The Comedic Odyssey of Danielle Arce
Like many successful entertainers Danielle Arce began training early in High School theater. "I always wanted to be an actor and loved performing. Improv games were my favorite. I wanted them to pick comedic plays." After that it was time to hit up Hollywood. "I decided to move to Los Angeles, took acting for film classes, improv classes, got an agent, and spent $200 for the Ted Talk."
Success doesn't happen in a microsecond, so after spending money on headshots, additional instruction, and comedy classes at the Upright Citizens Brigade theater, it was time for a transition. "I was fed up with spending money," she says. Arce had a friend who offered her an opportunity to do an open mic. "I wasn't very good." She didn't bomb, but she didn't succeed, either. "It wasn't what I was used to doing. My performance was very rehearsed."
This didn't deter Arce and she kept it up, devoting her mind, time and energy creating jokes audiences could relate to. The comedic stars she grew up with, like Joan Rivers, Pablo Francisco, and Dave Chapelle, provided inspiration. She continued studying film acting while going to open mics to improve her craft.
"I had a bad experience with a male who turned me off to comedy," Arce says. The stand-up comic running the show had strong opinions about show business, despite common sense and history. He asked her, "Are you an actor or comedian? You either do one or the other." The harassment continued until Arce decided that the venture was useless. "I focused on acting and didn't do stand-up for a year."
Many amateurs don't understand that the line has blurred between comedians and actors, due to the influence of Hollywood improv and comedic film acting. Arce agrees. "We need an Oscar when it comes to comedy."
After many film classes, auditions, callbacks, and professional Hollywood jobs Arce ended up getting coffee with an old stand-up comic friend of hers who encouraged her to return. Later, during an audition for a comedy series, the casting directors noticed her experience and asked her to give them four minutes of humor. "I was feeling weird. It was like a sign from the universe."
Arce took the challenge. "I haven't done this in so long," she said to the room full of producers and executives. The results were encouraging. "I went for it. There were only four people in the room." She recalled some old jokes, gave a performance, and remembered the magic. "The project fell through, but there was this feeling I was supposed to do comedy."
Her advice for anyone creating humor is to keep it basic. "First, write jokes that are male, female, non-binary, and any gender. Write jokes that make you laugh." Arce admits she's found a simple byline when it comes to creating jokes. "I think other people will think this is funny." This makes her material, after years of writing for audiences, "More genuine and more true."
Many beginning female comedians try to be orginal, only to create material that just plays to stereotypes. "Your period, sex, genitals...anytime you bring up something vulgar, that's shock humor. Write what's true to you." When Arce sees female comedians being gross without a real joke to back it up, her thought is, "She's trying too hard. Be genuine."
That doesn't mean they shouldn't turn something private into comedy. "If you want to tell a story about your crazy menstrual cycle, and there is a crazy, funny story for you to talk about, don't be afraid. Go for it." Arce advises that humor comes from within. "Listen to the voice inside your head."
There's a big problem women interested in doing comedy who are new to Hollywood will have to be aware of: horny heterosexual male stand-up comics. Her message to other women? "Female comics should be careful. #MeToo hasn't gotten rid of shit."
After many toxic experiences, Arce enjoys helping others. "I teach female stand up comics about sexual harassment and rape prevention. Going against your instincts is bad. Don't be afraid to say no." The same goes for sleazy males that offer a spot on the lineup for favors. "If you feel that somebody has the motives, thank them for the offer." Remember your instincts. "If you don't feel comfortable, bring a friend," she says.
In the Hollywood film business, appearances are all. This obsession with beauty puts a lot of pressure on performers, especially female stand-up comics when a male is hosting the show. "So many times they say something sexual," Arce says. "They'll say that the next comic is so beautiful, or so lovely, or this next beautiful lady. When you bring me up, don't mention looks."
What's it like to perform for people as a female in a male-dominated paradigm? "I think it depends," she says. When it comes to conservative small crowds in some parts of America, "I have to come out strong. Step my game up." Arce isn't afraid to shove feminism down throats.
