It was Friday night at the AllWays Lounge, and the women were making each other laugh.

Under fluffy cotton-batting clouds hanging from the ceiling, comedians from the Black Girl Giggles Comedy Festival worked through their sets — discursive, often hilarious riffs on the peculiarities of contemporary life: the appropriate timing and etiquette for receiving a dick pic; passive-aggressive prayers from the neighborhood church lady; Snapchat filters with the occult power to make ugly babies look cute. There were jokes that killed, jokes that fell flat, goofy stoner-y refrains from the host. There also were darker, more transgressive jokes, including bits on drinking too much or how Sleeping Beauty got “Bill Cosbyed,” plus one showstopping, big-voiced musical number about unwittingly having sex with your second or third cousin. (New Orleans is a small town.)

They were funny the way women are funny when they’re alone together — the raunchy, confessional, no-holds-barred jokes made between sisters or best friends, the kind that can make you wipe your eyes or pee your pants a little. But here those jokes were at a mic — uninterrupted, amplified. Shows like this are part of a project Black Girl Giggles Vice President and founding member Geneva Joy says is all about expanding definitions.

“When you say a black woman comic, people expect that Def (Comedy) Jam, ComicView comic," Joy says. "… [But] black women are diverse. We’re just as different as everybody else, but we don’t get a chance for that. And then you get on a comedy stage, we get even less of a chance for that.

“We give black women in comedy space to just be themselves, that they don’t get anywhere else.”

Beginning July 4, the Black Girl Giggles Comedy Festival is returning for its second year. The growing lineup of events includes stand-up shows, sketch and improv, as well as networking functions, spotlighting the work of both local and touring black women comedians.

Members say this year’s fest will be much more deliberate than the inaugural event, which came together almost by accident after Joy was supposed to get a gig during Essence Festival that fell through.

At that time, the collective was just forming. Women comics including Black Girl Giggles founding member and President Camille Roane and founding members Ashleigh Branch and Shep Kelly had seen each other around the New Orleans comedy scene, which Branch says skewed white and male when she began going to open mics in late 2015. Taking a note from comedian and actress Tiffany Haddish — who told Joy she should find some women comics to hang out with — the group connected on Facebook and began getting together for hangouts, potlucks and the occasional show. It was then that they began discussing a takeover of open mics whose hosts go out of town during Essence Fest.

“(Joy said) ‘Let’s do a festival in July,’” Branch says. “I was like, that’s awesome. You mean July of this year? Because it’s April.”

That off-the-cuff fest turned out to be much bigger than they expected. They thought there had been a technical glitch when one show received hundreds of RSVPs on Eventbrite, and mistook a huge crowd at the festival’s first show at Lucky’s as overflow from a popular trivia night. “We kept showing up to the shows and being like, there are people here who aren’t our moms and our friends?” Roane says.

But the fest's success led to monthly shows, social media groups that act as an entree to New Orleans comedy for both local and out-of-town black women comics and a bigger and more organized festival this year.

The schedule of several nights of events includes some nights with multiple shows, national acts Queen Aishah and Nikki Carr, a show with all-black female improv troupe group Damn Gina and a version of the popular Comic Strip show with black burlesque (and, potentially, boylesque) dancers.

Branch, a former Division I basketball player, says this year is all about outdoing the last one.

“I’m predicting that this will be a good year. It’s a lot going on, we’re doing a lot more,” she says. “What I’m looking forward to most in this festival is just seeing other women shine. It’s great to see [that], be it through their creativeness onstage or be it through the beads of sweat on their face.”

Talking to the group, it quickly becomes clear what they mean about their differences outweighing their similarities, particularly when it comes to their comedic work. Branch is a somewhat PG-rated comedian who uses her sets to riff on the absurdities of Disney movies or the brain fog that comes with being the mom to three small children. (“This is your brain on kids,” she quips.) Roane began doing comedy as a way to blow off steam around the time of the last presidential election, and she’s often booked to tell jokes about race and sex at benefits for local progressive-leaning organizations. Joy says that despite her optimistic disposition and a personal love of glitter, her comedic persona is a “surly” woman with a “filthy, horrible mouth. … I don’t know who that woman is.”

“[Our comedy is] not just women talking about women stuff," Branch says. "Some of us are married, some of us are single moms, some of us are queer. … Everybody has a different background, which is what makes our comedy different."

But where they agree is what they’ve gained from being part of a group that celebrates and elevates the work of black women comedians specifically, who work in a medium that is sometimes said to be unfriendly to women of color. Black women can have trouble breaking through to national audiences or getting their work recognized as groundbreaking — Roane gives the example of a recent interview that held up Amy Schumer’s blue humor as trailblazing, when black women comedians such as Jackie "Moms" Mabley had been working in that style for decades — or have trouble finding a foothold when their act isn’t quite what people expect.

