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Penn alumnus and SNL cast member Vanessa Bayer spoke at a panel earlier on Saturday before her appearance at LaughtHERfest, Penn's first-ever women in comedy event. | Courtesy of Julia Pan

In anticipation for Saturday Night Live’s Vanessa Bayer and other big names in comedy, over 830 people crowded into Irvine Auditorium last Saturday evening for Penn’s first LaughtHERfest.

College senior Laura Petro’s brainchild LaughtHERfest is the first comedy festival that Penn’s all-female comedy group Bloomers has ever planned. It drew celebrities, both Penn graduates and not, like Bayer, Aparna Nancherla and Michelle Wolf as well as other college comedy groups. The event focused on bringing attention to the role of women in comedy.

“Most of the comedy events I’ve been to are almost all men,” Petro said. “We want to empower and inspire women interested in the field.”

The festival included a morning panel with Bayer and Julie Kraut, writer on “Odd Mom Out.” Both graduated Penn in 2004, and the two have been friends since their days in Bloomers. Bayer had entered Penn as a biology major, but ended up majoring in communication with plans for a career in comedy.

“I enjoyed [Bloomers] so much,” Bayer said at the panel. “I hadn’t found anything like that except for school. I didn’t know what it was like to really enjoy and feel like you were excelling at something.”

The panel was followed by stand-up and improvisation workshops, which were capped off by the the all-female evening performance. Students performers included Penn’s Simply Chaos, Columbia’s Chowdah Sketch Comedy, Columbia and Barnard’s Control Top and Low Cut Comedy.

“Naturally, something like this will draw more women, but I think it says something good that there are men here,” College sophomore Sam Myers-Dineen said.

LaughtHERfest seems even more relevant with the recent social media whirlwind over the Vanity Fair spread, “Why Late-Night Television Is Better Than Ever,” which depicted predominantly white male comedians. At the panel, Kraut had spoken about being a women, whether in comedy or in the corporate world.

“Being a woman in general, you’re just not a rich, white man,” Kraut said. “You’re working against the grain. Sometimes you feel it really acutely.”

The event was supported by a successful Kickstarter campaign that raised $9,501 as well as a grant from the Trustees’ Council of Penn Women.

“This is fabulous,” founding member of Bloomers and TCPW member Cindy Levy said. “This is exactly what TCPW wants to be involved with — women who are funny and talented and cheer for other women.”

The number of attendees exceeded expectations, according to Bloomers Business Manager Emma Soren, who is a senior in the College. The group ended up opening the Irvine balcony and running out of the tickets they had printed before the show.

“It was really good timing at the beginning of the year. It was the first big show of the year at Penn,” Soren said.

After all the costs of the event are covered, some of the remaining money will be set aside for a future LaughtHERfest, and the rest will be donated to a local non-profit supporting women in the arts, according to Petro.

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