by Melanie Sheehan
While the thought of a senior thesis may conjure images of stacks of books or hours in a lab, senior Amanda Pell has chosen a less traditional method for presenting her research—a stand-up comedy act, entitled “Amanda Pell: I Can Taste my own Mortality.”
The act, described as an“almost-an-hour-long stand-up special on race, romance, and the futility of life itself,” is set to debut on April 19 in the Flom Auditorium, according to the event’s Facebook page. The project focuses on the challenging the limitations women face in developing comedy routines—obstacles which may explain male dominance in the field of comedy.
Pell is no stranger to comedy. She has interned for both The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and The Colbert Report during her time at Fordham, and has also been involved in Fordham Experimental Theater’s standup troupe. She hopes to continue working in comedy, either in stand-up or as a writer/producer, after graduation.
“With any luck, I’m hoping to end up in a production position in late-night television somewhere by the time spring really gets here,” Pell said.
Pell cites her own experience as a comedian as the inspiration for her research.
“I knew I wanted to write about women in stand-up as soon as I started writing stand-up of my own, because I found that I was coming across obstacles when it came to handling sexual material or jokes that could be considered crass,” Pell said.
Indeed, Pell recounts how male comedians with whom she was working discouraged her from sexual material, since audiences would not accept it or find it believable.
“I felt immediately that there were boundaries on female stand-up comedy that didn’t exist for men, and I wanted to understand why,” Pell said. “I felt that understanding the reasons for this would help me circumvent them when it came time for me to try to convince people to like me, a girl comic.”
Of course, the hours of research spent developing the project have not been all funny-business. The project began the summer before Pell’s senior year, when she received a research grant from Fordham to explore the issues female comics face.
After numerous phone calls and emails, Pell was able to interview six women working in New York. While she was at first interested in focusing on the prevalence of sexuality in female humor, Pell was struck by the frustrations of the women, who, in the words of Pell, “needed to handle any material differently than a man would.”
Her summer research became the basis of her American Studies thesis, entitled “The Prattle of the Sexes: Constructions of Femininity in Stand-Up Comedy,” which explored how the expectations and limitations placed on female comedians has hindered the success of women in comedy.
“I argued that, since humor is an inherently and stereotypically masculine trait (tied up with assertiveness, confidence, and candor), women who chose to incorporate humor into their personalities were self-separating from both femininity and comedy (being too funny/masculine to be truly feminine, but still too feminine to be truly comic),” Pell said.
Pell further extended the notions of expectations and pressures on women in comedy to the ways in which average women live their daily lives. In the words of Pell, both female comedians and average women “dress, select topics, and present themselves according to what they believe will elicit the least violent reaction from the crowd.”
In her upcoming stand-up act, which will serve as Pell’s Honors Program thesis, she attempts to contradict all of the expectations which she described in the American Studies thesis, to personify the rare and often-rejected female comic who is as uninhibited as male comics typically are.
The project includes organizing the live stand-up act, a filmed production of the program, and the career branding connected to the act.
“I’m still not sure what will happen with it, which is a large part of what’s fun about it,” Pell said.
The event certainly promises to be a unique experience. Although the event is free, Pell requests that interested students order tickets on eventbrite.com.