As this train chugs ever closer and more miserably toward Trump’s America, Brokelyn’s cool jobs series is focusing its energies on NYC organizers whose work, whether directly or indirectly, is helping to prevent the president-elect’s rhetoric from becoming manifest.
Today, in the entertainment biz corner of that effort, we bring you Nivedita Kulkarni. She’s a Chelsea-based performer and comedian, and the founder and CEO of Nuva Comedy, a seven-year-strong startup whose principal expression is an e-mail listserv, informally referred to as the “Nuva Ring,” that goes out to thousands of lady comics based in NYC, LA, Chicago, SF and beyond.
The listserv is free and open to join. And as with any e-mail chain that connects industry professionals online, there’s a risk of overusing the reply-all button, especially since women of the Ring exchange e-notes about everything from industry contacts to extra Beyoncé tickets. But with Nuva, reply-all isn’t a pox — it’s the point.
“There are so many issues and things wrong with the entertainment industry as it is,” Kulkarni said. “No one’s required to give up their contacts, but we’re providing a tool to create greater access. I want Nuva to be a professional tool that changes the entire entertainment industry for women. I’ll help you when I can, and you help me when you can.”
To that end, Nuva Comedy functions as an inclusive professional tool for women that’s “playing the tech space,” as Kulkarni put it, working towards building their own web platform where you can start chat threads, connect with individual members, and discover companies— like a next-level LinkedIn for women in entertainment.
For now, to join the listserv, you can email info[at]nuvacomedy.com.
“When I started in the comedy scene, I didn’t feel that there was a place that I could go to for emotional support,” Kulkarni said. “There were professional networking organizations, but there was no real group to share thoughts and feelings with and discuss how hard the industry can be at times.”
Kulkarni’s done it all, by the way, or at least a sizable portion of it — she’s got a background in business, but her professional resumé includes gigs in script development, production, writing, acting, comedy, stage shows and standup, and training at UCB.
Nuva originated as a social initiative while Kulkarni was taking classes at UCB, where the culture of comedy is notoriously dude-heavy and occasionally unsupportive for women.
“I felt so frustrated at how hard I was working and how little success I was seeing,” Kulkarni told us of her post-UCB 501 ennui. “I felt very insecure about my place in the community, and I also had the feeling that many of the men around me felt more comfortable being there than I was.”
Kulkarni sent out an email in earnest to the the women in her 501 class, “asking if anyone was feeling the same,” and found that most women were. And Nuva Comedy was born, a “supportive women’s group for the comedy scene” that put down roots in the online community it suddenly established. Today, the Nuva Ring listserv has a subscriber based of more than 3,000.
Kulkarni’s empathy-based brand of entrepreneurship might make Nuva seem soft, but the opposite is true. The listserv’s connections have propelled the careers of local comedians (Sharron Paul and Sharon Spell among them, as demonstrated by the hashtags above). And in addition to the upcoming web platform, Nuva Comedy is also looking to activate a social justice think tank with its members and partners.
“We’re partnering with Fordham University in February  for a ‘Hack-a-Thon,’ to find a solution for crimes against women,” Kulkarni said. “Dating violence, domestic violence.”
There’s also an app in the works.
As a former member of the Nuva Ring, I remember days where I’d receive more than 30 e-mails from the group, many of which were hastily replied-all responses to a single member’s question. One day someone was sharing a sketch video, another day someone was asking about skincare tips. As far as Kulkarni’s concerned, that’s not only par for the course but part of the point.
“Coming to Nuva Ring with personal issues allows [its members] to engage more deeply,” Kulkarni said. “We weren’t going to turn people away if people had personal issues they wanted to bring to Nuva. We’re not saying ‘Hey we’re work only, don’t bring us your issues about birth control,’ that would have made for a very different organization.”
And as a means of “engaging more deeply,” Kulkarni prefers to keep the atmosphere of Nuva like that of a college class, an uncensored environment “where people can come to discuss philosophy, relations, is this how we should be moving forward in the world?” and be “challenged to think about whether we’re doing things is the best way to do it, while being respectful and also challenging one another.”
Something as simple as getting advice about birth control, for example, might lead to finding common ground over the lack of access to it, which in turn might spark conversations about industry employers’ responsibility to cover these kinds of health care costs. And so on, and so forth, in a ripple effect.
“Women are the future of this industry,” Kulkarni said. “A couple of things I was really proud of on Nuva [was] people [were] saying, ‘Hey my agent is asking for this,’ and ‘is it normal’ and ‘what should we be doing in the industry?’ Talking about it with thousands of women, so all of these women are going to go back to their jobs and think about that.”
For more in feminist comedy, follow Sam on Twitter: @ahoysamantha
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