Sheena Featured in the Los Angeles Times!


Los Angeles Times March 11, 2002

Surely, She Jests

It's the middle of the week. The audience is laughing. The monologues are raunchy. And all the comedians are women.

By MIMI AVINS, TIMES STAFF WRITER


An unending stream of sitcom reruns plays on television every night, but in Los Angeles, some people prefer to go out and search for laughs, even on a dark and stormy night. On Wednesday, an audience of 140 mostly young men and women braved rain-slicked streets to see an array of all-female comics perform at the Laugh Factory. They did not come to consider whether women can be as funny as men, or if professionally witty women are oppressed by gender-specific stereotypes and a sexist comedy establishment. They came to laugh.

Since January, the Sunset Strip comedy club has been hosting a changing lineup of stand-up comedians on Wednesday nights, calling the midweek show "Inside the Girls' Locker Room." From 10 till well after midnight, a responsive crowd chuckles at stories about mothers-in-law, therapists, strippers, gynecologists, dates from hell and parents. The lighter side of supermarket rage, premenstrual syndrome, body odor, drugs, pornography, childbirth and marriage is visited. When the delivery is right, Vietnamese nail salons, Catholic school girls, Monica Lewinsky, Martha Stewart and Hitler inspire guffaws. The women draw some of their comedy from their black, Jewish, Irish or Mexican backgrounds. They follow an unwritten code, which seems to judge ethnic slurs against one's own tribe as permissible and fat jokes cross-culturally amusing. The mistress of ceremonies is Sheena Metal, half of the Sheena and the Princess team whose weekly show on KSLX is the only program on the FM talk radio station with female hosts. Metal opens the show by vowing there will be no whining onstage, no boy bashing, just aggressively raunchy monologues by women who reserve the right to talk as dirty as male comics always have. "I've learned that my fans want to hear the filthy stuff," she says backstage before going on. "They want to hear what I can't say on the radio."

Metal doesn't break the audience in gently. It is evident that if they don't want to hear a woman discuss sex, sex toys, bodily fluids, bodily functions and sexual dysfunction, they might as well leave. Although she has promoted "Inside the Girls' Locker Room" on the air and through her e-mail network, some in the crowd came to the club unaware of the night's special program. Tourists curious about the L.A. comedy scene, couples who want some entertainment with their alcohol and a few groups of college students, all are willing to give the comedians a chance, even if they're as surprised by the estrogen-heavy roster as they'd be if they'd wandered into a real women's changing room. On a more typical night at the comedy club, the ratio of men to women comics is 8-1.

The pioneer women of stand-up--Joan Rivers, Totie Fields and Phyllis Diller--were consistently self-deprecatory. Then came Roseanne, whose angry, erotically blunt voice announced her arrival as the fierce domestic goddess. Metal manages to uphold those traditions, and to extend and tweak them in her own way. Although she confides she lost 120 pounds in the last year, she still considers herself overweight and long ago abandoned euphemisms for her size. When she describes her voracious sexual appetite and the lengths she'll go to satisfy it, the audience isn't sure whether she's kidding. She throws their prejudice right back at them. Having offered a group of good-looking young men cash for services she'd like them all to render, she says, "You think I wouldn't do that, just because I'm fat?" Her wicked grin answers her own question.

After Metal has explained to the audience that hormonal upsets are a scam perpetrated by women bent on getting their way from men, she asks, "Isn't this great? We're so informative."

The evening's message, if any, is truth, Metal believes. "It isn't about vulgarity or profanity, it's about women being honest and not caring if they sound sexy," she says. "The fantasy is that women who look like Pamela Anderson are hot, and they're the only ones who want sex all the time. There's a huge dichotomy between the women men fantasize about and who they get to be with. Most men want to [bed] Pamela Anderson, and they wind up having sex with women who look like me."

Metal does five minutes of material between each performer's 10-minute set. There's Sarah Silverman, whose cerebral, occasionally political brand of trash talk is delivered at a low decibel level; Rachel Bertrand, a wholesome Canadian who finds new ways to complain about the boyfriend who got away and her father's gift for inflicting humiliation. Topics overlap, but each woman is distinctive. Sunda, who goes by one name, does the only affectionate Cher impression. And there is no one quite like Lahna Turner, who accompanies herself on guitar as she sings original compositions guaranteed never to make it into any other troubadour's repertoire. (That circumstance could change if the demand for the ballad of a spermatozoon suddenly increased.)

