Meet Mariya Alexander, an immigrant and woman in comedy, who speaks her truth.
Alexander’s complicated past inspired her to laugh through some of the toughest times. “I grew up in the Soviet Union and experienced a lot of persecution (for being Jewish). Then in the mid-90’s I was lucky enough to move to America with my family and that presented a whole new set of challenges. Comedy is how I deal with the often overwhelming, dark reality of the world we live in. I started writing as a young child, poems and short stories and journal entries, and eventually started trying to write humorous essays that I would eventually start hearing in my head as monologues. It didn’t occur to me to try stand-up, though, until I happened to meet some comedians and started hanging out at shows and open mics.”
For Alexander, comedy is about speaking the truth, and her most inspirational comedians have all done that in different ways. Her first role model, a “Soviet-era comedian and social critic named Mikhail Zhvanetsk,” spoke the truth in spite of Soviet oppression, and her American heroes, “Margaret Cho, Sarah Silverman, Chris Rock and Dave Chappelle” tell the truths of their own lives and worlds.
While being a woman can hinder comedy careers, Alexander sees the benefits: “Being a woman in comedy is like being a woman in anything else – people won’t quit pointing out that you’re a woman. With comedy still being thought of as a man-dominated art form, being a woman can be an advantage in that audiences will pay more attention to you. They are also quicker to dismiss you if you don’t win them over immediately, whereas guys get a pass, but nonetheless I think it all evens out. Funny is funny, and being funny is my only goal with this whole comedy thing.”
Her biggest tip? Although empowerment and support is incredible, Alexander cautions women not to dismiss honest and constructive critique: “It’s cool to have people be supportive of you, but someone constantly telling you you’re great won’t help you improve. It’s important to stay honest with yourself and to admit when something isn’t working and try to improve.”