NEW YORK — Feminist leader Gloria Steinem tried her hand at a little stand-up comedy, taking the mic at a Manhattan club in the spirit of “laughing our way to the revolution.”
Steinem joined a group of female comics performing at a high-spirited fundraiser Wednesday evening at Carolines on Broadway for the non-profit Ms. Foundation for Women, which works toward social, economic and reproductive justice. The gathering was dubbed “Laughter is the Best Resistance.”
Not surprisingly, the stunning wave of sexual misconduct allegations against powerful men — which earlier Wednesday brought about the sudden downfall of NBC’s “Today” host Matt Lauer — was a frequent subject of discussion. Caroline Hirsch, the club’s owner, noted in her remarks that Steinem had often spoken of laughing on the way to the revolution. “We’re laughing today,” Hirsch said pointedly, as the audience cheered.
Onstage, Steinem riffed on the French Revolution and its potential parallels to the current political and social climate, equating President Donald Trump with the French king. But she earned her biggest laugh with a joke about Melania Trump: “A reporter asked me what I would say to Melania. I said, ‘I have a guest room.”’
Offstage, the feminist author — a frequent Trump critic — attributed the sudden cultural spotlight on sexual misconduct in part to the president himself.
“We should not neglect the fact that with this election, people are so fed up and outraged that there’s an admitted, obvious sexual harasser in the White House,” she charged in an interview, “that this is part of what has lit a fire under the straw that was piling up for a long time.”
Asked whether she could have imagined that such a fast-moving cultural shift — what many have called a reckoning — would happen, Steinem said: “I can’t say I was smart enough to see it coming. But I do understand that change is cumulative, and that you reach a tipping point. And we are now at a tipping point. Until the mid-70s we didn’t even have a phrase for sexual harassment.”
She added that it was impossible to predict how lasting the changes would be, but “what I can be sure of is that this is the first time I’ve seen women being believed. It is profoundly different.”
This was the 22nd annual comedy event held by the Ms. Foundation; the comics performing included Judy Gold, Ashley Nicole Black, Dulce Sloan, Jen Kirkman, Jena Friedman, and Liza Treyger.
The group’s president and CEO, Teresa Younger, noted in an interview that laughter was a crucial means of survival in difficult times.
“These are really tough times, and if we can’t find humour in the challenges that we’re facing then we’re not going to get through it,” she said. “And we have to get through these times. We have to give ourselves permission to laugh as well as to cry.”