Amy Schumer has had a rough pregnancy. But that didn’t stop her from getting on stage in high-heeled boots and taping a stand-up special for Netflix.
“I throw up an ‘Exorcist’ amount every day,” said Schumer, who has an extreme form of nausea and vomiting called hyperemesis.
“If you had a good pregnancy, like if you’re someone who enjoyed being pregnant,” she said, putting her hand over her heart, “I just hope your car flips over.”
Men have dominated stand-up comedy since before the days of Jack Benny. But as women have elbowed their way onto the stage more often, one kind of performance has been hard not to notice: pregnant comedians popping up on high-profile comedy specials, late-night shows, and in clubs.
No longer seen as something vaguely unhip that gets in the way of the act and the microphone stand, a baby on the way is now a rich source of stand-up material: stretch marks, placentas and all.
Ali Wong, who has done two Netflix specials while pregnant, explained clogged ducts, lactation consultants and diapers — for mom. (After the baby comes out, “You know what else exits? Her house.”)
Schumer lifted up her dress during her special, “Growing,” to show the bandages over her belly button trying to keep it flat.
Natasha Leggero, clearly pregnant under a rainbow sequined dress, cataloged the reasons she did not want children. (“Does anyone else have people in their family that you don’t want to make more of? I have a brother who lives in a van that he put an address on.”)
And Christina Pazsitzky, comfortably into her third trimester, cheerfully mimed along while talking about masturbation.
Just a few years ago, said Pazsitzky, who performs as Christina P., “We were sort of hidden, it was considered not cool.”
“When I got pregnant with my second child, things had definitely changed,” she said. “The managers and agents were all like: ‘Cha-Ching! Cha-Ching! Where’s the book deal? Where’s the special?’”
Such performances would have been hard to imagine when the grande dame of American comedy, Joan Rivers, appeared on “The Ed Sullivan Show” in 1967, while carrying her daughter, Melissa.
“I wasn’t allowed to say I was pregnant,” Rivers, who died in 2014, said in a 2007 interview. “I was in a tent,” she added of her poofy dress, “and I had to say, ‘soon I’ll hear the pitter-patter of little feet.’”
Just four years ago, Ophira Eisenberg, a comedian and the host of NPR’s trivia and comedy show, “Ask Me Another,” said that some bookers had warned her that she might alienate her audience by talking about her pregnancy on stage.
“For years we’ve heard men talk about their penises,” she said, “and we were supposed to accept that that’s universal!”
And today? Forget the pitter-patter.
“All the questions everyone asks — What are you having? Do you know what you’re having?” Schumer said in her Netflix special.
Her answer: “Hemorrhoids!”
So how did we get here?
There is no comprehensive count of women in comedy, but comedians, club owners and bookers say there are more of them working today, even though they remain vastly outnumbered by men. And with women starting families later than they used to, these female comics are now more likely to have established careers by the time they start having babies.
“My peers and I kind of hit it, so to speak, just as you’re right at the end of your fertility window,” Pazsitzky, whose children are 9 months old and 3, said. “I’ve worked 15 years to get here.”
Like most working women, she said, “I can’t take a year off to have a baby.”
So there they are, with an audience and microphone, and a whole lot of material.
Wong: “Breast-feeding is this savage ritual that just reminds you that your body is a cafeteria now.”
Leggero: “The amount of weight I’ve gained, I’m not really in the glowing stage. I’m kind of in the what’s-Natasha-sad-about stage.”
Schumer: “I didn’t throw up today!”
They were glad, they said, to have somewhere to channel the sci-fi surprises that come with growing a human.
“I think the first time I said it onstage was at a college, and they just seemed horrified,” Leggero said of announcing her pregnancy to an audience. “I was so excited to try the stuff because I had ideas and jokes I wanted to talk about. But they probably weren’t the exact right crowd.”
As each passing trimester inspires new lines, some have to go. Kara Klenk, a stand-up in Los Angeles who gave birth to her daughter this month (welcome, Rosalie!), said she had to lose a joke in which she explained to political conservatives how birth control worked, because she no longer looked like she had a vise grip on it herself.
But she did keep a bit where she gets super low to the ground in a deep squat, imitating a very tiny person.
“Throughout the entire pregnancy, but in stand-up too, people treat you like you’re very fragile,” she said. “I could feel the audience going like, ‘Oooh, is she O.K., this precious glass figurine?’ It’s O.K.! I wouldn’t do it if it wasn’t okay.”
For women who have difficult pregnancies, the travel often required for stand-up can be a real challenge. In February, Schumer announced that she had to cancel the remainder of her tour, saying that because of her hyperemesis she was no longer allowed to fly. “I wanted to push through and do my shows,” she posted on Instagram. “Because I hate letting people down and I love stand up and money! But more than that I have to think about my health and the baby.”
Many comics, however, said there were advantages to plus-one performances.
“Anything remotely vulgar gets a bigger laugh when you’re pregnant,” Pazsitzky said. “It’s just more taboo. Any inappropriate hand gestures or obscene phrases are real crowd pleasers.”
Audiences can also be easier to win over. The comedian Bonnie McFarlane, whose daughter is now 11, said that she is heckled approximately every single show, but when she was visibly pregnant, she was heckled just once.
She recalled: “A woman said to me, ‘I don’t think you’re really pregnant, I think you’re just fat.’”
As fun as it can be to play with expectations about maternal behavior and delicate pregnant ladies, many comics look forward to the day that an expectant mom on stage is not unusual at all.
“When you are pregnant, you are very loudly a woman,” said Jenny Hagel, a comedian and writer for “Late Night With Seth Meyers,” who did improv at New York City’s Upright Citizens Brigade Theater until two weeks before her son was born. “And we are programmed in our society that it is less appropriate for women to make jokes than it is for men.”
Then again, she added: “Man-buns are normal now. We can get used to anything with conditioning.”