"One time I made fun of a male comic that performed before me who told sex stories the entire set." Every sex story ended with a woman as the butt of the joke. So Arce adjusted his attitude by pointing out how greasy his face looked, and went on to other visual traits. "I have a hard time believing he got laid," she told the audience. The crowd roared.
For many females working in Hollywood, self degradation can be like good heroin, seducing women with the possibility of success as it corrodes their spirit. "I'll make fun of myself," Arce says. She just does it from a position of strength. "Feel the energy. Rowdier crowds mean you should do crowd work. Being in the moment is important. Point out the women in the audience and relate to them. Be true to yourself. Don't be afraid," she says.
That doesn't mean she hasn't experienced fear. "There have been sexual harassment issues," Arce warns. This also includes violence. "I was once afraid that a male stand-up comic would put hands on me." The man had been degrading women the entire set. This is a common trope with some comics. Some pretend to be a woman masturbating onstage, just for the laughs. Others do far worse, including degrading jokes about wives or having sex with women.
Once Arce suggested he try telling jokes that were more funny and less misogynistic, it got dangerous. "He told me to shut up or he would kick my ass." The man also called her a bitch in front of the audience. "There were a lot of people there, but out of all of them nobody tried to stop him." He threatened to beat her ass in the parking lot. She got away, but the danger continued. "He went on to stalk me at two different shows."
Arce is aware of the pressures an average female deals with in a male dominated, image-obsessed society, and her comedy reflects it. One example is body hair. Why does modern media insist a naked woman look like a dolphin? "I firmly believe it is more than ok for a woman to have her body hair grown out. If it's ok for men to do it, what makes it different for women?"
She knows that corporations are just using the issue to make money. "Society has made us believe that women should be hairless, and it's mostly because of razor companies, for profit. For many females, the burden of shaving everything, always, is not realistic. "Removing our body hair regularly doesn't make sense to me. Also, waxing is expensive and painful. Laser hair removal is very expensive and isn't always permanent. And, no matter what, why would I want to waste my time and money on something that is completely unnecessary?"
The uneven standards are obvious. "If men have a right to grow out a soul patch," Arce says, "we should absolutely have a right to grow out our own body hair." Women have a right to choose, without pressure from the patriarchy. "I just think that instead of expecting women to stop our bodies from doing something naturally, just accept it. I am happily engaged to a man who embraces it and encourages me to do what I want. My body, my choice!"
While it's possible to face a horde of antifeminists, Arce isn't afraid to fight if hate is in the air. "It adds fuel to my fire." Arce has a strategy. When dealing with a rough, misogynistic audience, make it a conversation. Find your allies. "Riff with them. Relate to the women in the audience." It's an energy. "Put out what you get back." This includes not just stage presence but owning who you are. "Be vulnerable," she says, while at the same time being confident. It's a balancing act. "In the beginning," she says about performing stand-up, "I cared too much."
Like many other people, Arce suffered during the pandemic lockdown. Dedicated comics used to performing every night ended up home alone for months. "Workaholic anxiety and depression ate me alive. My fiance was strong mentally. He wasn't as bad as I was. In the beginning I had several nervous breakdowns." To cope, she put the work in online. "Podcasts, Zoom, Skype...I still did comedy. I also took a private course with a producer on how to pitch television shows."
With life going back to normal, the young comedian isn't afraid to share her wisdom with other females interested in performing the art of stand-up comedy. "If any women are nervous, look me up." Arce says a direct message on Instagram or to her email address is all that's required. "I will support you, 100%."
You can find out more about this brilliant female comedian, and where to see her perform live, at www.daniellearce.com. Aside from being on Instagram and YouTube, Arce has an incisive podcast about Latinos percieved as whites by modern society, and what it feels to be like one of them, on "Secret Minorities" available on Apple, Amazon and Spotify.
Words: Jasen T. Davis