(Ophira Eisenberg. Photo Mindy Tucker)
It’s Friday night in the basement of one of Park Slope’s busiest bars. The room is packed with locals taking the night off to be among others doing the same. Two hosts take the stage and ask the crowd who here has kids. The air fills with wine glasses and approving screams. They quickly follow up: “For those of you who don’t, why are you here?”
This is SH!TSHOW, a comedy show featuring “comedians unwise enough to breed.” A safe space where performers who happen to be moms and dads can laugh, bitch, and commiserate about parenthood once every few months. At the top of his set, one comic opens with, “It’s great to be among bad parents.”
This may seem like a niche event, but based on the turnout and energy of the crowd, SH!TSHOW is certainly fulfilling a demand. Like most creators, standup comedian and host of NPR’s “Ask Me Another,” Ophira Eisenberg drew inspiration for the show from her own life as a new mother.
“There I am, living in Park Slope for the first time, which is kid central, and there are a couple great comedy venues right there. Wouldn’t it be fun to just have a show where that’s the theme?” Eisenberg said. “Obviously, everyone’s welcome, but it can be targeted at all these parents who probably wouldn’t mind more insider people speaking just to them.”
It’s no surprise many New York parents are comedy fans, but the truth is a number of up-and-coming comedians here are parents themselves—many being mothers. During her set, Eisenberg, who had her first child at the age of 43, says that people always ask her why she waited so long to have kids. “And I say it’s because I hate kids.” The crowd loves it.
Eisenberg admits it wasn’t until she got pregnant that she wanted a child, and that she wouldn’t have been ready any earlier. “If it would have happened before that, I think I would have stared at that kid and resented that responsibility and obligation and time it requires, because I knew it would be taking away from me just trying to get my feet on the ground.”
While every comedian’s path to motherhood is as unique as their careers, balance and time management are struggles everyone relates to, especially when your career involves late nights hopping from one venue to another.
(Aminah Imani. Photo Stephen Euwing)
Aminah Imani didn’t see a baby in her future either until she got pregnant a few years into doing standup. After nearly three years as a parent, she says she’s still figuring out how to balance her pursuits on stage with being mom. “In a perfect world, there is a schedule. But just like with comedy, motherhood is full of surprises,” Imani said. “Ultimately, my first priority is my son. Once he is taken care of, then all else can fall into place.”
Like Eisenberg, Carolyn Castiglia also lives in Park Slope and limits the number of nights she commits to comedy so that she can spend time with her daughter. “I tell myself to not go up more than three to four nights a week so that I’m home and out in equal measure. I try to do shows in the neighborhood as often as I can so I can get home quick.”
(Sally Brooks. Photo Tina Orzall)
Seven years of standup under her belt with four of those working on the road, Sally Brooks and her husband always knew they eventually wanted kids, but waited for the right time to commit. One one-year-old later, she says, juggling comedy and her son is her biggest challenge right now. “Motherhood is winning out big time. But little by little, I’m managing to reclaim a bit of my career and can just now possibly see how it might be manageable in the future.”
An unexpected advantage of motherhood is how quickly it helps comedians prioritize things. Like many in comedy, Eisenberg spent years saying yes to everything that came her way. But she’s since learned to only take on gigs and projects she really loves. “I think I have this woman thing or this Canadian thing where I feel like if I say no, they’ll be mad at me or I’ll never get asked again. But I created a one-sheeter called Is It Worth It?” Eisenberg uses this handy document to determine how many comedy priorities—money, good for career, fun, creative, etc.—an opportunity checks off.
Imani says having a child has also taught her to value bigger responsibilities like savings, health insurance, and preparing for the unexpected. “Motherhood has whipped me into shape as far as making decisions and prioritizing everything in my life. It teaches you what matters to you most.”
But beyond the pragmatic disruptions that motherhood brings to standup, it disrupts and changes the jokes, too. “I’m sure there are some audiences that wish I would stop talking about my kid onstage,” says Brooks, “but I’ve always talked about what was going on in my life, so it would feel weird not to talk about him.”
(Carolyn Castiglia. Photo Anya Garrett)
Castiglia, who refers to her 11-year-old as her manager, loves bringing her daughter along whether on a shoot or to a gig. She recalls a specific show in the East Village where the two went onstage as a duo and, as comedians refer to it, ‘crushed.’ “As we were walking to the train after the show, my daughter was like, ‘Dude, we’re funny. We need an agent.’”
These days, it’s common to hear hugely successful performers talk about being a parent in their act—often divulging the worst, ugliest, grossest parts—but it’s hard to ignore that most of them are men. When asked whether they thought there was a difference between being a mom in comedy versus being a dad, each woman echoed a similar sentiment.
“Well, I imagine that no booker ever asked a dad if he was going to quit comedy because he was expecting a kid.” Brooks responded. “I don’t hear people asking the dads I’ve worked with who is watching their kids when they are on the road.”
“Dads have way more freedom. You should see my son’s father.” Imani said. She acknowledges this isn’t the case for every father, but she suspects it is for most. “No one will question a dad for being out every night performing.”
(Aminah Imani. Photo Yoko Haraoka)
Would Imani recommend having a kid while pursuing a career in comedy? Probably not. But she recognizes how it’s made her a better comic. She’s grateful how her pride as a mother has translated into more confidence onstage and made her more relatable to audiences.
As for Brooks, the good easily outweighs the bad. “I’m probably too new into motherhood to give anyone advice, but I would say having a supportive partner and community is indispensable. I could tell you a million ways having a baby will make doing comedy harder, but for me, whatever the cost, it’s been worth it.”
Eisenberg has more practical words for comedians considering motherhood one day: “It does create a lot of material, so if you feel like you’re at a creative standstill, this works great.”