Valerie Tosi Drops In
California-Based Comedian/Actress Visits Georgia for a Series of Shows
Valerie Tosi is one of the hardest working comedians in show business. Sure, her name isn't as familiar as fellow comic Dave Chappelle, but if her work ethic pays off, she'll be playing the same big halls as the popular star of the Chappelle Show.
While he plays at least 12 shows in town this month in the cavernous Tabernacle, Tosi is slated for performances at all of Atlanta's major comedy clubs and a couple of non-traditional venues as well. The centerpiece is the Mermaid Comedy Hour on June 6 at the Highland Inn. It's an Atlanta-centric edition of the monthly show she produces at the Hollywood Improv.
The five-dollar ticket price easily makes it the best entertainment bargain of the month. And there's a lot of bang for those five smackers. Tosi has gathered eight of Atlanta's best female comics for the performance. Insite spoke with Tosi by phone from her home in Los Angeles.
You are gonna be all over Atlanta in June, just like Dave Chapelle.
It's funny you mention him because I run a monthly show in Hollywood. It's an all-female lineup but I don't really advertise that aspect of it because I hate when people do that. At last month's show, toward the end of the night, Dave Chapelle showed up and asked if he could drop in. He ended up dropping in on that show and did a two-and-a-half hour set. It was crazy.
That's a long performance.
Tell me about it! But The Improv told me they've seen him go longer. They've seen him do three hours.
Usually that place has a meticulously timed schedule. But there's no way to tell Chappelle to cut it short.
Well what happens when people of that notoriety show up, we're kind of on their time. So the show that night started at eight and I think we were out of there by one. He was running around town, working on new stuff.
A lot of comics love to play in Los Angeles because they can drop in at all the main clubs in one night. That's kind of what you're doing in Atlanta, just spread out over a few days instead of one long evening.
Yeah in Atlanta I'll be popping into a bunch of different venues. I was out there last year a couple of times for festivals and I'm lucky enough to have met a lot of really cool comics, so it's pretty easy for me to jump up on other shows when I'm in town.
Tell us a little more about the Mermaid Comedy Hour. It's a great concept.
I started it in November 2015 so it's been going for about a year and a half now. It started in a smaller theater in Hollywood and I moved it to the Improv a few months ago. There's a festival in Texas that got a lot of flak because they didn't have many female comics on the line-up. Their excuse was that not enough women applied. So I set out to start running a show that was an all-female lineup but wasn't advertised as such. I hate when people make those, you know, "Tits and Laughs" type shows with the most horrible names. "The Little Black Dress Show" or something awful like that. Why can't it just be a comedy show? For the love of God, can it just be a comedy show?
The format quickly became popular within the scene.
Right and to prove a point, the whole first year I did it I didn't rebook a single female comic. And in that year I booked over 75 different women, just in Los Angeles. That doesn't even include the shows that I've taken around to different festivals across the country. So really it's not the women don't apply to the festivals, it's just that the festivals are not really making the effort.
Sadly, the lack of diversity is still a problem in 2017. It's unfortunate that people will still say it's a lineup of "all female" comics. And that brings up the whole women in comedy topic which is still relevant today.
Yeah it's like saying a "female IT tech." No, you're simply an IT tech. It's so strange that it's still done in comedy and it is very weird. Also, it depends on where you are. In Los Angeles, that labeling mentality is becoming outdated. It's a very liberal, progressive city and it's not hard to get on line-ups here. But if you travel to somewhere in the middle of the country, sometimes I'll see one woman on the lineup and everybody else is a man. It's so frustrating. No two people, never mind two women, have exactly the same experiences. You're doing us all a disservice by not allowing audiences to experience other people's life experiences - regardless of gender.
Has that sort of sexism affected you personally?
For me I started doing improv and sketch comedy first. I did that for years and there were improv teams.
Sometimes it would have way more men than women, but when I started doing standup I started in Los Angeles and it hasn't been a huge issue. But there are still times I'll notice I'm the one of the only women on the lineup. The cool part about running the Mermaid show is now I've sort of became a good source for brokers when they're trying to find women for their shows. I'll get emails or calls asking for names and I have a slew of contacts that I can share.
Speaking of names, who are the comics on the Atlanta version of Mermaid?
We have Lace Larrabee, Jen O'Neill Smith, Mia Jackson, Paige Bowman, Samm Severin, Amber North, Olive Lynch and Cherith Fuller. I've put the word out for anyone who might be in town to stop by and drop in. So you never know who might join us.
You're becoming a very important conduit for women in comedy.
And that's kind of nice. I'll be happy to take that role responsibly.
The Mermaid Comedy Hour is 8 p.m. Tuesday, June 6 at the Highland Ballroom. Tosi is also slated to play the Punchline on June 4 at 9 p.m., The Star Bar at 8 p.m. June 5, Laughing Skull and Joystick Gamebar on June 7 and Relapse Theater at 8 p.m. June 8. For more information visit valerietosi.com or Facebook @mermaidcomedyhour.