Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Southsider staff.
A confession: I have never enjoyed stand-up comedy shows. Despite my friends’ best efforts to introduce me to comedians that they thought I would enjoy, I usually sit in the audience feeling like I was missing some crucial details, socially pressured to laugh at material I never found funny, and in the worst-case scenario, subjected to sexist jokes and heckling. So, it was with some trepidation that I decided to attend Lady Parts Justice League: the Vagical Mystery Tour at Artsquest on Tuesday, June 12th. I knew little about the performance, aside from the fact that the troupe supported advocacy work for reproductive justice. Plus, the word “vagical” was enough to draw me in.
Clearly, however, not everyone was as pleased as I was, as we were greeted by a small cadre of anti-choice protesters outside of the Artsquest doors. Ignoring them, I proceeded to talk with the featured organizations at the event, including the Allentown Women’s Center. Prior to the start of the stand-up routines, the audience got a taste of Lady Parts Justice League’s (LPJL) work via videos such as “I’m Just a Pill,” an ode to an old Schoolhouse Rock! tune (“I’m Just a Bill”) that explains how Plan B prevents a pregnancy from occurring. The audience was mixed across the age demographics; some women brought their teenage daughters, while two older veterans of the pro-choice movement sat behind us and howled throughout the show.
As LPJL founder and Chief Creative Officer, Lizz Winstead, reminds us, if we can’t laugh at the absurdity of our current political moment, we’d probably cry–so part of LPJL’s mission is to have a frank, yet humorous, conversation about women’s healthcare access and contemporary socio-political issues that define the pro-choice movement. LPJL goes on an annual tour to “spread the love” to local abortion providers, by doing a stand-up comedy show, providing a panel of local activists to describe their work and needs, volunteering at local clinics while they are in town, and knocking on doors to raise awareness about restrictive legislation, such as the gag rule. All of this is self-funded, so attending the show (and making donations) is one way that people not otherwise drawn to activist work and still financially support LPJL’s mission.
This tour featured four woman-identified comedians, including Lizz Winstead (The Daily Show Co-Creator), Maysoon Zayid (Comedian, Writer, Disability Advocate), Joyelle Johnson (Late Night with Seth Meyers), and Jaye McBride (The Great American Comedy Festival). Each comic touched on a wide range of topics–including the difficulties of coming out as trans to one’s family, the problems with having a roommate who is a budding Dominatrix, dating while being differently abled, and of course, the difficulties that each has experienced while trying to exercise autonomy over their own person.
As Maysoon Zayid pointed out, people tend to not talk directly about abortion. LPJL is trying to end this stigma by reframing the conversation as a human rights issue. Although Zayid went on to explain that she personally would not choose to have an abortion if she became pregnant (which, for her, would be a life-threatening condition), she fully supports other women’s right to make the choice that is best for them and their families; this is the level of complexity that the members of LPJL were able to frame with humility and humor as the night went on.
At the end of the show, my friend and I had a chance to talk with Joyelle Johnson. Mainly, I wanted to thank her for her part in creating my first enjoyable stand-up comedy experience–which I shared with her during our conversation. As she candidly put it, LPJL is a unique comedy experience, because it was “women focused” and welcoming, rather than antagonistic toward the audience. I not only felt totally at ease and free to laugh, but I left the show feeling rejuvenated and empowered to continue to provide support for the countless people who benefit from having access to safe and affordable reproductive healthcare. That is perhaps the subtle beauty of this stand-up tour–of course, they made us laugh, but they also gave us a space to have a serious conversation about sensitive medical and political issues that will continue to affect us in our daily struggles.
If you’re interested in seeing Lady Parts Justice League: The Vagical Mystery Tour, their other tour dates are available on their website.
*Feature image courtesy of the LPJL Tour site*