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Susan Kang Sunderland

Who Says Women Aren’t Funny?

Photos By Lawrence Tabudlo

Comedy in Hawaii tends to be a guy’s game, but the Female Comics of Hawaii, founded by Erika Swartzkopf (blonde, front and center), is changing that – and getting big laughs. Others include (clockwise from top left): Michelle Mak, Cameo Lawrence, Aimee-Jane Baxa and Patrice Scott. They’ll appear April 27 at Adega Portuguesa Restaurant

The Female Comics of Hawaii – each with a distinct voice and style – are changing attitudes about comedy in Hawaii, and getting laughs. They next take the stage April 27

Enter laughing.

If laughter is the best medicine, the Female Comics of Hawaii have a prescription for competing for stage time and money in the male-dominated realm of stand-up comedy.

But we warn you. Once you catch their act, it could become contagious.

Female Comics of Hawaii is a sisterhood of performers who have banded together to bring their talents and voices to the local comedy circuit. Founded by Erika Swartzkopf in 2011, the six-member group is building a following of fans at sold-out shows around town.

When Swartzkopf went looking for local women comedians two years ago, she found that they were underrepresented and playing second fiddle to men headliners.

This is not surprising, given the myths that women are not as funny as men, can’t cut it as a solo act on stage and are unladylike telling bold stories in public.

It seems that comedians, adept at slinging stereotypes, are a cliché themselves.

“Since comedy in Hawaii is so male-dominated, not a lot of people know that women perform comedy regularly and produce their own shows,” Swartzkopf says.

Looking for female comics, she scoured the Internet, and within a few months her community grew from two comediennes to eight. A sold-out debut show was held at the Dragon Upstairs last April, followed by an encore performance a month later.

Now the Female Comics of Hawaii appear monthly in large venues such as Hawaiian Brian’s, and intimate dinner-show settings such as Adega Portuguesa Restaurant in Chinatown.

We huddle with the comic divas at Adega on a Saturday morning to examine once and for all whether women are as funny as men.

While the interview was punctuated by some quick-witted punch lines, for the most part we got straight answers and honest insight. That’s because when these stand-ups in stilettos talk about their art, it is serious business.

Meet the ladies of laughter:

Erika Swartzkopf, 46, married, founder of Female Comics of Hawaii
Day job: Art business
Comedic style:“Observational, loud haole who talks about getting older, annoying Jesus freaks who stalk me, liberal feminism, current events and marriage.”

Aimee-Jane Baxa, 39, married, one son
Day job: Registered nurse aka Rescue Ninja
Comedic style: “Dry, sarcastic, at times self-deprecating. Use medical anatomy terminology for added ‘visual’ special effects.”

Kanoe Laa, 27, single
Day job: Cashier at Sams Club
Comedic style: “Alternative humor. Raunchy with a touch of class.”

Cameo Lawrence, 51, cougar
Day job: Retired Army
Comedic style: “Carol Burnett meets Flip Wilson meets Richard Pryor meets Moms Mabley. ”

Michelle Mak, 25, single
Day job: Accounting student
Comedic style: “Slanty observations with a shot of whiskey.”

Patrice Scott. Age: “older than Bruno Mars, younger than Methuselah.”
Comedic style: “Naughty, but I can show the Girl Scouts a good time. Or the Rotary Club. OK, Pohai Nani. Whatever.”

How did you get started in comedy?

Swartzkopf: “Andy Bumatai gave me my start. I entered a joke contest at his comedy showcase at Dragon Upstairs, and I’d come back every week. The prizes were steak knives and Pop Tarts. Can you imagine giving away knives at a bar? Anyway, I did this for 10 weeks and soon got three minutes to do my jokes for the audience. I thought, ‘Andy Bumatai is giving me three minutes. I’m never going to get this chance again.’ Turned out I bombed, but they didn’t tell me until two months later. By that time, I figured out how to do it anyway.”

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