Frisky Q&A: The Comediennes Behind The Web Series “Vag Magazine”
Even those of us who proudly call ourselves feminists can admit that sometimes other feminists can be a wee bit extreme. That’s why “Vag Magazine,” a new webisode series about a cabal of young feminist hipsters who buy out fashion magazine Gemma with proceeds of their Etsy shop and replace it with uber-P.C. mag Vag, had me peeing my pants laughing. (Pants, of course, being what I wear, as skirts and dresses are tools of the patriarchy.) Staff members Sylvie, Fennell, Bethany, Heavy Flo, and Reba have big dreams for Vag, but Meghan, the lone holdover from Gemma, is increasingly terrified at how little sense these ladies make.
I watched five episodes of “Vag Magazine” — you can watch a couple more after the jump — and I knew I just had to talk to its creators, Upright Citizens Brigade alums/comediennes Caitlin Tegart and Leila Cohan-Miccio. After the jump, read my chat with Caitlin and Leila about third-wave feminists, their hilarious cast of improv stars-to-be, the MarieClaire.com piece about “fatties,” and what it’s like for ladies in comedy. Oh, I’m sorry, womyn in comedy.
The Frisky: How did you get the idea for “Vag Magazine,” which spoofs an imaginary magazine run by tyrannical and misguided third-wave feminists?
Leila Cohan-Miccio: I think for both of us, it seemed like a really fun subculture that no one was really talking about in comedy with lots of fun specifics. I think both of us also have our frustrations with a lot of third wave feminist magazines, so that was also a factor. When you have frustrations about something, it’s a lot easier to joke about it, usually.
Leila Cohan-Miccio: I didn’t have any specific people in mind while writing, other than our cast members. I think it was all the ones you mentioned, but there’s also an element of absurdity. I’ve worked in magazines before, so there was a little bit of my own experience factored in as well. BUST, I certainly have a lot of issues with BUST. Yeah. I think BUST factored into it a lot. But it was the general culture rather than specific people.
Caitlin Tegart: Yeah, I think it’s that whole family of media outlets you mentioned. But we certainly weren’t scouring any particular magazine trying to parody it. I think I can claim I did no actual research for this. (laughs) It’s amazing, now that I think about it, that we didn’t even bother to look at one together!
Leila Cohan-Miccio: Ms. did a write-up on us last week and mentioned the magazine [that Vag is taking over] is called Gemma and said, “I don’t know if this is intentional but it’s very funny if it is: Gemma was the name of a ’70s magazine for lesbians.” (laughs) We did not know that. The extent of our research was making sure there was not something already in existence called Vag magazine.
Why would you lampoon feminist magazines instead of mainstream women’s magazines? Especially after blogger Maura Kelly for MarieClaire.com wrote a piece about how she thinks “fatties” are disgusting to look at, I would think there’d be a lot more to criticize about mainstream glossies.
Leila Cohan-Miccio: I think it felt more organic to who we are, the third-wave thing. Fashion and general women’s magazines are such an easy target. The last thing we wanted to do was an “applause” show where you’re not laughing so much as clapping. I read the MarieClaire.com thing yesterday and it made me violently angry. I think that when you feel that way, it’s very hard to write things that are pointed, and it’s not that funny.
Caitlin Tegart: I think the most piercing laughs come when you’re kind of laughing at yourself. … I never, ever read fashion magazines. Nothing against them, I just don’t. It’s not something I gravitate towards, whereas I do gravitate towards this kind of media and it’s funny to me.
So what are some of your problems with third-wave feminist media, like Bust or Jezebel.com?
Caitlin Tegart: “Where is the action?” is ultimately my main criticism. We do need to talk, we do need to complain, we do need to vent and just have each other. But what’s step two? I feel like there’s never a step two insofar as what we are we going to do. The inaction is my number one frustration.
Leila Cohan-Miccio: Exactly. I think it’s really easy to complain and feel frustrated about the lack of women in comedy, the fact most late night shows don’t have a single female host, and God knows Caitlin and I sit around and complain about that. But there comes a point where you have to go, “Alright, do I just sit here and give up? Or do I do something?” I think what we’re trying to do is make a staunch position for doing something.
I think something else about third-wave feminism, the line that sums it up in episode one is Sylvie: “Feminism is women doing whatever they want.” I think that some third-wave feminism does go too far in endlessly justifying any choice that is made by a woman as a feminist choice. So there was a story in BUST a few years ago about women going on sex tourism trips. I was just, like, “I don’t know if that’s behavior we should be encouraging in anyone.”
But isn’t the bigger problem the conservative women who are co-opting the term “feminist,” like Sarah Palin calling herself a feminist despite the fact she does things to limit women’s choices?
