Lynn Harris, Founder of Gold Comedy
“From social movements I learned how my role as a journalist was not only about “giving voice,” but actually uplifting and empowering communities through my understanding of tech and storytelling.”
Meet Lynn Harris. Lynn is a veteran standup comic, journalist and novelist, feminist, and culture change strategist. She joined the Civic Hall community this month as an Entrepreneur-in-Residence with her startup, GOLD Comedy, and its pilot program #comedyforgirls.
“Comedy is power, so we’re giving girls and women the tools to find their funny and the platforms to share it with the world.”
Extra-credit for Valentine’s Day: Lynn is the co-creator, with Chris Kalb, of the award-winning Breakup Girl, the superhero who saves the world by saving your love life.
You can connect with Lynn on Twitter.
What Does She Do?
Lynn is the founder of the very early-stage mission-driven startup GOLD Comedy. Think Skillcrush meets Funny Or Die. For Girls.
“We believe that comedy is power, so we are here to amplify girls’ and women’s voices—literally, with a mic! Our goal is to give girls and women the comedy tools and skills to find their funny and SLAY, whether as professional comics or just in their everyday lives.”
Lynn’s theory of the case: “When girls and women — and, it should be added — anyone who feels in some way “Other” — find their funny, they find their strength. Comedy skills—confidence, resilience, authenticity—are also life skills, life skills that help put girls and women in charge. Seeing different people with comedy power also changes people’s attitudes and biases about who has POWER-power. So we envision a world where girls and women and other outsiders command their stages and amplify their voices—and everyone listens.”
While improv is fantastic for teaching collaboration, standup has a different value: “Let’s teach women to be alone in their power. Let’s teach people to listen to women who are talking alone.”
How Did She Get Into This Work?
“I just always loved funny. In Shakespeare, I was always the jester. Well, even as a brunette I was the wacky redhead.”
At her preppy grade school, Lynn was something of an outlier. Not particularly willowy or “lacrosse-style athletic,” she cultivated humor as her social currency.
For Lynn, something abruptly shifted during elementary school when Mr. Cargill, her gym teacher, showed the class how to do pushups, and then went onto demonstrating something he called “girl pushups.” It took years for her to put her finger on what was wrong, but she knew pushups weren’t called “boys’ pushups.”
A few years later, during an overnight ski trip to Manchester, New Hampshire, some of the boys staged an impromptu drag performance where they stuffed grapefruits down some nighties and brought the house down:
“One of the dudes may or may have not been Adam Sandler. I was sure that we – the girls – could not do that and get such laughs. The guys — I didn’t have a word for it at the time – they had all of the comedy privilege.”
Lynn went onto study at Yale University, where her humanities undergrad concentration required an essay for admission. She wrote her submission focusing on the history of pop culture driving cultural change; nearly 30 years later, this theme continues to animate Lynn.
After years as a standup, freelance writer, and comedy teacher, Lynn seemingly found her dream job. For over five years Lynn led communications strategy at Breakthrough, a global human rights organization which drives culture change for gender equality, first as the head of communications, then as its VP. Breakthrough’s “Ring The Bell” campaign — enlisting men to call about domestic violence – was a huge success beginning in India and spreading through much of the world. Not only did the NGO preach to the converted, but with Lynn at the helm, it created endlessly creative solutions like “Be That Guy” animations which screened on NASCAR and Indy 500 Jumbotrons. In producing the comedy shows “Dudes Against Violence Against Women: Because DUH,” Lynn was finally able to forge funny and social justice.
About seven years ago Lynn and her friend Mikki Halpin had the seed kernel of what would become GOLD. The idea lay dormant until April 2016 when Lynn decided it was time. Originally GOLD was UCB for Girls. While it has since evolved, the mission remains the same:
“Let’s give the girls a fucking leg up.”
What Project Is She Working On?
“Scaling GOLD and nailing our seed round to do it!”
GOLD has piloted with a series of live standup workshops with teen girls in NYC. Recently, it has launched its first online class, which people seem to love. GOLD is in the midst of building a multi-platform online/offline experience, and just as importantly, scaffolding community.
How Did She Come to Civic Hall?
Savannah Badalich — program manager of Civic Hall Labs – worked with Lynn at Breakthrough. They stayed in touch, and, at the beginning of February, Lynn joined Civic Hall as an Entrepreneur-in-Residence.
“When I’ve gone out into the world as a woman-owned company, and as a startup using the words “girls,” even when I say we’re a startup, raising a seed round, noting that it’s a business, that we’re seeking investors, unless they’re primed, almost 100% of people ask: “How is your nonprofit going?”
“I swear to God that’s institutionalized sexism. Women doing good for women must be underpaid and doing something noble and… What the fuck? This is one of the reasons why we’re a for-profit. And it’s also part of our mission to challenge norms. Comedy is a business. This is work. Let’s get paid. Let’s value our time. Money is value, so give us money. At Civic Hall it’s a relief that I don’t have to explain this all of the time! To be among people who understand the intersection of money, value, and social good.”
What Is Her Ask of Civic Hall?
“I want to find the nerds and weirdos and get them together to make funny. I ask only the thing on which I feed, feast, and thrive: Brainstorming, batting ideas around, connecting people and dots, asking “What if…?” ESPECIALLY NOW. I crave that feeling of being in the best kind of war room with like-minded — yet still different — people. Show me your passion and rigor and creativity and I’ll show you mine! (Sidebar: If your pitch deck could use the funny, Lynn is happy to oblige.)
Lynn recalls a strategy of Alyssa Mastromonaco, President Obama’s former deputy chief of staff for operations. While we now fondly look back at those years with wistful reverence, it was far from a gender utopia. Mastromonaco and her women colleagues had a strategy for, uh, “dude-proofing”: Seconding and naming women during meetings. Lynn’s coining it “The Mastromonaco Gambit.” Let’s try some of this, Civic Hall!
Look out for a GOLD-hosted brown bag in the near future.