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7 Things I Learned Being a Woman in Improv

By The Second City | Oct 11, 2013

I have been a woman for 29 years (you guys, I’m totally 29, I SWEAR!  But thank you for the compliments on how young I look in this WordPress template).  I have been improvising for 8 of those. Some lessons are learned the easy way, and some you realize after time. Here, some observations I’ve made being a lady in the improv community.

Improv Is Not a Boys’ Club

I don’t know who is spreading and keeping alive the nasty rumor that “improv is a boys’ club” and “guys get special treatment” and “dudes are taken more seriously,” because it is not true. That is fear rearing its ugly head. Sure, there are more men in improv. That’s not anyone’s fault, however factual. If anything, this gives women even more opportunity to shine.

Typically, there are 2-3 women per team, unless you’re one of the all-girl teams, and then all of the people on your team are women = Girls’ Club: No Boyz allowed. So you’re telling me I get to be one of only a few women on stage?!  How cool is that?!  Do something with it!  Look to your favorite, strong female performers.  I guarantee not one of them is complaining about the men on stage, because she’s concentrating on supporting and taking care of them, herself, and the show as a whole.

No One Stole Your Job

There are a million women in the city, and not one of them has the job that you were supposed to have. You look EXACTLY like someone? Doesn’t matter.  You are the same quirky/actor-y/musical theatre-y type?  Who cares? You’ve been working at it longer? This business isn’t about seniority.

The way you read the material, the way you talk, the personal experiences you bring to the stage– THAT is what sets you apart and makes you unique. That is what got that woman the job. Stop blaming her and move forward; there are a million other gigs out there. Ok, not really. But there are a lot. Go get them already! Or, better yet, make your own.

If You’re Going to Date Within the Community…

…Make sure you’re dating someone you can connect with on an honest, personal level. Both of you are going to have bad shows, good shows, get hired, get fired, be embarrassing, be in the limelight and guess what?

Dating isn’t about any of that.

It’s about whether or not you can talk, laugh or be silent together, learn from and challenge each other, and if he’s ever going to pick the spinach off the kitchen floor because he can’t just put it in a bowl and eat it as a salad like every normal human on Earth; he has to stand in front of the refrigerator with the door wide open and eat it straight out of the bag with his hands like a troglodyte.

That’s what dating is.

Women Can Be Catty

You remember this from high school, college and the movie Heathers. Women (and men) are going to be catty. Brush it off– that’s their insecurity talking.  It hurts. It’s hard to hear. But for every catty person, there is a kind one waiting to pick your shattered, stepped-on, crying soul off the floor and tell you that hateful hoochie can eff off. Release your inner Nomi Malone. Ain’t NO ONE standing in her way.

Don’t Be a Catty Woman

Enough said.

No One Walked On Your Choice

Everyone’s been there. You walk into a scene thinking that you’re going to be the head of the UN, talking some serious sense into this business in Syria, and whatdya know? Some DUDE opens the scene with, “Hey, honey?” 

Now you’re his wife.  Ugh.

You wanted to say that you were the Boss at Tastee Freeze instead of someone making you a measly line cook? You were supposed to be the Crazy Homeless Aunt instead of someone’s daughter (or GOD FORBID, MOTHER)? Ok. Rough break. Mmm…not really. If you want it, get out there and say it first.

No one’s going to call you a steamroller for making a choice; it’s what people in the industry call “a gift.”  I prefer funky earrings and savories myself, but on stage that can only happen for fake, which is stupid.

Being a Measly Line Cook or Mother Is Not a Bad Thing

So now you’re a “honey” or a “line cook” or a “daughter.” What next? These are titles someone chose, not character limitations. You or your scene partner made an amazing decision in a split second, and now you get the chance to support that choice for 30 seconds to 2 minutes max. Which type of “measly line cook” are you? The one working her way up the ladder, soon to be manager, franchise owner, then CEO of the whole damn company?

Because in real life, I was really lazy, used the middle Mac buns to make grilled cheese and dropped the plastic Barbies in the fryer, which ultimately resulted in my immediate termination for being so terrible. You better be damn certain I’m going to do the exact same thing again and NOT have any repercussions for it.

Bottom line?

You’re a woman.  Roar.


Nikki Pierce (@nikkinikkp) is an actor, writer, and dancer/choreographer currently living in Chicago. She regularly performs at several storytelling and comedy shows and is also a RedEye Chicago special contributor.  If interested, you can properly stalk the rest of her work at or

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