By Timothy Rawles. Photo by Charissa Lucille, December 2019 Issue.
Stand-up comedy is a tough career and if you are a woman it can be even tougher; but Genevieve Rice is determined, she even gave Phoenix its first-ever comedy festival.
Listening to Genevieve, her voice is subdued and very relaxing. When she says something funny it’s very matter of fact and there’s a kind of a sitcom beat in her timing which simmers the punchline until you have time to think about it then chuckle, but by that time she’s moved on to a different topic.
“I like talking about my life, but I like a more absurdist approach,” Genevieve says. “I talk about, on the face, some pretty normal topics; marriage or having a baby or body issues. But I always try to make them silly.”
Luckily her parents appreciated her silliness and encouraged her in her youth, however her friends weren’t as enthusiastic, which made peer social situations a little awkward. She recalls a certain pre-teen slumber party where her love of watching television stand-up shows didn’t make for a good night of entertainment, at least not for her doleful sleepover guests. “My friend was like, ‘we’re not watching Evening at the Improv, we’re nine!’”
Growing up in Oklahoma on a steady diet of sitcoms, Genevieve was able to hone her craft in preparation for her stand-up stage debut. The scene was small, but her courage was immense and that paid off for everybody in the end.
“I first started in comedy in 2007,” Genevieve says. “There was probably about 20 comics doing it, which is tiny. But there were open mics, there were booked shows, and it’s grown quite a bit from there.”
Once college was done, so was Genevieve, and she left Oklahoma for Phoenix just eight days after graduation. She pauses a bit when she gives her answer as to why she rushed to leave, “I was uh, engaged to a guy who lives out here. It’s been about 11 years now.”
One might not think there is a huge culture scene in either city, but it depends on where you look.
“There was already a scene here, it was pretty small, but it was still bigger than Oklahoma City,” she explains. “I remember it was kind of a mix. There were a few clubs at the time. There was Tempe Improv, that was the big one. And then there was Comedy Spot in Scottsdale, that was about it as far as clubs.”
Open mic nights were routine for her in Oklahoma, “but here I didn’t know anybody that was doing comedy, so I had to find out about comedy nights in the paper like a nerd,” she laughs.
Within in a year she played both available Arizona venues which she says have tripled in numbers in just over a decade. She doesn’t do much improv although she helps Torch Improv Theatre from time to time. Unless you invite it, audience participation has no place in stand-up.
Hecklers are sort of an occupational hazard, she says, but in the right circumstances she can make it funny.“ If they’re just enthusiastic you don’t necessarily want to shut it down, you do wanna play it like, ‘Hey we’re not having a conversation. Just so you know.’”
Rude hecklers or not, women in comedy have notoriously worked harder than men to achieve the same status, even if the man is accused of social crimes. Take the once prolific Louis C.K. who fell from grace after it was revealed he masturbated in front of women he worked with. Louis has just announced a world tour.
Contrast that with Kathy Griffin, who was blacklisted for holding up a bloody effigy of Donald Trump’s decapitated head.
The Louis C.K. incident affected Genevieve because as an avid television watcher his brand of shows were enjoyable. She says the first time she heard about his conduct she thought it was a rumor. “Then I heard more and more about it and thought, ‘how can I support this guy? I don’t think I can.’”
“I think it’s much easier to be blacklisted as a woman than it is as a man,” she adds.
“If you get that moniker of ‘difficult’ as a woman, it’s very hard to erase. You can get labeled difficult for having resting bitch face — anything,” she laughs. “There are a lot of people who are more willing to forgive men.”
Social media may be more forgiving unless you’re a warden at Facebook jail. You will most likely find Genevieve on her pages acting silly or writing something she may turn into a bit later. Lately her feeds have been filled with jokes about the interesting clothes she rents from an online company.
After just having a baby, and all the work that takes, social media makes for the perfect sizzle reel; somewhere to pitch ideas to the masses and see if they stick.
“I write pretty much every day, “ she says. “I try to post jokes on Twitter and Facebook every day and so that’s kind of a little bit of a writing exercise for me. Some of those make it to the stage in some form usually, you know you must alter them quite a bit, they are usually such short jokes. Twitter and Facebook are kind of like my proving ground for stuff like that.”
It makes sense, she is a fan of television, and computers are an evolution of that medium; it’s where people get a lot of their entertainment nowadays. At one point she combined both of her passions into an online show. She and a friend created a Golden Girls inspired program called Thank You For Being a Podcast. The gay community took notice.
“I wouldn’t say I have a huge gay following,” she says, but, “with my co-host Anthony Desamito, who’s gay, we had quite a pretty decent-sized audience. A lot of our listeners are gay.”
She keeps her sense of humor even though this past year has been exhausting. Genevieve is in the middle of a move, she’s also a licensed realtor on the side, she had a baby in April with her ASU professor of Jazz Studies husband, and she’s getting ready to produce the fourth Bird City Comedy Festival.
“I started it in 2016,” she says of Bird City. “I had helped with the very first year of Big Pine Comedy Festival in Flagstaff. I basically helped plan that and we all kind of cut our teeth on it. I had been thinking about starting a festival in Phoenix for a while, but I was like, it’s a big undertaking. And then I’d always hear whispers of someone else starting one and I was like okay, maybe I should do this.”
With all that is going on in her busy life, Genevieve the comic is headed for fame in some way or another. Whether it be a big-time producer of a local festival, the next great comedic find for a Netflix exec, or a local celebrity who’s first on the marquee, her perseverance will eventually pay off.
Still, her heart is rooted in what makes her talented in the first place.
“My goal with comedy is always to do interesting things with it,” she says. “Whether that’s shows or writing new jokes or traveling somewhere, I’m hoping to continue to do that. Having a kid has been terrific for material. But, yeah, that’s all I’ve ever hoped for.”
The Bird City Comedy Festival is on March 26 to March 28, 2020. Visit birdcitycomedyfestival.com.