What makes a Broad, Five questions with Jess Conda

Broads is a comedy cabaret celebrating bold female comedians from the 1920s through the 1960s. The show is directed by Jennifer Childs and stars Jess Conda, Joilet Harris, and MB Scallen and features material from more than a dozen comedians including Sophie Tucker, Moms Mabley, Mae West, and many more.

The history of women in comedy has long been a favorite subject at 1812 Productions and has inspired several projects over the past 15 years. Before rehearsals began for Broads, we asked each of the performers five questions about what makes a broad a Broad. We loved their responses so much, we’re sharing them here.

From Jess Conda:

1. What does the word 'broad' mean to you?

A woman who is unapologetically in her power and in her body. I think of this word as a thing to be joyfully reclaimed. I think it started as a way to put a woman down, as an insult; as if boldness makes a woman undesirable, unacceptable, as if it made them not also able to be soft, loved and loving, somehow not a "woman". Like, there are WOMEN and there are BROADS--I think the word was invented to be divisive, to "other" the bold and separate them from the obedient. I think that boldness is a thing that men secretly fear in a woman. And so, they have tried to weaponize the word--but women reclaimed it, shoved a sequined flower in the weapon instead and said, "shove it up your ass, I'm a freaking Broad and I'll do whatever I want." I recently received a review of my cabaret work that said "I wish I had skipped the self indulgent Jess Conda" and I laughed and laughed. "Self indulgent" is pretty straight forward cis male speak for "you were unapologetically in your power and in your body and that scared me." Also! It tickles me to death that I live on Broad Street and am doing this show. Broad Street is a place in Philly that inspires me w its rumbling, its vibrant presence that is also such a main artery to so many points in the city--there's a personal metaphor in there somewhere...

 2. Who are some of your favorite broads? Anyone whose material (or muse-like presence) you'll be calling on for this show?

Mae West for being one of the first women to talk so openly about loving sex. I love sex! Ain't no shame in it!

 Gilda Radner--Oh my gawd, such a timeless and vivacious performer! Everything she did was was HUGE--huge facial expressions, huge costuming, huge characters. I take a lot of inspiration from her to be big and hammy. My first husband's grandmother used to call me "ol rubber face" when she came to see me perform and I always thought that was a great compliment.

 Bette Midler--for her brassy, belty voice and her ability to leave it all on the floor. Kindred vocalist to me.

 Michelle Wolf and Hannah Gadsby--dead tie for Best Comedy performance of 2018 in my opiion (White House Correspondence Dinner and Nanette, respectively). They each used their razor sharp comedy writing skills to speak truth to power and THAT is utterly amazing and mind blowing--when Comedy morphs into Activism. Wow, that is so next level an I deeply admire that kind of artistry

 3. What makes a broad timeless?

I think that when the boldness strikes a human nerve when a funny femme talks about her life with such honesty, or simplicity that others see themselves reflected back--that's a recipe for timelessness.

 4. While creating the script, Jennifer Childs offered that one of the main themes of the show is ‘being unafraid.’ In art-making, specifically, what does it mean to you to be unafraid? Is it different from being terrified and doing it anyway?

This is a really meaningful thing to discuss! I think that I actually am afraid pretty often when walking around doing day to day stuff. I think I move through the world being pretty small and timid most days. But I have always had that weird possession take over my body in performance, the second self, that thing that happens where the stage becomes a spiritual place for me to release that fear. To me, the world is frightening and the stage channels it into a kind of supernatural moment that helps me heal and connect with others for a little bit. I[m one of those folx whos always been awkward off of the boards and fabulous on them. So I guess technically, I am terrified and I do it anyway. I'm not afraid of performing itself, but of the world and times in which i live when NOT performing... I am friends with the unafraid, tits out Jess, so that she will educated quiet day to day Jess

 Part of why I love Gilda Radner so much is because she left so much breathing room in the work for vulnerability--and was super transparent about her struggles. She put them in her work in ways that were touching and funny. I don't think that performance should be a big ol cathartic mess. But I do think that sculpting performance that looks your personal fear in the eye and shares life lessons with an audience is super powerful. .

 5. Last question- maybe related to question 2- who or what always, no matter what, makes you laugh?

30 Rock, Every Episode, Every time (more femme fronted fabulousness!)

Night Cheese!

Rural Juror!

 omg SO funny.....

Jess Conda. Photo by Mark Garvin.

Jess Conda. Photo by Mark Garvin.