Comedian Iliza Shlesinger On Her Brand Of Intelligent Feminism & How Comedy Can Change The World

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If you haven’t see it already, do yourself a favor and watch Iliza Shlesinger’s Netflix comedy special ‘Confirmed Kills’, then watch her two previous specials ‘Freezing Hot’ and ‘War Paint’. Since we already know you have a Netflix obsession, as we do, there’s no excuse not to indulge in an Iliza-fest these holidays. Trust when we say this, you will NOT be able to get her voice of your head!

We’ve had a girl crush on Iliza for a while and really love her brand of comedy and her dominant female-driven content without the mean-girl condescension that is so often present when comedians talk about or imitate women. You know what we’re talking about. Making fun of women has become easy fodder for many male comedians, which is why we are seeing such a rise of badass young female comedians who are owning their craft, their sexuality, and giving sexism the middle finger. Amy Schumer, Ali Wong, Issa Rae, Chelsea Handler, the ‘Broad City’ gals and many more are redefining the genre like never before.

What we love about Iliza is that despite not having appearing in another vehicle like a TV show, web series, or movies, her presence in the stand-up world is enabling feminism to live there in a really clever way. In an interview with Esquire.com around the time of the release of ‘Confirmed Kills’, she gave readers a behind-the-scenes perspective on her personal brand of feminism, and how she brings that into her set.

Although her previous comedy specials have included jokes about women, this time around it was different, and she wanted to take the time to expose her audience to feminism, but in a way they could easily understand.

“I wanted to talk about feminism in the way that I like to talk about it, which is digestible. It’s not excluding men. It’s not hitting people over the head with it. It’s bringing up both sides and making it funny,” she said.

Her objective was for audiences to learn to be a bit more compassionate toward women, and also changing the status quo in terms of expectations about women.

“I wanted to do my brand of feminism, which is hoping that people will expect women to say something intelligent and not just always go for something sexual. I wanted to say something smart, and I wanted to say something that raised the expectation for the bar of my comedy,” she said.

Iliza says feminism shouldn’t just be a catchy slogan like “girl power”, but a real and concerted effort to understand women. Within her signature “girl behavior” comedy content where she makes fun of the way women act sometimes, she wants to be mindful of how certain messages can potentially influence younger girls in negative ways.

“Men like it because it’s a view into women’s world. But if you’re not examining both sides and you’re not coming from an intelligent perspective to get laughs, then you’re almost doing a disservice to women. There’s been this wave in comedy where women own their sexuality and talk about how slutty they are and they find that empowering. And while they’re not wrong, I worry about the 14-year-old girl out there who’s thinking the word ‘slut’ is OK and doesn’t know how to defend herself in a conversation,” she said.

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With feminism still sadly being such a polarizing term that can instill fear into some people, Iliza is more than willing to be an ambassador for showing the world what it is really about.

“[If] any men who are afraid of [feminism], it’s because they’ve had a bad experience or are ignorant. So this is me saying, ‘Look, here’s what it is. It’s coming from someone who isn’t abrasive, and I’m not here to make anyone feel bad.’ …I want women to feel that somebody with a platform is actually on their side, and I want men to take away a little bit of understanding about women,” she said.

At 33 years old Iliza says her material has evolved over time, especially in the way she discusses women on stage. She mentions a joke from her first special where she makes fun of girls who hold hands when they walk to the bathroom in a club. The joke was, “Take my hand and we’ll make a chain of whores and walk through the club.” While it was funny at the time and she doesn’t regret using it in her set, she won’t be using it again any time soon.

“The word “whore” is funny. It gets a laugh. Women put it on t-shirts. They quote it to me. And the older I get—and maybe I’m being too serious about it—I would never say that. I’m judging these women from afar. It’s a very harsh label on a group of humans who don’t need any more harsh labels. Women don’t need any more bad press. I was contributing to that—a woman calling other women a group of whores. It’s just not okay. So while I don’t regret it and it was very of the time, I wouldn’t say it now. That’s what evolving is,” she said.

We love that perspective! It’s important for women to own who they are, but that doesn’t mean owning a demeaning label assigned to them by society in place of a more positive, affirming one. Especially when the label indicates a clear double standard for women when it comes to sexual behavior, compared to men.

Being able to evolve her comedy set and use her time on stage to share important messages through jokes is one main reason why Iliza believes comedy has the power to change the world. She says it has the ability to give visibility and voice to people like never before, and break down barriers where other industries perhaps struggle to do so.

“It’s about making people accessible, whether you’re a different color or a different body shape…You’re seeing women of color being cast in TV shows. You’re seeing women who aren’t stick-thin getting to do things. Ten years ago, there were no Indian or Pakistani guys on TV. Comedy helps to blur the color lines. And that goes for gay people or women. At the end of the day, funny is funny. If what you’re saying is funny, people will very easily forget what you look like and who you are. That’s the power of comedy,” she said, tapping into the frustratingly common slur that women can’t be funny.

We’re looking forward to seeing more barrier-breaking from Iliza Shlesinger, as well as more of her comedy specials.

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