This is not an open-mike night. Competition is heated for the Wednesday night spots at the Laugh Factory. Several of these comics have already appeared on late night television, although they're not yet national headliners like Margaret Cho or Rita Rudner. Despite Metal's promise, many of the performers aren't especially raunchy.

"I don't like to be dirty," says Sue Costello after her set. A petite, blond 33-year old with a Boston accent, she's been doing stand-up for 13 years. She's learned that a good act is as structured as a concerto. "It takes 10 years to figure out who you are onstage," she says. "When I started out, I needed the people to approve of me. Now I just enjoy myself, and when I'm in control, the crowd loves it."

Although much of Costello's routine is prepared, she isn't afraid to scrap it. She's talking to a quintet of college seniors sitting front and center when a man in the audience lobs a rude question. She knows if she doesn't take charge, he could turn into Mr. Heckleman, so she feigns shock, then focuses attention on him.

"What do you do?," she asks.

"I'm a journalist," he replies.

"Oh, really? Who do you work for?"

"I'm independent."

Costello has been given comic gold. "Oh, yeah," she tells the audience. "He's homeless. I'm independent too. I'm an independent superstar."

Having dispensed with the interruption, she returns to the students. The guys have come without dates, and they've already become stars of the evening. Pleasantly surprised by how pretty nearly all the comedians are, they didn't mind when Bertrand said they were cute. Or when Costello cooed at them, acknowledging their looks and the air of macho cool they exude.

But at the end of the evening, their highest praise is reserved for the last, least glamorous and crudest woman to take the stage: rookie Marilyn Martinez.

"She was gross," says Francisco Jordan, a 23-year-old UCLA student. "And really funny. I'm coming back next week."



Los Angeles Times Sunday, October 1, 2000

From Their Lives to Your Ears

Sam's the body. Sheena's the brain, and each has experienced a lot. But that's the appeal of their lighthearted talk show. (OK, it gets a little raunchy.)

By MIMI AVINS

All the rotten boyfriends, the mediocre sex and humiliating breakups, the descent into financial valleys and professional pits were all worth it, because now, at 33, Sheena and Sam are women with experience. Now that they have their own radio talk show, it seems that every moment of their personal histories, no matter how silly, sordid, sensual, or nearly unbelievable, happened for a purpose.
They can lean into the microphone at KLSX-FM, where they've built a following among the station's core 18- to 34-year-old, white, male audience, and share the details of their pasts with their listeners.

Yes, all you show biz dreamers, Sheena Metal and Samantha Phillips, the rather unlikely stars of "The Sheena and Sam Show," have listeners, whom they serve from a small, chilly mid-Wilshire studio a minimum of five hours a week. (They're also the station's pinch-hitters, filling in for other hosts frequently.) Followers send from 450 to 700 e-mails a week, and have created 30 fan sites on the Internet. They tune in for "The Sheena and Sam Show" at 97.1 from noon to 3 p.m. Saturday. The hard-core fans even stay up from 3 to 5 a.m. Sundays to hear more.

The recidivists in the audience have an easier time than a virgin listener. They've heard the duo characterize themselves as the Thelma and Louise of FM talk radio, a slogan that, if it needed to be parsed, would mean that they're two wacky girlfriends speeding down the highway of life. Even with a thumbnail description, it takes a while to figure out who's who. The comically disdainful woman who sounds eminently sane is Sheena, an overweight, Irish American stand-up comedian with a broad range of knowledge. The unabashed erotic adventuress who sounds like Fran Drescher, when her Brooklyn accent was thickest, is Sam, a former Penthouse centerfold who has elevated self-absorption to high art.
Or, as the women put it, "We're Sheena (big brain) and Sam (big breasts)."
Sam is so pretty, a slender, fine-boned blond who talks about her impressive breast implants as if they were favorite pieces of jewelry, that it's difficult to imagine her producing an obnoxious honk of a laugh that would be convincing coming from an asthmatic horse. But the laugh, along with a verbal tic that makes her insert the word "dude" at the beginning and end of nearly every sentence, are hers. Sheena has so skillfully mastered a seductive, mellifluous purr that no one would imagine her as a woman who's abandoned all euphemisms and simply calls herself fat. Listening to her puts you in a conversation with a friend who's just as informed and opinionated as you are, but, thankfully, no more so. You can enjoy her wit without having to feel either condescending or inferior.

