Going Off Script with Heidi Ewing, Director of MAKERS: Women in Comedy

Heidi Ewing spent almost a year interviewing funny women for MAKERS: Women in Comedy. She spoke to Joan Rivers about the legendary comedian's start in standup, interviewed Chelsea Handler on dealing with pain through comedy, and talked to Whitney Cummings about hecklers. On HuffPost Live this morning, Heidi said that when she and her fellow producer/director Rachel Grady planned the documentary, "We tried to pick the most dangerous women we could." They sought fearless women who didn't care about other peoples' opinions--and they certainly found them.

The day of MAKERS: Women in Comedy's premiere (9/8c on PBS!), we caught up with Heidi to get some perspective from the director's chair.

Why do you think this is an important film?

It’s important to appreciate the best women in any field and men have gotten most of the love in the comedy world, until recently.  I like the idea of reminding people of all ages to support and enjoy these hilarious women. Plus isn’t it important to laugh these days with all the shit hitting the proverbial global fan?

What is one thing you learned in the process of making this?

Comedians are highly intelligent and thoughtful, incredible observers of human behavior. They could be doc filmmakers. Plus, women comedians don’t seem as depressed and fucked up as their male counterparts.

What’s your favorite takeaway (quote, anecdote) from this film?

Favorite quote DEFINITELY from Joan, of course.  The way she talked about her career and how much attention she still paid to it really wowed me. The woman was wealthy, famous, in her 80s and still approaching her career with incredible passion and ambition. She thumbed her nose at sexism and also at ageism, which is pretty impressive. Here is what she said:

Rivers: Every day I say to myself at one point, what have I done to further the career? Even when we’re in Mexico going like this for a week and ½. What have I done today? Yeah. 

Heidi : What do you mean? Like what’s funny? What can I write down?

Rivers: Have I written something? Have I, have I done something, did I figured out a short story? What did I do today to move to do it? To move the career? Move the career, move the career.

If you made another film on the same subject in a year, how would your focus change?

I think we need to wait another 5 years and see if women can truly break into the feature film thing. There are early signs but the work hasn’t done.

How can viewers follow up with this film? Are there websites or other films you would recommend to further the inspiring, informative track?

You can follow all these amazing women on twitter and they brighten your day for sure.  Read Yael Kohen’s book “We Killed, the Rise of Women in American comedy” and read this: http://www.makers.com/blog/qa-yael-kohen-author-we-killed-rise-women-american-comedy

Go see Wanda Sykes, Natasha Leggero, Whitney Cummings and all these amazing comics live. Listen to the Marc Merron WTF podcast, he talks to all the great ladies in comedy. Go to Second City, The Upright Citizens Brigade and The Groundlings to see all the new talent. Become a comedy snob.

And, of course, tune in at 9/8c to watch MAKERS: Women in Comedy on PBS tonight.