See if you can guess where this story goes: A bunch of NYC comedians disappointed by what they see as the still-lingering lack of gender, sexuality and ethnic diversity in the entertainment world decide to set up their own comedy event called the Cinder Block Comedy Festival. To encourage diversity, they instituted a discount for people of color, women and LGBT folks, jokingly referred to as “wage-gap pricing,” charging 77 cents on the dollar to submit to the festival. So did you figure out what happened next? The same thing that happens anything on the internet becomes slightly less accessible to white men: the hateful comments started.
“The negative feedback is coming from, as you would suspect the usual suspects: it’s almost primarily straight white men who are angry at this,” Elsa Waithe of Bushwick, one of the festival’s organizers, tells Brokelyn. “Strangely most people who are upset have nothing to do with comedy. They are just people who have heard what we’re doing and are upset.”
But they also got a lot of support, and the organizers recommitted themselves to the wage-gap discount this week, issuing a statement saying they wouldn’t be deterred by the haters and are working on building out a diverse festival for September. They’ve now opened the discount to people with disabilities of all types, and extended the deadline to the end of the month. Bonus: When the fest does come around, it will be arranged like a bar crawl, so you can laugh your way from one Williamsburg venue to the next. And laughing is open to straight white men too.
The fest will be held Sept. 15-18 in a handful of soon to be announced Williamsburg venues. Submissions are open now through March 31 for anyone who qualifies for the wage-gap discount of $19.25; after that, other submissions will be considered from April 1-30 at the price of $30.
The festival was the brianchild of Coree Spencer, of the webseries Comedian on Comedian, who along with her team of fellow comics, storytellers and producers wanted to highlight diversity in the local entertainment scene. You might think that in the super melty fondue pot that is New York, we’re better than the kind of discrimination that fuels a Donald Trump rally, but Waithe, 27, says that’s not the case.
“I do not believe that New York is exempt from that in any way, especially in my own personal experience,” she says. “I’ve often bene the only black person, the only woman, the only queer. You think a place like New York City does not have those same issues, but they do.”
So the idea of the wage-gap discount, to “put the call out to other people of these under represented segments,” Waith said. “It seems like in this day and age you have to go out of your way to find these other segments of the comedy or entertainment industry.”
And lo, as soon as news of that deal hit the internet, in came the trolls, bursting through the walls of the internet like a “not all men!” screaming Kool-Aid Man:
Waithe said in addition to tweets, the organizers got similar comments in their Facebook walls and inboxes. It’s probably a good sign that if your message of “let’s have a diverse festival!” is met with calls of “Actually, YOU are the real racist,” because pissing off white people is becoming a great sport in this country and could apparently lead you to being Beyonce one day.
But locally, tensions still exist in the comedy scene (we also touched on this a bit in our story of whether sexism is causing comedians to flock to Bernie over Hillary). It’s not limited to comedy of course: the indie music industry is currently reeling from major sexism and sexual assualt issues, and top art institutions are battling their own problems. Racism is still so big it’s nominated a guy from president. Homophobia still refuses to go out of style.
So if you’re a comedian, sketch group or improv troupe looking to make local comedy look and sound different, apply for this fest or keep an eye out for the lineup as dates get closer (you can also volunteer here). And if you have a problem with that, Waithe says you’re in luck:
“We made this festival as a response to other festival and things we did not like in the industry,” she said. “If this is a message or festival you don’t agree with, there is a literally every other thing you can do.”
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