On a Saturday afternoon, the topic that will accompany listeners on their rounds of errands is "Can married couples and single people be friends?" Sheena points out that sometimes jealousy is an obstacle. A husband might fear that his buddy has designs on his wife, for example. This observation prompts Sam to launch into a detailed schematic of who she'll sleep with: "Ex-boyfriends of my girlfriends--never!" She's given way more consideration than anyone would think possible to who goes into her "never," "maybe" and "sure, why not" columns, yet Sheena lets her continue, then finally punctuates Sam's earnest tutorial with a withering, "Thank you for sharing," that Sam finds hilarious. And before you know it, all that's left to do is pick up the cleaning.

Sam is a male fantasy and nightmare in one. She's the sexy stunner whom most men dream of having on their arm until, oh, no, she opens her mouth, creating aftershocks of embarrassment with every word. It's impossible to hear Sheena react to Sam without picturing her rolling her eyes. No matter what Sheena says, the implied message is, "Nooooo. She didn't really say that, did she?" They demonstrate the definition of a good team: Neither would be as effective without the other.

Their distinct personas go a long way to explaining the show's popularity. Among the talk listeners that advertisers covet most, adults 18 to 54, Sheena and Sam are consistently in the top 10 in their time period, according to Arbitron.
Like most of KLSX's lineup, "The Sheena and Sam Show" presents host monologues on specific topics, interspersed with listener phone calls. The more callers feel they know the hosts, or someone like them, the more likely they are to feel comfortable participating.

"Between Sheena and me, there's someone for everyone to identify with," Sam says. "Everyone has the slutty friend who's quirky and annoying, and everyone has the bigger friend who's smart and easy to talk to. Everyone has a sister like her or me, or a best friend like her or me, or has dated someone like her or me."
The mantra at KLSX, as stated by program director Jack Silver, is, "We're a rock station that doesn't play any music." That means it does talk radio with a music station's attitude. Let KABC's Dennis Prager or Larry Elder mine the philosophical depths of an issue. Sheena and Sam just toss it around with their fingertips, keeping it light as a bubble.

An appreciation that talk should primarily be entertaining and amusing rules the pace of the show, which Sheena's responsible for. "There's a reason why songs that are more than three or four minutes aren't on pop stations, and it's because they start to get boring," she says. "You kind of have to keep that in mind with talk too. If you ramble on, it becomes like a tedious instrumental song that goes on forever. You have to keep things tight, or you lose people. A station like ours isn't competing with a political talk station. We're competing with music, and it's fun to listen to music. So you have to make your talk so much fun that people would rather listen to you talk then push the button and hear the Goo Goo Dolls."
Just like a rock station, KLSX devotes considerable energy to self-promotion. "We're a touchy-feely radio station. On a daily basis, we put our on-air talent in face-to-face contact with the listeners," Silver says. Sheena and Sam, for example, hosted a "Survivor" finale-watching party at Santa Monica's Hooters that was packed with 700 fans.

Sheena's been told she has a body made for radio, which, for the irony-deficient, is not a compliment. You would think that the last place appearance would matter would be in radio. But not at this station, and not at this moment, when live Web simulcasts are beginning to transform the medium the way videos changed the music business.

"There's no way that I could have done a show without someone attractive on the team," Sheena says. "Because no one wants to come to a personal appearance to look at a bunch of ugly, fat people. It sounds horrible, but it's true. There is a vibe on the station's male shows about how people look. I hear the guys say, 'Don't date fat chicks,' and these guys are my buddies. So you always live with the way you look, and that's just life. It doesn't upset me. I don't care how people feel about me, because I feel great about me. I'm very honest about who I am. When I started the show, I thought, there's no way I'm not going to tell people I'm fat. There's only something wrong if you hide it."

The way Sheena and Sam trumpet their respective labels, as the smart, fat, funny girl, or the clumsy, dumb slut, makes their differences clear. Yet the pair are close friends off the show, and one suspects that they have more in common than ambition and humor. In fact, they share a seminal experience: Both of them, in different ways, at different times, by various people, have been underestimated.
"Oh, my God. Hugely," Sam confirms. "People just think I'm some pretty bimbo."
Sheena's version of being misjudged is: "People just think, what do you know about life, because you're a fat girl."

What the fat girl and the slut know about life comes out though, over and around the topics they address each hour on the air. Should a murderer be let out of prison because he's found God? Have you been the perpetrator or victim of road rage? (That subject prompts Sam to relate a messy tale of oral sex in a moving vehicle.) Why are so many women killing their children, and should hormonal upset be recognized as a defense? When it's hot, what do you do to stay cool? Instead of space exploration, what would you rather see the billion-dollar space budget spent on? Would you be happier if your body was better and you made more money? Can you teach a bad kisser how to kiss? After a first date, how long do you wait before making the next call? Have you ever had a full body massage? When you go to the beach, are you afraid of sharks? Should minors be given adult sentences when they've committed adult crimes? Who cheats more, men or women?

