NEW YORK -- The midst of a global pandemic might seem like an odd time to launch a radio channel devoted to female comedians, but executives at SiriusXM believe that it's precisely the right time.
Listenership at the satellite radio company's eight current comedy channels has been up, and the company feels that it is filling a need with people stuck at home.
The channel, dubbed She's So Funny, debuts Wednesday at 7 a.m. Eastern — the morning of April Fool's Day, naturally.
“We have a lot of people who are very scared,” said Scott Greenstein, president and chief content officer at SiriusXM. “You have a lot of people who want to feel OK in a difficult time, to have a little humor and try to laugh.”
The number of people listening to SiriusXM's comedy channels online this year is up 80% over last year, said the company, which doesn't have ratings for the satellite portion of its distribution. That's through March 22, which includes a little bit of the shut-in period.
Greenstein said Sirius has suffered no service interruptions due to the virus outbreak that has forced many employees to work at home.
“We've been lucky,” he said. “We did a fair amount of planning through the years.”
SiriusXM also announced that starting Tuesday, it is opening up streams of all of its programming for free online, through May 15, as a gesture to people at home because of the virus.
Among the current Sirius comedy channels are ones featuring the works of Kevin Hart, George Carlin, Jeff Foxworthy and Larry the Cable Guy. There's a “raw” channel for comics who work blue and a clean one for those who don't. The She's So Funny channel is an outgrowth of a listener survey revealing people wanted to hear more from women, said Jack Vaughn, senior vice president of comedy at Sirius.
Much of the material will be culled from recorded routines by the likes of Moms Mabley, Joan Rivers, Amy Schumer, Wanda Sykes, Tig Notaro and Whoopi Goldberg. The channel will also showcase emerging talent like Rachel Feinstein and Jo Firestone.
Interviews or specially-made messages will come from Aidy Bryant, Amy Schumer, Pamela Adlon, the Original Queens of Comedy and others in the first week.
There's a real renaissance now in comedy done by women, Vaughn said.
“The talent is going to speak for itself,” he said. “There's just a lot of good stand-up out there today. More so, I'd say, than at any point in human history.”
Comic Kathleen Madigan said the new channel could give important exposure to many comedians. What she doesn't want is for SiriusXM to use the channel to essentially put female comics in a box and reduce their exposure on other channels.
“I don't think they'd do that because they still need us for the other channels,” Madigan said. “They still need Wanda Sykes and Margaret Cho.”
She hopes that She's So Funny will give exposure to comedians from outside of the United States. Madigan is also encouraging young comics to not wait until they have an hour's worth of material to record something; instead, they should submit a 15-minute tape of their best material to the channel.
SiriusXM considered naming the channel Women Aren't Funny, a sly commentary on the sexist slur hurled at some female comics. It was decided that irony wouldn't work well in that environment.
Wise move, Madigan said.
Her worst encounter with sexism in the business came when she took part in a television special featuring female comedians. It was taped in a club named “Bimbo's,” she said.
Most of the time, she said, “you just roll your eyes.”