COMEDY AND TALENT MANAGER ABBEY ROBERTSON has got a lot of street credit under her belt in the comedy world for being only 27 years old. After moving to L.A. at 18 and skipping out on college altogether, Abbey has thrown herself into the business side of comedy with a no-holds-barred attitude. By way of Myspace (remember Myspace?), Abbey took to the early days of social media by promoting, managing, and booking shows for comedians as early as 2005. Abbey’s gone on to get involved with a number of projects since: hosting weekly Jr. Industry showcases at Bluegoose Lounge in L.A., co-founding Comedy Coalition Entertainment and Adept Entertainment, consulting for Portland’s Bridgetown Comedy Fest, and, most recently, founding the Ladies of Comedy Association, a networking organization for entertainment businesswomen. Between managing clients, booking shows, attending tapings, and coordinating LOCA, Abbey found the time to sit down with Lady Clever and tell us about her endeavors.
Comedy is a tough world to break into — behind the scenes or in front. As a woman, have you found it difficult to stale your claim in this field of work?
It feels like a really big boys club, and it is a big boys club. I truly don’t think that most men are trying to make it more difficult on you, but it ended up being harder because there were less females to identify with. It was just easier to get on a conference call where you’re the only chick and there’re six dudes, and you know it’s just easier for them to talk about sports than to try and have a conversation with you.
I would say when I was younger, being a woman was a hindrance in a lot of ways, especially because I started hanging out around comedy when I was 18- 20. I was very young, and people were not wanting to pay attention to me or take me seriously because I was a super-young girl. They didn’t understand why I was hanging around and thought I was either dating a comedian or was there to hang out with comedians, like I couldn’t just be a fan of comedy. So, at that point, that’s how I started booking shows and then transitioned into the industry side — where I had to start that whole process all over again.
How did you come up with the idea for LOCA?
So, back to the boys club. When I was an assistant, it really did feel like for every one female, it was like ten dudes — I was constantly being surrounded by men. Not just male comedians; it was network executives, managers, agents, etc. So I created Ladies of Comedy, very very casually about three or four years ago, just to have somewhere to commiserate and hang out with females who love working in comedy. The more we started doing it, I think the more we started to realize the need to help each other and to include each other, because a lot of the times, the guys are hanging out and doing their own thing on the weekends. They already have their social structure of how they share information — it’s just called the industry. It was about figuring out, “What’s our version of golfing before work or watching basketball?” So we created monthly meet-ups to get in the mix of each other, trade information, network, meet more females, so that when you need something, you go to a female organization first, instead of anywhere else. So we’re just helping each other out.
How many members does Ladies of Comedy have right now?
Between Los Angeles and New York, we have anywhere from 200- 300 women on our mailing list. We probably get anywhere from 50-75 women a month between both coast that we meet up with, in addition to other activities that we participate in. LOCA includes all-female industry: agents, managers, publicists, lawyers, casting directors, producers, late-night-show bookers — any women from the business side. We’re trying to bridge that gap. I think we need more female writers, more female executives, and more female representation.
Would you say there’s a bigger female presence in the industry than when you first started?
I think there definitely is more now, absolutely. We’re definitely at the best position we’ve ever been in, but there’s still more work that needs to be done; there’s still unequal salary, there’s still a large number of women not getting their fair share of jobs because there’s a guy that might know someone (even though the female might be better-qualified but might not have an “in”). Unfortunately and fortunately, this business — especially when it comes to a job — is about relationships and who you know. A lot of the times, that’s a way Ladies of Comedy has stepped in. We have our board members, we post job postings all the time, and we want to make the calls for the females because at the end of the day, the traditional routes are typically not in favor of women.
For example, I go to a green room taping at least once or twice a week, and most of the time I’m still the only female executive in the room
It feels good to know that I’ve broken through in a way — it doesn’t feel good to look around the room and not have anyone to sympathize with my situation.
Are there any women that you’ve worked with or you’ve looked up to who have helped you along with your career?
Funnily enough, most of the people who’ve helped me are male. LOCA isn’t about hating on men, it’s about helping each other out, and I think male advocates are one of the easiest and fastest ways to get taken more seriously and to get a leg-up in this industry. I’ve been lucky to have some really good guys on my side; my lawyer has always been really helpful, my former boss who is now an agent I share clients with, my first boss who I interned for who was amazing and who I now work with. In that way, it’s awesome! He gave me my first internship and he just hired my client to do a Showtime taping. The full circle feels really good sometimes!
What do you have in store for the rest of the year? Do you have any projects coming up, or anything we should keep an eye on?
On the LOCA front, I think we’ll be partnering up with a couple more festivals, which will be really exciting. We are also going to be doing a charity benefit show at the Improv in Hollwood June with a really cool foundation called Immediate Justice, and our hope is to send some of the girls in their program to this really cool summer film camp. It’s for inner-city youth and women, and essentially, we’ll be teaching them how to be filmmakers, so they can tell their own stories. We’re also partnering with Dress for Success, both L.A. and New York chapters (not in an official capacity, but just to bring awareness to the organization since we’re all professional women) to provide clothes and information to them. On the comedy front, I just had a client get a half-hour special for Comedy Central, I have a couple late-night sets coming up, I just had a client with an hour special air, so it’s been pretty busy. I’m trying to sell a couple formats, I’ve sold a couple of scripts, trying to get writers staffed — all this stuff all the time!
Lastly, do you have any advice for trying to break through as a comedian or as businesswoman?
I think the biggest piece I can give of advice on the business side is that in almost every industry, women are not going to be the majority. Don’t get discouraged by that, and don’t let it dictate your story. Just because it might be a little harder, find another way. If you can keep your business sense and take emotional reactions out of it — which is hard! — you’ll get very far. Once you are recognized professionally, it can actually work in your advantage to be a female!
In comedy, I would say, it takes time to find your audience and find your fan base. It’s really just persistence, especially in Los Angeles and New York. So many people give up, and a lot of the time the people who end up winning are just the people who didn’t give up! And I know sometimes it’s easy to get discouraged, and if you’re really not getting any traction, then maybe re-evaluate. All you can do is write more, perform more, try more, and work harder. I truly believe that if you love what you do and you work hard enough, you’ll be okay!