Lynn Harris: I'm a Comedy Passionista
Lynn Harris is the CEO and founder of GOLD Comedy — the online comedy world for young women and non-binary folks who want to nerd out about comedy together. Lynn is also a creative partner to select brands, organizations and individuals, blending her experience in writing, communications, advocacy and entertainment to create strategic content that brings maximum fun to serious issues, for maximum impact.
In our recent podcast interview, we talked to Lynn about her early interest in comedy and starting Gold Comedy.
Passionistas: What's the one thing you're most passionate about?
Lynn: Besides salt? I'm into salt and I'm into comedy is power. I'm passionate about a lot of things. I think the most on-brand thing for me to say right now is comedy is power. And that's why it matters to me. Who's got the mic, so to speak.
Passionistas: So, what does that mean? What does comedy as power mean and why is it so important who has the mic?
Lynn: It's certainly at an individual level and to the cultural level. When you make people laugh, you make people listen. And comedy really has been, at this sort of level of joke and at the level of industry and at the level of culture, has really been defined by a small narrow group of people since the beginning.
Because if you think about it, comedy, everyone thinks of comedy as this outsider art that you get into comedy. Cause like the underdog and you're punching up at power. And why are white dudes running the whole thing? It makes no sense. I'm working to try to change that.
Passionistas: How are you changing it?
Lynn: The more women do comedy. The more women define comedy. And that's true, not just for women, but for anybody who is not a straight white dude, many of whom are very funny, but I think that comedy will be funnier if it is defined by more types of voices. And if comedy is funnier, the world's a better place, honestly. Not just because laughter is the best medicine, which it's like the second best the COVID vaccine is the best, but also because comedy affirms connections.
When you laugh at a joke, that means you get the joke. And when you get the joke, that means you're in on something you like, you got the reference, you follow the comic on their bait and switch. And a lot of people say that's the reason that comedy brings people together.
I'm not super convinced that it does because for better and for worse, I think it affirms who we are. Not that it doesn't have something to teach us, which I can circle back to, but I think comedy does affirm who we are and what we think is funny what we think is important. And it can also change that to some degree. Comedy is sort of a fun house mirror for color.
What we're allowed to laugh at can change for better and for worse, usually for better the arc of a let's see, how can I destroy that quote, the, you know, the arc of of comedy? What is it? They have bends toward justice, right? As things become okay to say, not okay to say, I think that's both a driver and a reflection of culture evolving, and that's why it's important to have. For a lot of us to be in charge of how that culture is evolving.
Passionistas: What sparked your interest in comedy? And did you immediately want to pursue a career in it?
Lynn: When I was in high school, I went on a ski trip. It was like a Jewish youth group ski trip up to this Winter Wonderland, that was called every year. It's still going on. This is the ‘80s. It's still happening. And we all went up to Manchester, New Hampshire to ski and do other stuff for the weekend.
And on the Saturday night a bunch of dudes somehow got ahold of some grapefruits and some borrowed nightgowns and went and did this completely made up impromptu improvised, drag skit in the social hall that brought the house down. And it was sloppy. It was made up. There's nothing inherently funny about dudes dressing as women, but it brought the house down and my first thought was, “okay, what are the girls going to do?”
And my next thought was, because I knew even then that girls would not be received the same way, we could not be equally inept and bring the house down. Not because we're not funny, but because that's not the way people view women as funny, it's just women don't have that kind of audience… mMaybe more now, definitely not back then.
And my third thought was “ugh.” And so, I didn't say come on, Debbie and Jenny let's go. So I didn't say anything. And I don't regret that because I think my instincts were correct, but I was bummed out. I was bummed out about it for years and that really, really stuck with me. It really, really stuck with me. I had this real sense that was not cool and not fair. And something would have to change.
And fun fact, one of those dudes may or may not have been Adam Sandler who was there. S,o I have Adam Sandler to thank for Gold Comedy. And what I'm doing now is.
Passionistas: Let's focus a little bit on Gold Comedy. When and why did you start.
Lynn: Well, that part goes kind of goes back to Adam Sandler and wanting to, and also having them stand up myself. And I didn't have a lot of people have a lot of women who worked a lot harder at it than I did and did a lot more of it than I did have much worse stories about, about everything from just garden variety sexism to outright horrific.
