July 11, 2018
HI, we’re here with a Hump Day treat.
Women’s satirical website Reductress is only five years old, still operates out of a small office in Manhattan, and produces some of the funniest shit we’ve ever read. They’re a welcome reprieve during an online experience full of reports on longtime sexual harassers getting #MeToo’d and then getting new jobs, the impending fate of Roe v. Wade, and something some bigot said about children getting locked in cages. But then, I see, "I Can't Cum Until Someone Calls Me A Voracious Readers." And boom, I (Natalie) am wiping tears and DMing the link to my friend.
Comedians Beth Newell and Sarah Pappalardo co-founded the site — of course first discussing it over late-night emails — and have since co-published a book “How To Win At Feminism,” plus hosted live shows, produced a podcast, sold swag, taught workshops, and landed one other big project mentioned at the end of this newsletter. “When we started, it was much more a parody directly of women’s media and women’s magazines,” Newell told The Cut in 2016. “It’s become a lot broader now, just parodying our own experiences as women.”
As Reductress continues to expand online and IRL, we talked to Pappalardo below on critiquing media and creating a space for funny women.
Laughing with you,
Natalie and Danielle
Reductress co-founders Sarah Pappalardo & Beth Newell
Q&A with Reductress co-founder Sarah Pappalardo
Your headlines are perfect parodies of magazine titles. Are you or were you women’s magazine readers? Did you have to work on copying the tone and language of women’s media in any way?
I think a lot of the voice of women’s media kind of infiltrated our lives whether we liked it or not, but we have definitely read plenty of magazines over the years. After doing this job for a while, the tone starts to feel like second nature.
To our knowledge, you’ve created the biggest outlet for female humor writers to date. Did you set out to create a space to foster female funny-ness or was that a happy coincidence?
Yes! Our goal had two parts: to critique the way the media talks down to women, and also create a new space for women to make comedy. Our work is not exclusively created by women, but the majority of what we do touches upon what many women deal with in their everyday lives.
Meet Reductress: The Fake Women's News Magazine
As media for women has progressed, become more self-aware, and become more critical of itself in the last five years alone, how has that changed your role as satirists?
We just have to be a bit more nuanced in what we’re critiquing, which is more interesting, anyway.
Do you feel any certain way about pretty constantly being to compared to The Onion or being called the female Onion?
Being compared to the Onion is a wonderful compliment and a natural parallel. It makes sense that people would try to use that shorthand.
What’s the average editorial meeting at The Reductress like?
Fun! It’s a lot of us sitting in a circle and talking about what’s going on and making something funny out of it.
So much of humor lies in universal experiences, and female-orientated experiences are usually othered. What’s it like navigating that otheredness?
Women are more than half the population, so this idea that female-oriented content is niche is a myth. Even the more specific content we do about racial issues or LGBTQ issues are still representative of wide swaths of the population. And people outside those groups can learn more about other people by learning about how they may feel othered in different ways. We definitely get dismissive comments about the work we do, by virtue of being women, but we also have a lot of male readers. Even when those men don’t immediately “get” a joke, they often realize the truth in it by virtue of other people sharing the article, so it’s sort of cool to hear men be like “I didn’t realize that was a thing” and be open to having a broader perspective on it.
Can you tell us about your audience?
Mostly women, usually 18-35, but also a pretty decent chunk of men as well.
You were an unparalleled voice & Hillary supporter during the 2016 campaign. How has the current political and cultural climate — Donald Trump, Me Too, Time’s Up — affected your message and material? What influence are you hoping to have on your readers who might be outraged or anxious every time they read Real News?
We’re still trying to focus on the absurdity in which the media covers the news, and also focus on more evergreen topics about our own experience. While it’s definitely affected how we approach hot-button issues, our content hasn’t radically changed.
You’ve expanded into a community and a business very quickly. Were you modeling the approach around any existing media entities, or creating something you felt didn’t exist?
A little of both. We’re definitely operating as a self-funded, independent media company would, although our company ethos and culture probably differs from your average big box media brand (hopefully that shows).
$$$ Reductress Merch $$$
On that, can you tell us a bit more about why you wanted to make workshops and training experiences part of the Reductress brand?
There simply wasn’t a lot of satire writing education out there, and it’s a valuable extension to what people are learning about sketch and improv as well. We wanted to share the Reductress philosophy and how we apply that to satire. Plus, it’s fun to teach and get us out of the usual editorial duties of the day.
You’ve spoken on male-voiced media criticizing women’s magazines in a condescending, tone deaf way. What’s different about how you approach satirizing these outlets?
Comedy has often been dismissive of women’s media in a “women are dumb” sort of way, as if this was the media we all asked for. We critique women’s media from the perspective of knowing it can and should be smarter (and a lot of it is getting better). We try to satirize it with specific jokes that don’t punch down or make fun of women simply for existing. If your comedy is too broad it just comes across as though you’re kind of a bully who hates a thing for no reason. When your critique is more specific, people can hopefully understand what you’d like them to do better.
Some of your pieces can be scathing, but what we’d probably categorize as “necessary” — and we appreciate that your humor and style “punches up.” Are there any basic rules or boundaries for your writers?
Don’t punch down, and always make sure your satirical target is clear. Don’t assume that the only people who will read your work are people who agree with your worldview.
People can freak out on the internet. Have you ever had a piece backfire?
One time a lot of people thought we were genuinely advocating for everyone to move to Alaska if Trump won the election.
What’s next for Reductress?
We just shot a pilot for Comedy Central. Hopefully you will see it on the air sometime soon!
for further reading/listening
Reductress Takes Its Satirical Voice Beyond the Internet, New York Times, 2017
The Gospel of Reductress, Newsweek, 2017
Thanks for reading, and hit us up! We want to know your memories with magazines, including what you loved and hated. And if you’ve never read a women’s mag, welcome. Send notes and scans: email@example.com.