "voice of reason" while his sad-sack, self-deprecating persona described one of his fuckups after another."
Jezebel's own night writer Laura Beck told me a story about her friend (was it actually your friend, though, Laura? Was it? WAS IT?) who went to a comedy show where a guy did his entire set about being a late virgin. She approached him afterwards. They eventually started making out, and went back to his place, where they had sex. Turns out he wasn't a virgin. Afterwards, he continued to do the same set! The show must go on.
On the performative element, Sophie adds:
It was interesting to listen to Ben work through interactions we'd never had, and have him provide what he thought "my" side of the conversation would be. Like looking at someone else's perception of a fun-house mirror reflection of you in a prom dress.
He's apparently still telling jokes about me, even though he broke up with me in November. My character is apparently less "voice of reason" and more "puppet mistress, foul temptress, voice of Lilith and her hordes of teeming succubi."
And Amy says of one of her exes, a "YouTube famous" guy: "It was weird to see his 17 year old boy groupies in the front row of his shows. It made me realize how many of his jokes were targeted at that audience. Usually penis jokes."
FYI, I don't have any personal vendettas against comedians. I do have one kind of funny story though: I went on one ill-fated date with one, we sat on a bench in Bryant Park and he told me about the packet of sketches that he was about to submit to Saturday Night Live. The only concept I remember is "an all-white rendition of The Color Purple." Is that funny? Maybe? I still don't really know.
The only girl I ever saw at a comedy open mic did a whole routine of "That's what she said" jokes without seeming to understand the concept of the joke. It was fucking amazing because it became incredibly clear that she was doing it on purpose and mocking the easy, sexist bullshit behind that line, but the audience just didn't connect with it and she was shouted off the stage by a couple of the male comedians.
I bought her a beer and told her she was awesome, and never saw her again.
*names changed, doy!
**updated the specific wording of the joke
Image via Carlos E. Santa Maria/Shutterstock