“The box for black women is very small, and the box for black women creatives is even smaller,” Joy says.

With its festival, as well as monthly and one-off shows in New Orleans and in neighboring states such as Mississippi, Florida and Texas, the group offers a counterweight. Its members try to secure stages for touring black women performers while connecting local comedians with a group of creative colleagues and friends, who often serve as an informal sisterhood, watching each other’s kids or bringing soup when someone is sick — as well as cheering when someone gets on the mic for the first time or is booked for a prestigious gig.

“[It’s] a stereotype that women can’t get along, that we bicker and we’re catty and we’re going to compete with each other. And we literally all want to be … famous comedians, but we get along swimmingly,” Roane says. “It’s a work relationship, but even better, because there’s friendship within the collective.”

“It’s Black Girl Giggles that makes me believe maybe [a comedy career] is possible,” Joy says.

Having the support of the group also makes it possible to take bigger risks. In comedy, big failures during performances are par for the course. As Roane says, this means there can be more valleys than peaks.

“When you go to open mics, you see people who suck," Joy says. "Just flat-out, some people suck. … I try to tell that to the new women who want to start. We’re not always good, we’re not always funny, audiences aren’t always the right audience for you, and you just keep going up [onstage].”

“Having someone who can hug you after a bad set, or give you a note, or honestly someone just buying you a shot after, that just means everything,” Roane adds.

The New Orleans comedy scene is growing, with different venues hosting shows and bigger touring acts coming through town. Black Girl Giggles comics say building their fest here largely has been a positive experience. Joy says the local comedy community is unusually progressive and supportive, which sometimes prompts visiting comics to comment on its lack of a cutthroat atmosphere.

But she still feels like Black Girl Giggles has changed the tenor of what one hears at open mics in town for the better by incorporating more diverse voices and cutting back on punching-down jokes that stray past funny and into offensive. It’s an effect she says is heightened by the fact that New Orleans women — both inside the group and beyond it — consistently turn in the funniest performances.

“If you’ve got [comedians Mary-Devon Dupuy and Laura Sanders] sitting there, and me, Camille [Roane] and Shep [Kelly], and you get on that stage and you tell a dumb anti-feminist joke or a dumb black joke, like, you can’t. Cause we’re here, we’re [onstage] either before you or after you, and we’re going to destroy you,” she says. “They can’t tell those jokes anymore, because we’re at the table now.”

Joy says part of what she hopes the group will do is “nourish other women in comedy,” creating opportunities and becoming a springboard to bigger things. She’d like to see Comedy Central executives in the front row at their shows at next year’s festival, while Branch hopes their work will serve as a role model for young women living in New Orleans.

“I would love [Black Girl Giggles] to be something that little girls see, and maybe not [become] a comedian, but maybe just be something out of the ordinary, be something off the beaten path. ’Cause especially around here, a lot of girls see very limited things," Branch says.

“The disparities that women have with men, may become shorter and shorter, the more we support each other. … Maybe that’s a kumbaya thought I have, but why not?”


GET THE GIGGLES

Wed. July 4

Fourth of July Throwdown, 7 p.m.

Lucky’s Bar

1625 St. Charles Ave., (504) 523-6538; www.facebook.com/luckysbarnola

Stand-up comedians perform.

Thu. July 5

#Takeover at Comedy Gumbeaux, 8:30 p.m.

Howlin’ Wolf Den

907 S. Peters St. (504) 529-5844; www.thehowlinwolf.com/the-den.html

Stand-up comedians perform.

Fri. July 6

Black Girl Giggles Unleashed featuring Nikki Carr, 8 p.m.

Cafe Istanbul

2372 St. Claude Ave., (504) 975-0286; www.cafeistanbulnola.com

Stand-up comedians perform.

The Comedy Shakedown feat. Queen Aishah, 10:30 p.m.

House of Blues

225 Decatur St., (504) 310-4999; www.houseofblues.com/neworleans

Stand-up comedians perform, and there’s a dance party.

Sat. July 7

Sketch and Improv on these Heauxs feat. Damn Gina, 6 p.m.

Hi-Ho Lounge

2239 St. Claude Ave., (504) 945-4446; www.hiholounge.net

The show features sketch and improv comedy.

Comic Strip, 9 p.m.

Siberia

2227 St. Claude Ave., (504) 265-8855; www.siberialounge.com

There are burlesque and stand-up comedy performances.

Sun. July 8

Daiquiri D, 6 p.m.

AllWays Lounge

2240 St. Claude Ave., (504) 218-5778; www.theallwayslounge.net

Stand-up comedians perform.

Mon. July 9

Pervirgin feat. Nkechi Chibueze, 7 p.m.

Cafe Istanbul

2372 St. Claude Ave., (504) 975-0286; www.cafeistanbulnola.com

Chibueze wrote and peforms in the one-woman show.