Sheena Featured in the Los Angeles Times!
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
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?"
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."
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.
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.
"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."
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."
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."
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.
"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
"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."