OPINION | Sketch comedy group maintains female legacies

Mercedes Ohlen and Joelle Friedman

(Ethan Hunt)

Authors Mercedes Ohlen and Joelle Friedman are co-presidents of Office Hours Sketch Comedy, Tulane’s sketch comedy group.

Tulane University’s sketch comedy group, Office Hours Sketch Comedy, has been on campus since 2011. Through hurricanes, a pandemic and countless setbacks, we’ve laughed, cried and laughed one more time for good measure. Office Hours has continued to do what we do best. 

In the past 12 years, the group’s leadership has had a strong female legacy. Julia DeLois, class of 2014, first led the group. For the past four years, the group has been led by at least one female president. This year, we — seniors Joelle Friedman and Mercedes Ohlen — have been lucky to continue that legacy and step into the positions of co-presidents, something that means so much to the both of us. Joelle joined in 2019 and Mercedes in 2020; throughout both of our times in the group, we have always had female leaders and stage managers and can now reflect on that legacy as we come to the end of our time as a female presidential team. 

Sketch never felt like a boys club waiting to be broken into. The club had already presented its strong foundation: as women, we were an invaluable part of creating and maintaining this group. Women belong in comedy and will continue to be involved for the duration of the group’s time on campus.

Kat Spears, who was one half of the group’s first presidential duo from 2019 to 2020, felt that some of the conflicts she had within the group may have gone differently if gender was out of the question.

“Maybe these confrontations wouldn’t have happened if I was a man. I didn’t see them happening to my male co-president,” Spears said. Before Kat and her co-president, only one person led the group each year. This shift came with its own struggles and brought a dynamic that the group had never seen before. However, the two organized some phenomenal shows together, and Kat cemented her legacy as one of Sketch’s fantastic previous female leaders.

Women are often expected to be funnier, be more clever and try harder when it comes to comedy. Women are expected to keep our writing relatively modest while simultaneously pushing harder to make people laugh. Female comedians brave a cycle of walking on eggshells while trying to live up to higher expectations.

We have been lucky that the group we’ve been trusted to lead has provided us with as much respect as a group of previous-theater-kids can, but we had big shoes to fill. During the 2020-2021 year, the group had to navigate virtual meetings and masked shows as we figured out what comedy would look like during a pandemic. Rehearsals were held on Zoom; the group met for meetings outside and Office Hours did their best to bond while not being able to see the bottom half of each other’s faces. During this time, Sophie Lieber led the group — sometimes it was unclear if the group would have survived with anyone else at its helm. Lieber wrangled Office Hours while her senior year was practically shut down and pulled us together enough to put on a show! 

Last year, Mira Fechter and Deeya Patel rebuilt the group from the ground up, despite challenges of their own. Mira navigated large life changes amidst a world recovering from a  pandemic and still managed to write some of the most hilarious and clever sketches the group had ever seen. Deeya successfully balanced a pre-med curriculum on a Creative Scholar’s path while still throwing herself fully into leading the group. We have no shortage of STEM majors within the group, but the vast majority of past presidents ended up pursuing careers within entertainment and writing. However, Deeya chose to attend Tulane’s prestigious medical school. Her journey highlights that creative extracurriculars can be extremely beneficial for STEM students, and that outlet is important for all students, regardless of their academic interests. Further, Deeya highlights that women deserve to have a place in historically male-dominated roles, both in entertainment and in STEM-related fields.

Perhaps, the most important role after the presidents is the stage managers, who have been strong women for a majority of sketch comedy’s time on campus. Jael Ellman served as the Office Hours stage manager for four years before graduating in 2022. This year, freshman Lou Bishop has stepped into Ellman’s prior role. Every rehearsal, she proves herself to be a confident and competent young woman who will be a part of our important legacy. 

Alongside all of the female comedians in the group, Office Hours is in the midst of preparing for their end-of-semester show: an expected … hoot and holler? Perhaps a triumph? That’s something for you to decide for yourself. It will be the last time that we as both presidents and as members will ever take the beloved McWilliams stage. We are sad to go, but we are both determined to keep comedy and creativity in our lives and are incredibly confident in next year’s leadership. For Joelle, being president was the culmination of her cherished time at Tulane. On Joelle’s first day of rehearsal, she remembers walking in and saying to herself, “I’m going to be president in four years.” During Mercedes’ first time hanging out with Joelle, Joelle turned to her and said, “No offense, but I’m going to be the president.” 

And look how far we have come. It has been an honor to lead the group that we care about so much and it has put her on a creative path that has altered her future for the better. As we finish up our journey at Tulane, we look back with fondness on our time in Office Hours Sketch Comedy and — all jokes aside — we know that going forward, Office Hours Sketch Comedy will continue to be filled and led by confident, hilarious women, just like us. 

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