Got it? Issues in the news, some relationship-oriented stuff, a fascination with crime and punishment, some questions as banal as a conversation about the weather, and material that, with a little bit of luck, could turn the discourse dirty.
There's no shortage of trash talk on the station, the home of Howard Stern's show, and prurience could arguably be called its bread and butter. Sheena and Sam have the unique ability to talk about sex without being gross, perhaps because they don't leer.

"As a comedian, I've always felt that it doesn't matter how far you go, as long as it's still funny and interesting," Sheena says. "Everybody likes to get a little raunchy and hear dirty stuff. But when it becomes all filth and it's no longer funny, then I get offended and feel prudish and old. Third-graders can tell you about their bowel functions, but it's not interesting."

Their first show aired at 3 a.m. on Mother's Day 1999. The topic was: Have you ever been hot for your friend's Mom? That segued into: Have you ever done your friend's Mom? "It was our kind of irreverent Mother's Day show," Sheena says. They'd been told that 10 calls the first hour could be considered a successful response. Twenty-eight insomniacs called, then 37 in hour two. The volume of calls has increased steadily.

"In the beginning, two girls on the radio were a novelty, and the idea was guys could talk to us the way they'd talk to each other, because we were guys trapped in girls' bodies," Sheena explains. "Now, we're just two more hosts. Besides, the idea that all women can talk about is sex and relationships is so old. Our audience seems to have flopped on us--now they seem to like the issues more than the sex and relationship stuff."

Well, maybe, but Sam admits that "we can be in the middle of an in-the-news topic, and all I have to do is say something about my ass, God bless it, and the lines light up."

She isn't stingy with details of where that butt has been, although she is careful to point out that she's done B movies and soft-core porn, but nothing more explicit. A high school dropout, she left her Brooklyn home in her teens, and built a modeling and acting career, moving to L.A. in 1987.

"I'd been steadily working and pretty successful, and all of a sudden one year it dried up," Sam says. "No one had really warned me about the transition actors go through in their 20s when they stop going up for teen-aged roles. I could not get arrested. My commercial agent suggested that I go get [implants]. The minute I got implants, I started doing music videos, I did my Penthouse layout in June 1993, and that took me into a whole different arena of acting, one that required me to take off my clothes, because I now had something to show."

Sheena, born Jenny Sherwin, grew up in Huntington Beach and the San Fernando Valley, left junior college and dabbled in stand-up comedy, public-access cable shows, writing music and lyrics, and singing with a band. Persistent and fearless, she landed her first radio job six years ago. She was co-hosting a late night show on KLSX with the radio personality known as the Nastyman when Sam showed up, promoting a Showtime series, "Hot Springs Hotel," in which Sam starred. Sam was a good guest, and when she was repeatedly invited back, her rapport on-air with Sheena, and their friendship off, grew. When Nastyman was fired and Sheena was out of work, Sam suggested they do a radio show together.

Sheena remembers, "She kept on saying, 'Come on. Let's do the two girl thing.' I thought nobody wants two women on the radio. Nobody even wants one woman. I couldn't even get a man to pick me up as a co-host. Women in radio are still very cold, if you think about how many women are on the air compared to men. Most of the women on radio are giving advice, like the sex therapists and psychologists."

Not anymore. KLSX is committed to building Sheena and Sam's act. "The trouble with pure radio people is they've never done anything but sit in a studio," program director Silver says. "I can teach people to repeat the station's call letters after every break, but I can't give them personalities. Sheena and Sam have them, and they're terrific."

What their next moves should be, after their dream of the show becoming nationally syndicated comes true, is a favorite subject. Sheena is enjoying the show's success but says she'd be equally happy to get back to writing. Sam, who still acts and juggles such other gigs as being a reporter on a Playboy Channel show, is surprised by her dedication to talking.

"Dude, I love nothing more than being on the radio," she says. "For me, to find the radio and not have to care about how I'm dressed . . . or whether I've gained 10 pounds, because the only thing I'm being judged on is my voice, my wit and my humor, I dig it. It's weird. If you've always been appreciated for your voice, your wit, your humor, like Sheena, it's not such an odd thing. Sheena, imagine if all of a sudden people started worshiping your body. You'd be like, wow."

Sheena looks like she tuned out several "dudes" ago. She says, "On my tombstone they're going to put: I'm just waiting for Sam to finish."