What happens when you set eight female comedians before a San Francisco audience and give them free reign to talk about whatever? Well, obviously, you’ll hear a lot about ovaries. And menstruation. Maybe the suffrage movement. Egg cycles. Maternal relationships and Mother Earth. Cats, and more of them.
Actually, the impetus for “Janine and Emily’s Girl Talk” wasn’t so much about shedding light on women’s issues as it was about celebrating an apparent boom for females in comedy, said Emily Heller, who curated the show with fellow Bay Area wit Janine Brito. They handpicked several locals, including Heller’s housemate Chris Burns and Caitlin Gill, who started the women’s open mic at BrainWash cafe and laundromat. With the addition of Aparna Nancherla, Chicago comic Beth Stelling, and brassy Marcella Arguello, Girl Talk provides a pretty well-rounded lineup. There’s little danger of it devolving into the comedy version of Vagina Monologues.
Then again, you never know what to expect when zEmily Heller gets onstage. Famously deadpan, the Alameda-raised comedian manages to be self-deprecating and intimidating at the same time. She has a distinct look — wavy red hair, big round glasses, freckles —that makes her a dead-ringer for the cartoon character Daria Morgendorffer. And Heller resembles Daria in other ways, too. Namely, her acid delivery. “A homeless person asked me for a dollar the other day,” she said, opening for Alex Koll at the Punch Line in January. “I said, ‘How about 79 cents? Because that’s how much a lady hobo would make.'” Riffing on the theme of “zombies versus unicorns” during an Iron Comic competition a couple weeks later, Heller decided that a unicorn would make a perfectly suitable boyfriend. In fact, she said, “My friends would say the same thing they say about all my boyfriends. That he’s either gay, or he doesn’t exist.”
Heller says that her acumen for stand-up comedy derives both from formal education — she did three years of debate team in high school — and from her natural disposition. “I have one of those faces that doesn’t hide disdain very easily,” she explained. “I wish I could say I was secretly deep down insecure, but that’s not really it.” Nor is that the case for any other comedian in “Girl Talk,” judging from their past performances. Nancherla has a talent for taking quotidian topics into surreal territory. In her bit “Infant Labor,” she makes a persuasive argument that new parents should stay home and let their babies be the breadwinners. Arguello did a mock music video for the Rihanna song “Rude Boy,” in which she spray-tanned herself bright orange, and changed the lyrics to “douche bag boy.” Brito has earned gay-icon status in Oakland, and she seems happy about it. “Just a quick heads up,” she wrote in a Facebook status update last Wednesday. “I will forget all of you if I ever become famous. K, thx, smooches, byyyyyyyyyye! Xoxo!”
Heller wouldn’t let that one go by so easily. “You know you’re only gonna get famous for the criminal charges, re: your cat carnival, right?”
Janine and Emily’s Girl Talk happens at the Punch Line (444 Battery St., San Francisco) on Tuesday, March 8. 8 p.m., $15. PunchlineComedyClub.com