This week’s edition of the Joy Beat goes right to one of the primary sources of joy: laughter.

Making people laugh is something Boston University student Avery Lender has been doing for quite some time now. At just 11 years old, she took to the stand-up stage and dazzled audiences enough to even have a children’s book written about her called “Made You Laugh: Stand-Up Comedy for Kids.”

Now, at 21, she has not only continued to grow her stand-up career on the Boston and New York comedy scenes, but she’s head of BU’s standup comedy club and actively recruiting more women into the comedy world that’s infamously been labeled as a boys’ club. Lender joined All Things Considered host Arun Rath to discuss her experience in the spotlight. What follows is a lightly edited transcript.

Arun Rath: I know Eddie Murphy started young, but 11 years old is kind of amazing. What motivated you to want to get up on a comedy stage — which is a pretty vulnerable place for anybody, let alone an 11-year-old?

Avery Lender: Yeah, 11 is definitely pretty young, but I always say that my parents were kind of seasoning me to do comedy before I was even born. My parents watched a lot of [the adult cartoon show] “Beavis and Butt-Head” when I was in the womb, so I feel like this was always where things were going to go.

But I definitely fell in love with comedy super young. I would make my parents stay up with me so I could watch Conan [O’Brien] late at night when I was, like, 9 or 10. When I first was learning how to read, what I really wanted to read was autobiographies of comedians. I even just found recently a mood board I made when I was maybe 10 years old that just had a bunch of different faces of comedians — and a huge Mel Brooks quote in the middle. So, I feel like it was something I’ve always loved.

I was definitely a class clown, an overconfident middle schooler, which I don’t think a lot of middle school girls can say. And I was also very lucky to grow up in New York City, where there were more opportunities for comedy. Once I discovered stand-up and realized it was something that was possible, I was begging my parents to let me take a class and try doing comedy. I think it was always kind of in the cards, but I was totally pushing for it as well.

Rath: You know, I’ve talked to a lot of comedians, but I don’t think I’ve ever covered prenatal comedic development in any of the conversations.

You’re talking about a lot of the influences that were already on you at the age of 11. That’s pretty sophisticated adult humor that it seems you were into at an early age.

Lender: Absolutely. I mean, again, growing up in New York City, you definitely mature at a different rate. My parents will hate me for saying this, but I did have some pretty lax access to the internet as a child where I was able to watch all of these stand-up videos.

I definitely started out watching, maybe, less adult humor. I really loved Jim Gaffigan when I was little, who is pretty infamous for having clean, family-style humor. So it’s not all super dirty stuff, but I definitely was watching some things I shouldn’t have when I was younger. But it paid off in the end because [I found] a lot of really good influences in comedy, even if they were a little too mature for me at the time.

A young woman is standing in front of a crowd, speaking into a microphone in front of a sign for the West Side Comedy Club
Avery Lender, now 21, takes her stand-up to Boston and New York stages when she’s not doing schoolwork at Boston University.
Courtesy of Avery Lender

Rath: There have long been stories about horrendous sexism in the stand-up comedy world, and it’s really only been in the last several years that we’ve learned in horrific detail how bad it is in some quarters. Having come up in the last 10 years and being a young woman — I know you’ve talked about sexism in the comedy scene — what was it like for you coming up in that environment?

Lender: Starting so young, I was sheltered in a sense. When I would go on stage, I wasn’t really getting heckled that badly as a 12-year-old, especially when I had braces and I broke my ankle and was on crutches for a while. So I wasn’t really facing any negativity in that sense.

But I think I always recognized, as a woman, that this would be different for me. Especially when I was younger, you’re really shaping who you are and your personality, and being surrounded by so many men, I think before I knew better, I adopted some of those traits and let a lot of things slide that today I wouldn’t — because I wanted to be in that boys’ club so badly. And I wanted to have these opportunities, I didn’t want them to be lost to me because people that I was annoying or, you know, stuff like that.

"I think the amazing thing for women in comedy is that we always look out for each other, and there's so much community there."
Avery Lender, BU student and stand-up comedian

I was also really lucky to have some amazing comedy mentors. Some older women in the scene looked after me and told me certain things are okay and not okay. One woman, in particular, is named Lynn Harris, who actually started an organization called GOLD Comedy to try and encourage more women and non-binary people to get involved. I was there when she started that from day one, which really just encouraged me more.

More women need to be in this field because just being in comedy has brought me every single opportunity I’ve gotten in my life, and I’m so grateful. I want to pay that back now to the younger generation. But I think the amazing thing for women in comedy is that we always look out for each other, and there’s so much community there. As you get older, you don’t fall back to some of the sexism that you may have before — and you learn how to refute it and know that that’s actually the right thing to do. You’ll still be included. You’ll still get booked and [get] opportunities, even if you don’t let that stuff slide.

Rath: For your art and for your performance, do you work the bad experiences into your comedy?

Lender: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, everything that I’ve faced, all the negativity, all the sexism, has just made me a stronger comedian. I got to host my own open mic over the summer, where I would be kind of giving advice to a group of 25- to 55-year-old male comics. You know, if you can make a good job about anything, people will laugh at it at the end of the day.

Rath: Tell us a bit more about the Ask Avery column. What are some of the biggest pieces of advice that you give to young women in comedy?

Lender: So the Ask Avery column is more of me being a “big sister” type — your comedy big sister — and giving you the advice that I wish that I had. So, you know, maybe separating your love life and your comedy life, how to respond to sexism at open mics — and maybe to bring another female comic or female friend with you to always bounce material off of each other, and just have someone to support you when you go to these shows.

Also, just take some mental health breaks from comedy because creative burnout is definitely real, so it can get exhausting at times. But I always think, “Oh, it would have been so nice if someone told me to take breaks” and not have to feel like you have to be super funny in your personal life, as well.