Caitlin Tegart: I do think the conservative women who call themselves feminists are weird, but I feel like that’s such for show that it doesn’t irk me. I don’t think it’s either a big part of what they’re trying to sell us, nor does anyone care. (laughs) It’s like [African-American] Michael Steel being the chairman of the Republican National Committee and them being, like, “We’re diverse now!” It’s a half-effort that no one cares about. It doesn’t bug me, per se. What bugs me more is people that I think have the right intentions, that I totally agree with, but not doing it.
Leila Cohan-Miccio: The crux of our issue, insofar as we have one, with third-wave feminism is that feminism is a nebulous concept — whatever you want to mean. That co-option of the movement is really distressing to me. … There’s a lot of messy stuff. I appreciate not wanting to judge other women’s choices, but I do think there’s a fine line between that and (high-pitched, silly voice) “Anything can be feminism! Sure!”
Caitlin Tegart: I would love a larger discussion on this topic because we’re just going on things like college and how we’ve reacted to this media. It would be awesome to stop and really talk about it with other people who are really interested.
What has the response to “Vag Magazine” been from other feminists?
Leila Cohan-Miccio: Really good! Overall, I think people are happy to be parodied.
Caitlin Tegart: “The Office” isn’t saying “no one should work at an office.” In the same way, we’re not saying no one should work at a feminist magazine. It’s just, like, this is an important part of a lot of people’s cultural understanding and it’s fun. If anything, we’re saying “this is taking up space in people’s lives and we should look at it.”
How easy is it to be a comedian who makes a feminist analysis with their comedy?
Caitlin Tegart: I think it’s pretty natural. Most probably self-identify as feminists and if they don’t, they probably act like one. Most male comedians, too — I don’t know if they self-identify as feminists, but most comedians tend to be people that actually have a strong sense of “right” and want they want to see in the world. I think a lot of our desire to satire is our unease with the current state. At least in the circles we run in!
Leila Cohan-Miccio: Caitlin and I both come out of the UCB Theater, which is a very female-accepting place.
It’s interesting you say that because I’ve heard otherwise. I interviewed the comedian Margaret Cho a few months ago and she told me point-blank, “I think the comedy community is not supportive to women in comedy. It’s just not a supportive environment.” I realize you two don’t do stand-up, but I’m wondering why your experiences would be so different. Maybe it’s just an age thing?
Caitlin Tegart: I know there’s been times where I’ve pitched things in a room and I’ve felt like, “I wonder if there were five women here instead of five guys, if that idea had gotten farther.” I don’t think it’s prejudice on their part as much as they don’t know who Kelly Rowland is and I do! … My thing is I just want to see more women doing [comedy] because there was a point where I realized I can’t do it alone. That was just one random specific, but if that [Kelly Rowland joke] had been really important to me and I couldn’t get it pushed through because people aren’t understanding, it sort of falls on women to stand up and be supporting each other.
Leila Cohan-Miccio: Obviously there is a lot of sexism in the comedy world, but in terms of the support we’ve gotten for “Vag Magazine,” I really haven’t seen any push-back on an aggressively sexist level. Even the guy who responded on Vimeo — the one comment we got on episode one — “I realize this is probably ironic but I find everyone in this cast incredibly attractive.”
Did you tell the “Vag Magazine” cast to wear certain costumes? They’re sooo hipster-ed out.
Caitlin Tegart: There was a massive amount of styling going on. I’m proud to say that most of the jewelry is my own. My personal wardrobe was being used to make people look like a**holes! (laughs) We had an awesome hair and makeup person who made their hairstyles and all that stuff totally insane. The wardrobe all came from the cast. There was a lot of sharing. We definitely wanted people to look a little outrageous, borderline cartoon-y at time, especially for Fennel.
Leila Cohan-Miccio: We told them to bring their weird stuff! But I got a lot of compliments. My friend emailed me the other day, like, “Where did everyone get those dresses?”
I only watched the first five episodes of “Vag Magazine,” but how many did you film in total?
Caitlin Tegart: There’s a sixth episode for season one — it’s their premiere party! We filmed that at a club in the West Village. The first five episodes we filmed in a marathon, crazy weekend. We started 6 p.m. on Friday and ended 10 p.m. on Sunday. It was June doing the heat wave and we had to turn off the air conditioning so we could film. It was a bonding time, I guess you could say!
Will there be a season two of “Vag Magazine”?
Caitlin Tegart: Yeah. We’ll find the money. We paid out of pocket for season one. We’re hoping to have a Kickstarter account to start us for season two.
Leila Cohan-Miccio: Unless anyone wants to give us money. Put that in the article. We’re very open to being given money!
Caitlin Tegart: We can drink Wild Cherry Pepsi in every episode. Or [character] Bethanny can carry a bottle of detergent everywhere. You can basically justify anything as a hipster accessory!
You can watch all the episodes of “Vag Magazine” — with a new one appearing every Monday! — on VagMagazine.tv.
This interview was condensed and edited for clarity and length.