It’s also a shameful myth that feminists have no sense of humour – one easily discredited by Second City’s new all-female sketch revue, She the People: Girlfriends’ Guide to Sisters Doing It for Themselves. And they certainly do: in addition to the six-woman cast, the show is directed and co-written by Second City alumnus Carly Heffernan and written and crewed entirely by women. The show recently had a hit run in Chicago (also directed by Heffernan) and opened in Toronto yesterday, with a cast of local faces from the comedy institution.
She the People succeeds at delivering laughs with minimal preaching, for the most part; it also does well at its alternative goal, to express what it’s like to be a woman in a world that’s still so unequal and unfair. But don’t worry, my fellow patriarchs and mansplainers and manspreaders – you won’t feel too left out. You’ll find plenty to laugh at in this show, and you might even learn a thing or two.
Among the issues brought up is a woman’s right to choose, cleverly depicted in a scene with Paloma Nuñez as an office worker who wants to throw away a lunch she doesn’t have time to eat, while her co-workers try to bully her into not wasting it. (“Food begins at confection,” says Karen Parker.) Chosen motherhood is skewered in a sketch about a mother-and-baby yoga event, with Nuñez, Ann Pornel, Ashley Comeau and Kirsten Rasmussen as mood-swinging moms who toss and catch their (fake, of course) babies in the air like volleyballs.
There’s another hilarious bit in which a cast member dons a full-size Tyrannosaurus Rex costume to do a business presentation, then complains that nobody is listening to her because they’re focused on what she’s wearing. (I still don’t know who performs this role because of the costume – either Parker or Tricia Black, since they aren’t in the previous scene, I’m guessing?) And a funny montage explores the ludicrous depictions of women in commercials, whether shaving legs next to a waterfall or wearing a camisole while scrubbing a floor.
The ladies let you know how they view the alpha-male mentality in a delightfully silly sketch with Rasmussen, Comeau and Black as a trio of idiot golfers, who engage in bro talk and then run back to the golf cart between swings for “Miller Time!” to drink beer and play loud party music. And the delicate subject of #MeToo gets a surprisingly funny take in a scene about Black waking up from a ten-year coma and learning from her wife, played by Pornel, that she can’t enjoy certain TV shows or movies anymore.
“When you see women being powerful, being talented, being engaged and full of joy, that really has an effect on the audience.” – @annpornel
— Second City Toronto (@SecondCityTO) August 9, 2018
To keep things fair, the show allows women to be satirical targets too sometimes. For example, Rasmussen has a good bit as a woman in a pink tutu and carrying a green ukulele, who keeps crying out, “I’m quirky!” and describes herself as “sexy librarian meets the Old Spaghetti Factory, meets a shooting star,” whatever that means. We’ve all met her, of course. Another scene has Rasmussen fearing that she’s turning into her mom, who’s played with perfect suburbanite cluelessness by Parker.
There are other topics besides specific women’s issues. One highlight is the game show You Oughta Know – recycled from the 2016 revue Come What Mayhem! – in which an audience member and two other contestants are quizzed on their awareness of current events. (Rasmussen’s take on the host here easily surpasses Roger Bainbridge’s.) An early blackout bit about a modern-day speakeasy takes on racism, and Parker gets to showcase her improv skills as a creepy novelist inexplicably obsessed with murder.
Not every sketch lands smoothly, and there are moments when She the People gets a bit heavy-handed. Comeau has a song, “Will He Kiss Me, or Will He Kill Me?”, which expresses women’s darkest dating anxieties, but it’s more uncomfortable than funny. The premise of another late scene has all men disappearing into a Stranger Things-style alternate dimension – leaving women to run the world in their own better way; this one has its moments, but runs too long and belabours the point with a sledgehammer. (I know I risk being shamed as a mansplainer by being critical of anything in this show, but that’s my job here, isn’t it?)
All of the cast are good, but extra props must go to Rasmussen for great energy and facial expressions with a variety of characters, as well as Nuñez, who’s superb in a scene in which she cries with anguished existential regret over killing a spider. Black has a big moment in a late sketch when she freaks out in a restaurant; I’m not sure the scene works, but I admire her commitment to it.
If the future is female, then She the People is a welcome introduction to the new world. Whether you’re female, male, transgender or whatever, go and laugh and have a good time.
She the People runs at Toronto’s Second City Mainstage from Thursday to Sunday until November 25.