Portland’s First Homegrown “Men’s Rights Activist” Targets Female-Centric Comedy Fest

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A man claiming to be Portland’s first homegrown Men’s Rights Activist decided to target an all-female (and transgender) comedy fest this past week in Portland. All Jane No Dick is a multi-night celebration of (very funny!) women in comedy, which makes plenty of sense as a concept, given the sexism in the stand-up field. But one fellow named Matt seems to lack this context, which is why he stands alone, adamant, against the “no dick” joke in the title. He mounted his own flyer campaign disparaging the event and advertised on Craigslist for co-protesters, operating under the nickname he himself has invented: “The Lone Woof.”

This dogged fellow is neither part of a routine nor a gag out of Portlandia. And he’s certainly not arguing, as a sophisticated left-wing critic might, for less gender essentialism and more fluidity in the festival’s moniker. Nope, instead, Matt just appears to be dude, who has had damn well enough — enough of safe spaces designed to nurture women away from the patriarchy’s glare.

The response to Matt’s outrage in Portland has been a mixture of bemusement, head-scratching and genuine soul-searching about gender in comedy. A Portland comedian, Amy Miller, caught up with Matt in a supermarket for an epically bizarre interview in which he declared that all-female events were creating an “environment of new segregation.” He also asked her if the term Men’s Rights Activist had ever been used before.

Oh Matt, if you only knew.

Despite the knowledge that they inadvertently spawned The Lone Woof’s newfound dedication to fighting misandry, the festival’s many nights of shows went forward to fanfare, without much reference to Matt — even in the comedians’ routines.

“Honestly, I read the interview with him and it was so laughable how disorganized and uneducated he was that I thought it was a publicity stunt for ‘All Jane No Dick,’” says LA-based comedian Beth Stelling, who was performing at the festival this week. She wasn’t the only one. “I thought that was genius — but then I realized he’s actually a real human being.”

A human being with opinions such as these these:

You go to the Country Fair, and they have an all-women meditation area. Why can’t men meditate with you? Does a man’s thinking obstruct your aura? It’s turning into segregation and segregation is not right.

The idea that women might not feel safe doesn’t seem to cross his mind.

Risible though Matt’s “fight the woman” efforts may be, beyond them lies a very serious issue with gender representation in comedy, the very problem All Jane No Dick was meant to fight. Once MRAs began to support Matt online, comedians started a hashtag #YesAllJane to highlight sexism in stand-up.

“Most standup shows are all men and it’s never questioned,” Stelling notes. “There’s usually one to two spots for women on a show.” She also notes that women, being in the minority, face the pressure to represent their gender when performing. When men bomb a set, Stelling says. “People don’t leave thinking that men aren’t funny. They leave saying ‘I didn’t like that guy.’” This is why a space like All Jane No Dick can feel liberating.

“Comedians who would never have been able to break into the comedy scene due to rampant sexism are able to get onstage, work through jokes, and hone material,” Rebecca Waits explains at Portland-based Bitch Magazine’s blog. Her logical argument is that all-women, all queer and all-POC comedy nights are helping nurture comedians and make the overall field much better — and that opposition to these new spaces arises because of genuinely reactionary sentiment. “Matt the Lone Woof is not, actually, that alone. He’s the flesh-and-blood embodiment of a lot of online discourse among men.”

Both the MRA commenters who have subsequently found The Lone Woof and made him their own and their counterparts who have threatened women in gaming like Anita Sarkeesian show that Matt’s ideology is not a laughing matter.

And yet, the whole story still forces itself to be amusing. Matt himself apparently never showed up at his appointed time to fight the Woman. The lesson is, “[If] you don’t know all of the facts before you take extremely public action, which then validates the entire point of the thing you are protesting, thus making it the most ironic spectacle that Portland has ever known,” Portland-based comedian Andie Main wrote on her Tumblr,”You end up too embarrassed to show your stupid asshole face for [the] thing you had planned.”