Lindsey Barrow: Intersectional Feminism and Improv

Lindsey Barrow Smiling

Just Lindsey being Lindsey.

I recently sat down with Lindsey Barrow (just kidding, I emailed her– it’s still a pandemic). She is the Artistic Director of The Ruby LA, an intersectional, feminist comedy theater in Los Angeles.   Full disclosure, Lindsey and I are friends (although she prefers that I not say that in public or private).  I think she is one of the unsung heroes of the improv community.

Lindsey Barrow has performed at various theatres including The Ruby, Nerdist, UCB, iO, and Second City doing stand-up, sketch comedy, and improv. She’s performed sketch and improv for over ten years and you can see her on shows like Speechless and Casual, and way too many commercials.

So The Ruby is an intersectional, feminist comedy theater. Can you tell us what that means and how you’ve implemented that philosophy?

The members of the improv team "Karen"

Lindsey with her improv team, Karen.

Lindsey Barrow: Sure! Intersectional Feminism in comedy means we understand that a person’s comedy style will not only be influenced by their perspective of being a woman, or a black man, or a non-binary person. But, there are many areas of inequality that will determine a performer’s point of view, what they think is funny, or how they can function in society. We take all of that into consideration when we plan out our curriculum. We want you to be able to grow into the funniest person you think you can be, not the funniest person Randy thinks you should be.  I mean, Randy’s funny and all… but like, he might not get a joke about tampons or pronoun mistakes.

In all seriousness, Equality, Inclusivity, and Diversity (or EDI) have always been a number one priority for us. We make sure our board and instructors match the community we want to serve. This is called a top-down approach. Therefore, EDI has always been first on our minds. It is not a patch that was thrown in after we created a comedy school.

What issues have you seen in the comedy community? What is The Ruby doing to help fix them?

Lindsey Barrow: I’m excited performers are feeling empowered to speak up and correct theaters that they call home when it comes to EDI. A lot of these comedy institutions rely on a “one way to be funny” mentality. This has trickled down to “white dude in his late 40’s thing is funny.” And that sucks. There are so many ways to be funny – see previous statement about Randy. Plus, just an entire system that works against anyone who is a marginalized voice, doesn’t have the ability to easily take a class and network, or isn’t related to a Coppola.
Sketch Team, Rosa, performs

Sketch Team “Rosa” performing at the Ruby

Please tell me more.

I worry that the necessary changes that need to be made will be forgotten because of the pandemic. Also, I’m worried about the onus for change being placed on BIPOC shoulders. Running a theater is hard work. It pays no money and maybe gets you a “thanks for your work” email like once every few months. Expecting BIPOC folks to open and run an expensive theater for themselves because white spaces aren’t doing better isn’t a great answer. Unless folks want to open up said theater, then they obviously should. I must warn you, it pays no money and the thank you emails are sparse, but they are nice.

Additionally, there are a lot of great spaces that are ALREADY run by these folks. So support them and help them grow instead of just telling black people to open their own space. Which was just a weird thing that happened last summer. Giving a shout out on Twitter is rad, buying a class is radder, volunteering and connecting folks (outside of people who look like you) is even radder-est.
When all the theaters were being held accountable for racist, sexist, homophobic problems, we were being recognized for not having those issues. This is because we have made these problems a priority since the beginning. AND because we know that we will make mistakes and the best way to fix those mistakes is to listen. We aren’t perfect, and we never will be. But we will always listen to our performers, our audience, and our interns. And we will make their safety and growth a top priority.

Am I doing a good job?  Feel free to tell me if I’m blowing this interview right now.

Lindsey Barrow: Who are you again? Have we met?

Jeff stares at Lindsey

Lindsey, it’s me? Jeff?! We’ve been in several photos together.

I’m not sure if you heard about this, but a lot of theaters have been closed for months.  How has your theater been weathering these crazy times?

Lindsey Barrow: We’ve been lucky to have a grant here and there to help us out, but it’s been very hard. As far as performance – we’ve transitioned into some interesting, new, digital sketch teams. Because people can take classes online, our teams are now made up of folks who are all over the US. This is very cool. They are creating content together and figuring out how to fake being in the same location. We’re also testing out a new live show format that combines pre-recorded content with live content. The show is called “Overly Complicated.” It will be streaming live on our Youtube channel Thursdays at 8 pst. This was a plug. You are welcome.

What advice do you have to all of the actors and creatives who might be reading this?

Lindsey Barrow: Shit is very hard right now. If you are able to put any energy into writing, acting, and/or creating anything – you should be proud of yourself. And if you can’t, then you should go easy on yourself. Additionally, support institutions that are looking out for you! It’s hard for these places to enact change in the industry if everyone lets the status quo at these bigger theaters continue on. And just because you think there is one way to get your own hit TV show?!?! There are so many ways to get a hit TV show! Just ask Randy!

 

Anything else you want to share?

Lindsey Barrow: I give Randy a hard time, but he’s actually very funny and great. I’m still not sure who Jeff is.
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