Women in comedy: more than ever

Is it tough to be a woman comic? Lotus Weinstock is often asked. ''It's easier,'' she answers, ''than trying to be a man.'' And her response is more than a joke.

For the few women who have become stand-up comics, most have had to be more hard-edged, aggressive, and frenetic than most of their male counterparts.

''It's a very aggressive, chancy, risky business,'' one comedian says, ''and people don't want to see women in that position. They don't want to see women embarrassed.''

Ms. Weinstock concurs: ''It's a primal instinct we all have, to protect the women.''

But the balance is changing. In the early '70s, Ms. Weinstock notes, comedians outnumbered comediennes by roughly 30 to 1. Now she puts it at around 10 to 1.

She herself is a regular at the Comedy Store in -Hollywood, a host there in the all-comedienne Belly Room, and the author of a book, being published by Bantam in the spring, titled ''The Lotus Position.'' She is neither hard-edged nor aggressive.

Her goal as a commedienne: ''To have lunch with the world.''

She describes her onstage (and offstage) character as a battling contrast of the ''California cosmic'' - hence the first name she took on joining a spiritual organization in 1970, and the Philadelphia Jewish, hence the Weinstock.

''Lotus wants to be totally free,'' she jokes. ''Weinstock will settle for a discount.''

She has been a comedienne and an entertainer-at-large (writing and performing popular music off and on) since she dropped out of college in the early '60s. She caught the waning years of comedy's salad days at the Bitter End in New York , played clubs and sitcom parts in California, and opened for rock concerts.

Without humor, she quips, she might have been another lost flower child stranded in the '60s along with peace and love.

People weren't ready for a philosophical style of humor, she says, from a blonde whose looks owed more to Goldie Hawn than Lenny Bruce. Here she was pitted, like many women, against the comic tradition of looking funny. Today, though, it is less axiomatic that blondes be giddy.

The Weinstock act, in fact, shifts dizzyingly between serious philosophical aphorisms and self-mockery and satire.

She took much of the past decade off to devote herself to her family. Her daughter Lilly, a precocious and self-possessed seventh-grader, has appeared with her on stage at the Belly Room. She also played in a TV version of Neil Simon's ''Goodbye Girl,'' but it never aired.

''Mom, you were fabulous,'' said Lilly once a couple of days after watching a club appearance, Ms. Weinstock recalls. ''But you were slightly too ERA-ish.''

Joan Rivers, Lily Tomlin, Carol Burnett, and Phyllis Diller, who wrote the introduction to Ms. Weinstock's book, have all broken through the barriers to become major successes in what has largely been a man's business.

The ranks of young and aspiring comediennes should provide an even richer mix in the future. The good ones are there, Ms. Weinstock says, ''they just can't quite break into the 'Tonight Show.' ''

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