Communications Majors Celebrate Women in Comedy with LaughtHERfest

“Women in comedy aren’t funny,” begins the Kickstarter page. “We’re tired of hearing it.”

With those words, Communications major Laura Petro C’16 began to turn her frustration into action.

As a member of Bloomers, the nation’s first all-female musical and sketch comedy group founded at the University of Pennsylvania in 1978, Petro had been to comedy conferences and workshops at other universities, only to find that the Bloomers were just about the only women there.

For more than a year, the idea of a women’s comedy festival had been tumbling around Petro’s mind. Finally this fall, with $9,501 raised by the Kickstarter page, a grant from the Trustees Council of Penn Women, and some no-joke hard work invested by the entire Bloomers troupe, LaughtHERfest became a reality.

A day-long conference on Sept. 19 kicked off with a panel of two Bloomers alumnae: Saturday Night Live’s Vanessa Bayer C’04 — who was also a Communications major at Penn — and Julie Kraut C’04, a writer on Bravo’s Odd Mom Out.  Bayer and Kraut spoke candidly about their experiences in the industry.

Vanessa Bayer C'04

“Being a woman in general, you’re just not a rich white man,” Kraut told the audience. “Sometimes you feel it really acutely.” Kraut and Bayer also talked about their long hours — the less glamorous side of what it means to be a working comedian.

The panel was followed by two workshops, one on standup by Aparna Nancherla, a comedian and writer on Late Night with Seth Myers, and another on improv comedy by Maggy Keegan, artistic director of Philadelphia’s Figment Theater.

LaughtHERfest culminated in an evening performance in Irvine Auditorium. Standup routines by Bayer, Nancherla, and comedian Michelle Wolf were interspersed with standup and sketch performances by collegiate comediennes from Penn, Columbia, and Brown.

LaughtHERfest performers backstage

“My bar was that if we could sell 500 tickets, I’d be happy,” says Petro. More than 850 tickets later, the floor of Irvine Hall was packed, and organizers scrambled to open the balcony seating. When Petro stepped out from backstage to welcome the crowd, she was stunned and gratified to see the turnout. She was also gratified at the gender split for the show: the audience was evenly split between men and women.

“I was very nervous going into the day,” says Petro,” but I could not imagine it going better.”

While profits are still being tabulated, the Bloomers intend to reserve a portion for future LaughtHERfests, while donating a portion to a local non-profit that supports women in the arts.

Several other Communications majors or prospective majors also helped make the day a success, including Aleah Welsh C’16, Meredith Brandt C’18, and Mica Tenenbaum C’18.

“I love events like this that bring together likeminded people,” says Brandt, who worked to invite and host visiting comedy groups. “I had dinner with the Drexel and Columbia groups, and it’s incredibly cool talking to people with parallel lives at other schools, not to mention being around people with such great senses of humor.”

While Petro will graduate in June, younger Bloomers like Brandt are eager to make LaughtHERfest an annual tradition.

For more on the Bloomers, including videos of their performances, click here