Accordion to Tenuta You All Are Sex Slaves
When a female comic performs she is breaking gender norms. Her mere presence onstage asks the audience to do away with stereotypical binaries of male strength and female weakness. Thirty years ago, Judy Tentua—who’ll be performing in Albuquerque at Embassy Suites (1000 Woodward NE) on May 9—was pioneering a new kind of female comic. Part of a new wave of female comics that didn’t just implicitly break stereotypes by purely existing, she aggressively delved into taboo topics of sex and feminism.
In the late ’80s, Tenuta was a consumable and mildly mainstream, friendly version of the sex-positive feminist revolution. She was mainstream enough to score a Dr. Pepper ad campaign but still revolutionary with her brass attitude and absurd, erotic performances. Her slightly ironic self-proclaimed titles of “Love Goddess” and “Aphrodite of the Accordion” heightened her onstage character. Tentua had sass. She adorned herself with flowing dresses in a classic Greek style to accentuate her role as goddess. Fluctuating the pitch of her voice up and down octaves, Tenuta would regularly declare the audience her sex slaves, calling them “stud puppets” and “pigs.”
Tenuta toured regularly with the legendary and oftentimes controversial George Carlin. Unlike Paula Poundstone and Rita Rudner, both very successful comedians of the same era, Tenuta didn’t confine herself to observational humor and puns. At this time, the US was arguing about the public persona of the female, which of course included sexuality, and here was Tenuta amidst it all talking about her IUD. When Tenuta went on stage and publically expressed her sexuality, it was rebellious and groundbreaking. Tenuta’s work remains relevant because women comedians who have the gall to be openly sexual, like Amy Shumer for example, are still shamed in some ways. Female comics today owe her some gratitude.
Genevieve Mueller is a writer and comedian living in Albuquerque. She performs all over the country and runs two monthly shows sin Albuquerque: Comedians Power Hour and The Comedy Storytelling Show at La Tortuga Gallery. More information can be found at genevievemuellercomedy.com or on Twitter: @fromthefloorup.