In the male-dominated world of standup, ‘Lady Haha’ and ‘Estrogen Hour’ give women comics their time to shine
By Ileana Hubert from El Inde Arizona
Published Apr 11, 2023 6:07pm
Updated Apr 11, 2023 6:08pm
The first open mic Linda Ray felt truly comfortable in was one hosted by a woman at the Surly Wench Pub in Tucson.
Ray, who writes about comedy for the Tucson Weekly, started doing comedy at “The Estrogen Hour,” an open mic comedy show for women, in 2016.
“When I started doing comedy, the only open mics in town were Laffs and Mr. Heads,” Ray said, “and then women started hosting open mics.”
Last year, “Lady Haha,” an open mic show for women, LGBQT+ and supporters, started hosting open mic shows, giving female comedians one more safe space to perform.
“The whole point of this is to empower you to start an open mic, to do shows, to do different kinds of comedy, to have the courage to know that you have a community supporting you,” said Priscilla Fernandez, “Lady Haha” co-founder and Tucson comedian.
The two platforms are perfect for Ray, who focuses on performing at open mics aimed toward women and doing improv with Tucson Improv Movement, with plans to perform at the upcoming “The Estrogen Hour: Springing Back!” show on Sunday, April 23 — the first since the pandemic.
Nancy Stanley, a retired law school assistant dean and current adjunct professor, began her comedy journey 10 years ago on a Lewis Black Comedy Cruise.
After that, she began doing open mics at Laff’s Comedy Café, taking the stage to riff about her dating life and other subjects. To her, stand-up comedy is about letting the audience know who you are, and them accepting you.
Eventually, Stanley started her own show, “The Estrogen Hour,” with co-producer Mary Steed, at her home club, Laff’s Comedy Café. Tickets were sold to raise money for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.
“At that time, it was the only show for women in Tucson,” Stanley said, “but there weren’t very many women comics.”
When she performed in “The Estrogen Hour,” Ray had never performed stand-up comedy.
“I just read that set the other day. It was awful. It was godawful. And so was the second one. Nevertheless, I kind of liked the idea. It was something to do at night,” Ray said.
Stanley said the model of the show is to invite women who have never done stand-up comedy before. Comics get 3 to 5 minutes to perform their material before an audience of mostly women that is very supportive.
Stanley, who used to be a professor at the University of Arizona, compared the experience to teaching.
“The interaction between the comic and the audience is what was so intriguing to me. It’s kind of like when you are teaching a good class, except it’s you; it’s all your insecurities,” Stanley said. “When you have a class, you’ve got the content that stands between you. There’s something to teach. There’s nothing to teach in comedy; it’s just you, which is why it’s riskier, you’re putting yourself out there.”
In her decade of performing, Stanley has only been heckled once. During an open mic at Laff’s Comedy Café, a man in the front row continuously mumbled obscenities about Stanley throughout her set.
“The Estrogen Hour,” which occurred every couple of months, has been on hiatus since February 2020, courtesy of the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s coming back to Laff’s Comedy Café, located at 2900 E. Broadway Blvd., on Sunday, April 23. Tickets will be available online for a $15 donation or at the door (if they don’t sell out) for a $20 donation. This is a 21-and-over show, and Laff’s Comedy Café has a two-item minimum.
Fernandez and Mo Urban are the comedians behind “Lady Haha,” an open mic for women, LGBTQ+, marginalized people and allies.
Urban’s day job is working in hospice and with victims of domestic violence. She also teaches stand-up comedy at Tucson Improv Movement and has been a regular with “The Estrogen Hour.” Fernandez is a certified death doula, grief worker, marketing consultant and graphic designer.
For Urban and Fernandez, comedy offered a kind of escape. Both came from abusive homes, and comedy served as a distraction from their personal situations.
At the age of 24, Fernandez began doing open mics at a local club.
She did not love the experience.
“I was the only woman. I was groped a lot, I was sexually [harassed], I was made fun of onstage and I was heckled,” Fernandez said.
About eight years ago, Urban began doing stand-up comedy at the same venue, and she had a similar experience.
“I was very bright-eyed and bushy-tailed coming in. I was like, ‘Everybody is supportive of everyone,’ and I had to learn later how to have a voice and how to be okay with having that voice because I got a lot of kickback from that,” Urban said.
In the male-dominated stand-up comedy community, Urban and Fernandez, along with fellow comedian Amber Frame, created an open mic aimed at women and other marginalized people.
Now, the duo mainly performs at “Lady Haha” shows. Every week, 20 or so comedians sign up to take the stage and tell jokes to an audience of about 50 people at Bumsted’s. Comedians have 5 minutes to perform whatever form of comedy they desire. There’s only one rule at “Lady Haha”: absolutely no hate speech.
“Lady Haha” takes place Tuesdays at Bumsted’s, 1003 N. Stone Ave. Sign-up is at 6 p.m., and the show begins at 7 p.m.