And not just the harassment itself. I didn't really get into the whole world where that many other women did, where you have to actually make choices about jobs that you don't take and jobs that aren't even offered to you because you can't work with that guy or because that guy already has a woman or whatever.
So even my mild experiences were exhausting and outrageous and all paths lead to this idea of making sure that women, especially young women and anyone else outside the comedy norm, which is often a way to name norm had access to the fun of comedy and the power of comedy. And it matters. It matters because women are people. And it matters because comedy is a job and it matters because comedy is power.
I just had this idea of how much better would the world be if we had an even broader idea of who's funny or, or who makes us think, or who helps us process that, that day's crazy news. And I thought, what if I just start building the farm? And so now it's gone through various forms in reality, and in my mind, but now what we have is the only, and this was by the way I was envisioning this online long before anyone knew about any kind of COVID or a pandemic, because part of the vision for me was, first of all, nobody wants to, I don't recommend starting a brick and mortar place in New York City.
But also, I wanted to find the funny young people and not even young people who don't live in New York, Chicago, San Francisco, LA, Toronto, where can we find the Carrie Underwood of comedy? Let's like if they can Zoom in from Dakota and they're funny then. Great. So, I always had this idea of creating an online school and community and online place of learning and social interaction, where, where you could find your comedy crew no matter where you live and get the learning and collaboration and interactivity interaction and helping each other out that I did get from my crew in New York and many people do, but it's hard to find.
And again, what if you don't live in New York or what if you're not old enough to go to club? We opened again, went through lots of different ideas and permutations, but we opened our current members member, only members only club last fall. And so, we now have this amazing online platform, which is powered by a company called Mighty Networks.
Basically, they built the bones of the app and we just bring our people in. And we have a place where women and young women and non-binary folks come.
Mondays, we have open mics with feedback. Like they're the nicest open mics in the world. Plus, you get feedback from me and other and your peers. Tuesdays and Thursdays usually are when we have our courses right now, we're in the middle of the standup course. We just finished improv. We posted on storytelling and sketch, which yes, you can do all of this online.
Every Wednesday we have a Q and A with a comedy pro or celebrity. Writers who have toiled in the trenches whose names you don't know, but who shows you know to Rachels — Dratch and Bloom, Ashley Nicole Black from A Black Lady Sketch Show, like an amazing range of people.
And you just show up in the Zoom and ask them like you totally just fan girl out and ask them questions. We have monthly shows that are open to the public. We pay our own comics for. For performing because it's work and you want to set that tone set that precedent. We just did a pride show, which is amazing with Murray Hill and Sydney Washington.
And so, we basically just create the experiences that, young or new, or not even new medium. We have a lot of comedians in the gang who have been doing comedy for a little while, but still want to find the people in the place to really nerd out and really like level up as fast as they can. And we have folks, I think our youngest is an eighth grade with a couple of eighth grade and then all the way up to people my age.
So you get all that with a subscription, it's all inclusive with a subscription. Then we have a one-off course that we call Gold Label, which is being taught by your friend and mine, Amy Toomin Strauss, who is the one who wrote The One With the Embryos on Friends.
And she's teaching in a three series on about TV writing, comedy writing, and that's open to people inside and outside of the. It's really the place. It's the place to find your way to level up your work and find your crew. And it's great. There's a lot of like improv and stuff like that, which is great.
But we really present comedy as a path to comedy. It's comedy for comedy. However, there are many people, we also attract a lot of people who may or may not want to be professional comedians in whatever capacity, standup writers, whatever, but who know that comedy skills are life skills and they like comedy.
So they're like, well, that's perfect. I can learn to be, I can use this thing I love to learn how to, write better, think faster, listen better, get out of my head, stop self-editing, react more quickly. All those things are things you can do. And, find your voice, which sounds abstract and woo, but it's a thing. Understand your what's your unique take on things. You can do all that. So, we have a real mix of people. It's sort of varying levels of intensity around their comedy career goals, but there's room for everybody.
Hear our full interview with Lynn here.
Find out more about Gold Comedy here.