My entire college career has prepared me for this moment. My friends and I would gather in Kelly’s apartment (she had HBO) and watch Sex and the City, and talk about who we were and why, and why it was so feminist and badass. This show was revolutionary to us in the 1990s. It gave us permission to not be nice to men. Midwestern women have these shackles of “Be nice,” and specifically “Be nice to men,” with the underlying knowledge that not being nice to men could get you dismissed socially or put you in physical danger. What is that saying? Men are afraid that women will laugh at them and women are afraid that men will kill them.
This show gave us women who took up space. They were independent, made mistakes, and relied on each other for support and encouragement. And they were funny.
To be fair, we were in our twenties and didn’t pick up on the problematic parts of the show (People of color? Non-kitschy gay folks?) that are so evident today.
Kerry Ipema’s one woman Sex and the City show, fittingly titled One Woman Sex and the City: A Parody of Love, Friendship and Shoes (May 3-5 at The Playhouse at Westport Plaza, 635 Westport Plaza) has been performed over 150 times around the world, and I was lucky enough to talk to her about it.
The Arts STL: Where did this start? How did one woman decide to take on the four from Sex and the City?
Kerry Ipema: My writing partner co-created One Man Star Wars and One Man Lord of the Rings and was wondering what was a similar hero’s journey for women, what had the same kind of impact and admiration. He and I met and decided that Sex and the City was perfect. It has a fantasy element with New York being the fantastical setting.
Sex and the City does such a wonderful job of talking about how we can be strong. As a parody writer, it’s so much fun. We can poke holes in the things that don’t hold up and celebrate the ones that do. It’s obviously flawed, like most things, but at the end of the day it’s about empowerment and sexual autonomy for women. It’s about women not conforming to what society thinks, the fact that all of the women were all career-based, and that it wasn’t about getting a man. It was about celebrating female friendship, which is what I hope this show accomplishes.
The most amazing thing is looking into the audience and seeing groups of four women, sitting together, dressed up for a night on the town. They feel like they can really let their hair down.
I’m sure you’re aware of the Vanity Fair article in 2007 that hypothesized about why women aren’t funny?
That was ridiculous.
Right! What was so wonderful about that was that it was this amazing call to arms for female comedians to be like, “Fuck you.” The other thing is that the article theorized that women weren’t funny because they didn’t need to be funny to attract men.
[explosion of scoffing noise from both of us and also swears]
What the article totally missed was how important comedy is to female friendship. Sex and the City is such a wonderful example of what a community is, what a chosen family is, and what friendship is, and how women actually speak to each other. It’s really fun to perform the show in front of these women and well-intentioned men who bring their partners to the show, and they get an inside peek at what it means to be a woman, to laugh and talk about dirty things and to be open. I always ask who hasn’t seen the show, and there are always a few men who raise their hand. At the end of the show, they come up to me and say how surprised they were that it was funny. They had no idea.
In my experience, the humor and sharing in the show gave us permission to experiment with sex without feeling terrible. We’d never experienced that EVER before.
Yeah! There is that whole episode “Are we sluts?” The idea that women are sexual creatures exists. I just found this artist, Sophia Wallace, and her whole collection is about the clitoris. The idea is to teach girls about sexual pleasure by way of sexual education. Do you know when the clitoris was finally mapped in the human body?
Not too long ago?
Right—it was in 1998, coincidentally the year that Sex and the City was released.
In the show, we ask the audience to share their deal-breakers and crazy experiences, and I read them at the end of the show. It takes these beautiful stories that we tell our friends, and it creates this wonderful form of community in the audience. It feels like getting together for brunch with your friends to talk about your adventures.
You know, every show has aged poorly. I tried to watch Three’s Company again and the homophobia and misogyny killed me. I had to turn it off. My daughter tried to watch Friends and decided that Ross Geller was the worst character in the history of television.
Absolutely. We call attention to those parts of Sex and the City—like the lack of diversity and other huge issues in the show. But Friends was also progressive at the time in a lot of ways—Monica, Rachel, and Phoebe were having a lot of sex and, back in the 1990s, that was a big deal. So these are not all perfect, but they did help us get to where we are today.
Ugh—their take on bisexuality though…”Bisexuality is a pitstop on the way to gayville.”
I know! I was so disappointed in Alanis Morissette for being a part of that.
That’s super flawed—it makes my skin crawl—but that’s my job as a parody writer to call attention show how far we’ve come.
Right—I’ve showed my kids The Breakfast Club and someone called a character a “f***ot.” They were outraged, but I think it’s important to show them that this stuff existed and is still out there. This was the ‘80s. Now we know better, so we do better, but we can’t pretend it didn’t happen.
I also think that it’s important to teach them that we’ve all made mistakes. I remember in junior high saying “That’s so gay,” but I didn’t have hate in my heart when I said it. It was ignorance. Sometimes people makes mistakes and we have to learn from them. At the end of the day is how you change and grow.
Absolutely. I grew up in the ‘70s and ‘80s and was transphobic because my only introduction to trans folks was through movies and television where they were caricatures. Now I have trans family members. My job is to listen and know better, just like yours is with this show.
I didn’t have a problem with Sex and the City when it was on because I didn’t know enough to have a problem with it. It was ignorance.
What’s so brilliant about this show is that you’re cheering on the revolutionary parts of this show that did change things for the better, but because it’s a parody, you’re holding up the flawed parts and saying how wrong we were, collectively, to contrast with how we’ve (hopefully) changed and grown. This gives us a full, well-rounded view of the power it gave with all of the learning that we had yet to do.
I’ve performed it all around the world for people of all political beliefs. What I love about this show which mirrors the original series is that it’s about women supporting women, about autonomy and making choices for yourself. My favorite episode of the show is “Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda” where Miranda gets pregnant, and they have a roundtable discussion about what her choice will be. They all have different opinions and come from different places, but at the end of the show, they’re supporting each other regardless of what her decision will be. Even though Charlotte disagreed with her friend, at the end of the day, she brought her flowers and an Entenmann’s crumb cake.
Comedy is the best venue to open people up. Like Ellen DeGeneres used comedy when she came out. Laughter brings you up so that you can be affected by change.
Having watched the first round of Will & Grace, I had a friend ask if I was offended by all of the gay jokes. I told them that this was a show to get you used to gay faces in your living room. Just like Sanford and Son and The Cosby Show got folks used to black faces in their living room—where they might never have been before. The comedy, even self-deprecating, made it more accessible. Sex and the City put strong sexy women…
…and gay men in your living room.
I’m so sorry, he is not in the show. He was a casualty of shortening a series into a one woman show. He was never really integral to the plot.
Yeah, he was Carrie’s prop in a lot of ways.
I do feel like I should tell people, I don’t cover the movies in the show.
Oh, thank god. That second one…
I have a secret. I haven’t seen it.
You’re lucky. It was the worst. So…which Sex and the City character are you?
I call myself a Carrie with a Miranda rising.
I am a Samantha with a solid dose of Carrie, for sure.
Samantha is my favorite to play because she has the best puns. It’s so much fun. I love this show and I loved talking with you about it. | Melissa Cynova
One Woman Sex and the City: A Parody of Love, Friendship and Shoes performances run May 3 (8:00 PM), May 4 (4:00 PM and 8:00 PM), and May 5 (2:00 PM) at the Playhouse at Westport Plaza, 635 Westport Plaza. For more information or to purchase tickets, visit https://www.metrotix.com/events/detail/owsatc.