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Called 'a Kinder, Gentler Joan Rivers,' Comic Jenny Jones Makes Feminist Sport of Men in a Show for Women Only

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Give stand-up comic Jenny Jones a microphone, and no man is safe. She’s got something to say about dating married men (“They don’t admit they’re married, then they show up in a Winnebago with a swing set on top”), bald men (the ones with comb-overs she refers to as “drapeheads”) and even Catholic men (“He asks me, ‘Am I the first one?’ and I answer, ‘Yeah, today’ “).

But despite Jones’s gender-bashing, the men in her audiences never heckle or complain. Heck, they don’t even exist. At Jones’s shows, all males—be they patrons, bartenders, band members or waiters—are banned for the duration by her decree. “Something happens when it’s all women,” says Jones. “Women by nature are very open with each other—there’s a nice feeling in the room.”

Nice enough to have made Jones and her Girls’ Night Out routine a sellout in comedy clubs in the 15 cities she has played this year. The 43-year-old former singer is now fielding offers for everything from a Girls’ Night Out album to a talk show. “I get a call a day to tape the show as a special,” says Jones, who in 1986 became the only woman to win the Star Search grand prize for comedy.

Of course, not everyone’s laughing. There was grumbling about sex discrimination—but no legal charges filed—in Seattle and Denver and, after a Boston brouhaha, the ads for Jones’s show were changed from “No Men Allowed” to “For Women Only.” But the comedian insists her show is not antimale. “Mostly it’s a lot of positive feedback about women being women,” she says. “They like to gripe about their husbands, but they’re really happy with them. There’s really very little hostility that comes out in the show.”

Some of the funniest parts of a Jones performance are unscripted. Like the time in Denver when she asked if anyone had ever actually found her G-spot: One woman raised her hand and, at Jones’s urging, drew a map and passed it around the room. At a show in L.A., a 75-year-old grandmother voiced her pet peeve: men who exaggerate the size of their appliances. “From a younger woman, that wouldn’t have been as funny,” says Jones. “But from her, the audience just died.”

Offstage, Jones says she has nothing against men; her father, in fact, was one. The younger daughter of John and Sophie Stronski, who jointly ran a wedding gown shop in London, Ont., Jones left home at 17 to play drums in a rock band. By 20, she had changed her last name and formed her own group, Jenny Jones and the Cover Girls. “My father thought I was going straight to hell,” she says. Instead, she went to Las Vegas—which, from her father’s point of view, was not necessarily an improvement.

She got her first break when she was picked to fill in as one of Wayne Newton’s backup singers and later worked as his vocal arranger before moving to L.A. to start a dance band. Between songs, Jones discovered a latent talent for telling jokes, and eventually decided to devote herself to comedy. After a few years of honing her act—during which she paid the rent by working as an office manager and competing on game shows—she found success opening on tour for Dionne Warwick, Sammy Davis Jr. and the Pointer Sisters. Then last fall, Jones came up with the idea for Girls’ Night Out. “It wasn’t a major revelation,” she says. “But one day I thought, ‘I wonder if I could just do a show and see if women could talk about these things.’ ” Her first attempt, preceded by a small ad in the local paper, sold out 250 seats in a club in her hometown. “After that,” she says, “I realized it was a pretty good idea.”

Off the road, Jones shares a two-bedroom Sherman Oaks condo with her fiancé, Denis McCallion, 41, a film location manager. To the obvious question, McCallion replies, “She isn’t as strident at home. When she performs, she has a little more aggression.” It helps, perhaps, that McCallion is something of a romantic: He proposed to Jones under the Eiffel Tower, secretes love notes in her luggage when she travels, and says, “This is the lady I plan to spend the rest of my life with—take care of, love and cherish and all those wonderful things.” When the two get time together, they mostly spend it relaxing at home in front of the television or over dinner. “Because of what Jenny does for a living, the least favorite thing on our schedule is to go out,” says McCallion. Although he has seen Jones’s earlier stand-up routines, one thing he definitely doesn’t do is take in her Girls’ Night Out show. “I’m not so sure Jenny would like the idea,” he says. “That’s part of the mystique.”

—Cynthia Sanz, Kristina Johnson in Los Angeles