Hello Folks! I hope you are well- here is a feature article I wrote a couple of months ago about Women in Comedy . Please give it a read, like and enjoy!
Women in Stand-up Comedy have never really had it easy. To this current day many audience members question if a woman can be funny, let alone should she be on-stage. Whilst there are antagonistic anti-women audiences, there are many people questioning why women are still being mistreated and under-represented in Stand-up Comedy. However is this still the case? There is an uneven ratio of male to female comedians but as each year passes by, we see more and more female comedians breaking through into the comedy circuit. There are female comedians who have just finished touring like Ellie Taylor with her show “Elliementary”, the Canadian Katherine Ryan with “Glam Role Model” and the distinctive Josie Long with “Cara Josephine”. There are more household names than ever like female comedy titans like Sarah Millican, Jo Brand and the late Joan Rivers. So are women really under-represented? What is the true state of Britain’s Stand-up Comedy scene for female comedians?
|Katherine Ryan's poster for her tour: Glam Role Model.|
One phrase I hear embarrassingly often, from men and women alike, is: ‘I’m not sexist but I don’t find women funny’. Comedian Stephanie Laing, in a personal interview, says “My least favourite compliment, which I get at least once a month, is ‘I don’t usually like female comedians, but you were funny’”. Immediately it’s clear that our society has preconceived beliefs that women are not funny and this belief is visible from many demographics.
In Jimmy Carr’s and Lucy Greeves’ book they say: “Readers of men’s magazine FHM voted the UK’s Funniest woman as ‘none of them’. It appears a sizeable section of the male population doesn’t find women funny and that these men feel quite aggressive about it”. For a FHM reader to hold this belief isn’t surprising; however Dr. Sharon Lockyer, senior lecturer of Sociology at Brunel, proves that academics also claim that women aren’t funny. Lockyer details that both Alison Ross and Felix Gray “independently pointed out the myth that exists maintains, that women do not possess a sense of humour”.
The icing on the ignorance cake is a Vanity Fair article written by Christopher Hitchens in 2007. Hitchens arrogantly states that women simply cannot be comedians because of “the inferior funniness of women”. He argues that women, from an evolutionary point-of-view, do not need humour to attract men, as they use their beauty to be attractive, thus do not need to be funny. A quote worthy of fetching your pitchforks and torches is: “There are more terrible female comedians than there are terrible male comedians, but there are some impressive ladies out there. Most of them, though, when you come to review the situation, are hefty or dykey or Jewish, or some combo of the three”. Hitchens is certainly a lovely gentleman, but significant in showing that there is a prejudice towards female comedians, which is unfortunately a common thought.
This bigoted idea runs deeper as Doctor of Stand-Up Comedy, Oliver Double, states “there is sexism amongst comedians”. Several months ago, comedian Andrew Lawrence, who has appeared on Live At The Apollo and won the 2004 BBC New Act of the Year competition, controversially said: “Women-posing-as-comedians” - suggesting that women cannot be comedians. Ouch. Hitchens and Lawrence were immediately deported back to the 1930’s soon after their rants. But they raise concern – why do some people hold this belief? Joan Rivers once said “I don’t like funny women. I come out of that generation where a woman should be beautiful …even though my whole life has been the antithesis of this” which highlights that people from the previous generation have a dislike for female comedians which seeps into our current generation.
|The late Joan Rivers.|
Dr. Double answers why there aren’t that many female performers, as he says “When I was a kid in the 70’s there were two women comics who broke through into stand-up. There was Marti Caine who went down the traditional working men’s club roots and there was Victoria Wood who didn’t even do straight stand-up”. From having a limited amount of female performers, there are less role-models to inspire future female comedians, especially in the 70’s: “they could have had a male role-model, but there is something in seeing someone like you doing it which makes you take that next step”. However for several decades, more women have entered comedy, which in turn inspires more women to become comedians and the effects of which have become more visible in the last several years.
Progress can be seen in the last three years as there are a significant amount of female comedians in the UK and this amount is growing every year. In April 2011, out the 58 comedians described as ‘On Tour’ on Chortle’s The UK Comedy Guide website, only 7 (12%) are women such as Shappi Khorsandi and Zoe Lyons. In November 2014 there are currently 44 comedic acts ‘On Tour’ and 9 of which are female acts, equaling to 20%, showing an 8% increase within three years.
At the Soho Theatre, London, 16 out of 54 booked comedy acts in the past 5 months are female comedians, meaning that 30% of performers are female comedians. The interest for female comedians is continually rising, as there is a market for it which audiences are willing to pay for. Guardian writer Emma John writes “Female comedians have never been more popular. In October a Ticketmaster survey announced that sales for their shows had trebled since 2011”. That’s a big leap from having only two female stand-ups in the 1970’s and this expansion isn’t slowing down.
