03/26/2012 01:44 pm ET Updated May 26, 2012

How Do Stand-ups Stand Out? Comic Style at the Women in Comedy Festival

Steve Martin famously admitted to donning his signature white suit for his stand-up act in the 1970s as a way to literally stand out amongst a mob of other hungry, young comics. Finding ways to distinguish yourself as a performer has, perhaps, always been part of the given repertoire for male comics. With the significant influx of women into the comedy business within the last half-decade, this now appears the happy problem of comediennes as well. Chicago-based comic Cameron Esposito pointed out during a recent talk that many times her gender was her "white suit": everyone remembers the one woman in a show of eight men. However, in an atmosphere like the Women in Comedy Festival (WICF), which ran in Boston through March 25, where that one male comic finds himself the minority, the question persists: how does a female stand-up, stand out?

The WICF featured multiple showcases running concurrently for five nights straight with many of the performance blocks featuring between 8-10 women stand-ups. In such a line-up with a set time of about seven minutes, performance must work quickly and confidently to differentiate themselves from their cohort. In the showcase I attended, Janey Godley gained an immediate advantage as the only Scottish comic. Her speedy, rhythmic brogue further contributed to her style that contained rapid-fire jokes within jokes, which allowed her to string a riff together that effortlessly skidded from politics and religion to sex and relationships. Eight-months pregnant Erika Kreutziger and wheelchair-user Shannon DeVido drew upon their unique physical perspectives for an approach to stand-up more story-focused and subverted expectations by making women's embodiment a source of power and creation rather than fodder for comic disparagement.

Other comics declared their style through creating character personas: New York City-based comic Kate Berlant's cynical outlook evocative of a tired cocktail waitress, Philadelphia-native Jessica Gross' skittish, quirkiness alla Zoey Deschanel, and Truen Kirk's twisted hippy boheme produced one-liners like "I do Yoga or as I tell my son 'mommy's sobbing and farting time.'"

No white suits. But then again, these inventive, creative, and highly driven comediennes hardly seem to need them, demonstrating that sometimes the only thing a stand-up needs to stand out is her wit.