Theater and Performance Studies BA Projects

Tess Cameron Gundlah

Academic Paper: We Won’t Be Shamed: Standup Comedy and the Taboo Female Experience
Artistic Project: Yes, And

Public Event: Recorded performance of Yes, And with Q&A
Friday, May 15th 8:00pm (CST) — Zoom link here

Biographical Statement
Tess Cameron Gundlah was raised in Sharon, MA alongside her twin sister, Hope (whose work can also be found on this site). Since 2017, however, Tess’s parents have resided in the village of Navarre, OH, where she and her cat, Goose, now also reside for the duration of the stay-at-home order. Tess is a double major in English and TAPS with a love of acting, studying literature, and writing. Her English studies have focused mainly on adaptations of folklore and the supernatural in modern media. During her time at UChicago, she has acted and costume-designed for University Theater, worked downtown at The Comedy Bar, and served as a dramaturg and/or production intern on a variety of professional theatrical productions around Chicago. In her spare time, she enjoys geeking out about tabletop roleplaying games, podcasts, cosplay, and a wide array of fandoms.

Research Statement
My critical paper focuses on the representation of female experiences in standup comedy, investigating the ways in which female comics have faced and overcome censorship when it comes to discussing their own experiences in performance, as well as the barriers that still exist in the comedic industry for non-male comedians:

“From anatomy and pregnancy to married life and sex, female comedians have grappled throughout history with cultural taboos that prevented them from openly and honestly discussing certain aspects of their lives deemed too personal, sinful, or even disgusting to address. Instead of staying within the confines of these restrictions, comics throughout the ages have challenged them head-on, from Joan Rivers’s early routines about society’s expectations of women in the 1960s and ‘70s regarding dating, marriage, and homemaking; to Iliza Shlesinger’s un-glamorized insights into the mindsets of modern single women seeking relationships with men; to Ali Wong’s Netflix specials in which she addresses pregnancy and miscarriage, all while performing pregnant. In a profession as frequently personal as stand-up comedy, the performer has the opportunity to offer the audience a glimpse of life from her own perspective. However, societal conventions have historically limited how much of her experience the female comic was allowed to show, how many of her opinions and theories about the social world she could or should discuss— particularly with regard to the societally prescribed female role in navigating heterosexual relationships, marriage, and childbearing. Female comics like these, however, are breaking down these barriers, thereby paving the way for other comics to address their forbidden femininity.”

Throughout my paper, I analyze stand-up comedy specials, interviews with female comedians, and even recent statistics about non-male representation in order to build a historical analysis regarding the official and unofficial boundaries imposed on women in comedy from the 1960s to the modern era.

Artistic Statement
My artistic project consists of a one-person comedic standup comedy piece. The material is largely new, though some is inspired by performances I have given in the past. My original plan was to stage a performance that would resemble a typical small standup comedy show— an evening performance with a close audience, a microphone, and maybe a stool, all in Logan 501. Needless to say, current circumstances rendered a typical standup show impossible. I had never made any kind of video performance before; even the standup videos I’ve seen have always been videos of live-audience performances. I had the choice to perform either with no audience, or with a small, long-distance, virtual audience over Zoom. My experiences doing theater on Zoom during the quarantine made me hesitant to rely on such a platform for a comedy performance, since lags, poor internet connections, and the background noises from every caller’s environment made speaking and reacting to each other very difficult, and encouraging an audience to mute their microphones would have left me unable to hear their reactions at all. I ultimately decided that, because so much of stand-up comedy involves the experience of physically being in the room together, it made more practical and philosophical sense to embrace current circumstances instead of trying to fight them and put on a “normal” show in such abnormal times. A filmed, screened performance would be less logistically complicated for audience members and for myself. It was for similar reasons that I chose to acknowledge the pandemic in the opening and closing of my project, but generally avoid it in the middle. I shied away from making my performance exclusively about quarantine, the pandemic, etc.— mostly because it seems like an extremely overused topic at this moment in time, but partly because I myself have had a hard time finding the humor in this whole situation. On the other hand, fully ignoring it seemed pointless; to pretend as if the pandemic isn’t foremost in people’s minds right now felt disingenuous. Aiming for the middle, I opted for a quarantine-related opener and closing for my piece. This way, the pandemic is collectively acknowledged in an honest way, then deliberately and respectfully set aside in a way that recognizes the feelings of the audience without subjecting them to a full performance about a traumatic topic already dominating our current lives.

Artistic Project – Yes, And