Stars Making a Social Impact: Why & How Sarah Van Amburg Of The Humortals Comedy Troupe Is Helping To Change Our World
… Just because you are making people laugh does not mean you can’t talk about serious things and let people think on it. Use the time you have to get things out when you need to. Comedy can be a great outlet and maybe someone else needed to hear what you had to say. I have certain times of the year when I bring up serious issues. Seven years ago I had a brain hemorrhage and the people that came to visit me in the hospital were all comedians. They were my family and it showed and they mattered. So every year I bring it up again and we cry about it, because it was and is a big deal.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Sarah Van Amburg. Sarah Van Amburg is one of the founders of the Humortals Comedy Troupe, a troupe consisting of all femme and non-binary presenting comedians. She has been active in the comedy scene for over ten years and is currently running two monthly showcases as well as a weekly mic. Sarah’s goal in comedy has been to create fun and safe spaces for non-men to perform and get paid for comedy!
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I started doing comedy over 10 years ago and quickly realized that I felt uncomfortable and unsafe and was frequently harassed and annoyed by mostly male comedians. I did not feel like comedy was a safe place for me and realized it was very common for only one if any femme presenting people to be on a lineup and dealt with show runners that were very rude and misogynistic. Four years ago I began running my own shows to create a safer environment for women and non male identifying comedians to perform and also to get paid.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?
I think one of the coolest things that happened as soon as I was helping people run shows was we had a lineup of 12 performers and none of them were men. It was the 1st show we had done like this in Tallahassee and it sold out. Everyone did well and the audience was there to be supportive and everyone got paid at the end. That is still a treasured memory for me and I still look back on the group shot from that show.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I had been on an underwear show before and had decided to run one at an open mic versus a closed paid showcase and people wandered in not really understanding what had happened, some with children. I realized by moving that kind of show to a closed location and having people pay for it they knew what they were getting into and they were also more eager to dress up with us and it created a much more fun environment and it became a lot less awkward.
Can you describe how you or your organization is making a significant social impact?
One of the coolest things I’ve seen is it is not uncommon to have a lineup be half or more non white men. We have more openly gay members in the community performing and running shows and I’m seeing a lot more women in paid positions and coveted ‘flyer spots’ doing more time.
Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?
I hope most of the women in comedy but I know that is a truly broad statement. I know several of the now very prevalent comedians in the scene who are non-male started or continued because they feel safer around me.
Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?
The biggest way to support women in comedy is come to shows. We have lots of free shows but we have special showcases that are donation based or paid and the paid shows are split between all performers. If you want to help, pay for comedy. We do it for free often but if I put someone on a paid show I am trusting that they will make you laugh and usually it is around a fun theme that will result in both us and the audience dressing up for their comfort level!
How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?
Treating others the way you think others should be treated. It sounds simple but that is because it is. I do not tolerate abusive speech or behavior on my shows. I have had to ban people (all men) before when they refuse to follow simple rules for safety reasons. Comedy should be about laughter. It should never feel unsafe. I also give content warnings and do not tolerate homophobic, xenophobic, transphobic or misogynistic ‘jokes’ on any of my shows. If the only way you can make someone laugh is by punching down on a group of people you don’t belong to you need to spend more time writing. Be better. Letting people know what is expected and holding them to those rules.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
- Something funny that happened to you does not mean it is ready for the stage. Sometimes your life seems funny when it happens and then you share it on stage and oh buddy it just sounds sad!
- Jokes need punchlines. They need to go somewhere. The audience needs to know when one joke ends and another begins. They need to know when they can laugh.
- It is OKAY and encouraged to lie and exaggerate. Comedy is a performance art. One of my children hates jokes about themselves because they say I didn’t say that! My response, I know. Mommy made it funny!
- Just because you are making people laugh does not mean you can’t talk about serious things and let people think on it. Use the time you have to get things out when you need to. Comedy can be a great outlet and maybe someone else needed to hear what you had to say. I have certain times of the year when I bring up serious issues. Seven years ago I had a brain hemorrhage and the people that came to visit me in the hospital were all comedians. They were my family and it showed and they mattered. So every year I bring it up again and we cry about it, because it was and is a big deal.
- You can tell jokes just for yourself, but know that is who it is for. I have a joke I love to tell that makes most people cringe but it makes me cackle. I know that is for me.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
Sex education, free birth control, unlimited covered access to abortion. No one should ever for any reason have to become a parent without wanting to. We all make choices, but they should be our choices to make free of judgment. You should have control over your own body.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Find something you are passionate about and keep tremendously interested in it. — Julia Child
I do comedy for myself. I do comedy to keep others safe. It is a hobby, but I love it. It helps me vent, meet interesting people, go fun places, sometimes even pays my groceries, but it is not my job. It is a love and I like it that way.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. :-)
Martin Short. He has been my lifetime love and idol and he is also small like me. No matter his age or the context he makes me laugh. To have a conversation or a meal with someone like that would be truly humbling and magical.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
I run three comedy pages on Facebook, Sarah Van Amburg Comedy Productions, Humoetals and Laughterday Night Fever and you can also follow my comedy pages on Instagram @sarahvanamburgcomedy and @laughterdaynightfever
This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!