It’s important to note that some female comedians actively choose to leave Stand-up comedy, hence which is a possible explanation to why there are not that many female Stand-ups. Whilst it is a fun job, Stand-up lacks stability – some weeks you will be working every night but others you will be struggling to get gigs. There are issues with promoters refusing to pay after your act, constant travelling and there isn’t any financial support, so if you are ill or are responsible for the welfare of children: it is a risky occupation. Though this affects both genders, it’s more likely for women to choose a steady job within the comedy field, whereas men, depending on your viewpoint, are usually brave or stupid enough to carry on regardless.
Michèle A'Court, a comedic writer, says in The Guardian: “a lot of the women who start out in comedy move into other areas of the industry where there is a career path”. This is very evident as areas like the Soho Theatre is filled with many female staff in artistic roles. We see in Figure A (below): 60% of the roles of the artistic staff in the Soho Theatre are occupied by women. In particular: Sarah Dodd is the comedy assistant, thus proving that some funny females abandon Stand-up for a stable job.
It’s also worth a mention that female comedians move away from stand-up comedy to another facet of comedy, mostly sketch Comedy, as research shows generally women tend to prefer working in groups, preferring the socialising aspect of comedy. “Women often choose collaborative work in duos or groups rather than solo performance” says Michele A’Court. The life of a Stand-up is lonely with long drives, whereas as Sketch groups are sociable. A’Court adds “Women are social creatures and like their creativity to come with a side of social interaction. We don’t knit in a shed, we knit in a circle”.
Evidence for this can be seen at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, particularly in 2001, there was a total of 42 female comedic acts performing in the festival. 13 of these acts were female stand-ups; the remaining 69% were comedic acts with more than one person. This sociable creativity is still prevalent today, with acts like Twisted Loaf, who won the Funny Women awards in 2013.
The point is that women are more likely to choose to leave of Stand-up and take a different comedic approach. Women certainly are not being forced away from the stage, as they still pursue their interest but in varying formats.
It could be argued that women are currently at the forefront of comedy in some areas as Dr. Double says: “I would find it easier to name interesting female comedians than interesting male comedians at the moment”. This preference can be seen with female-specific comedy nights, like Charity Comedy night “Stand-Up for Women” and Bristol’s What The Frock! Comedy night. The biggest is the Women In Comedy festival which takes place every October in Manchester. In 2014 this comedy festival featured 10 days of comedy whilst showcasing 80 shows within 16 venues. Interestingly the entire festival is organised (and obviously performed) exclusively by females. A’Court reiterates “interestingly, every comedy festival in the world is run by a woman and largely staffed by women. If there’s a proper job going in comedy, a woman will have it”- reinforcing the idea that women find other comedic roles and drop-out of Stand-up. Hazel O’Keefe, the founder of the festival in 2014 won the “Woman of Arts and Culture award” from Manchester City Council. The female comedy industry is booming and blooming because of these female-specific events, it’s very clear that there is market for women in comedy.
There has also been a sharp increase of feminist comedy sub-genre within the last several years. Feminist comedy discusses the gender politics between men and women and the hardship of the female sex. Rising feminist comedians are acts like Luisa Omielan, Ava Videl and even Andrew Watts who has recently concluded his show “Feminism for Chaps”. It’s important to note that not all females are feminist comedians, whilst men can be feminist comedians. C’mon, it’s the 21st Century.
One of the biggest feminist comedians at the moment who is really making strides and becoming the face of feminist comedy is Bridget Christie, winning the prestigious Foster’s Comedy Award for her feminist comedy show A Bic For Her.
|The fantastic Bridget Christie.|
Bridget Christie recently performed a sold-out run of shows at the Soho Theatre with her most recent show An Ungrateful Woman. These shows are proving to be so popular that she has added an extra 14 dates at the same venue, showing that people are interested in seeing feminist comedy. Within this show she discusses topics of utmost seriousness like ‘Anti-rape pants’ and ‘female genital mutilation’. Christie says in The Stylist that “We’re talking about serious crimes, not casual sexism. Pretty light stuff then”.
This is a revelation as it takes steps in allowing comedians to talk about untouchable areas (by most). Christie balances on thin ice with heavy subjects by including ridiculous jokes. In a discussion with Sue Perkins, Christie says “You have to trick people; I’ll do a silly bit then a serious bit… The FGM bit comes after buying some Bunny ears at Ann Summers”. Christie comments in The Guardian: “it’s trickery, really, hiding the serious bits within the comic framework”. Christie is important as she openly talks about uncomfortable topics to help women. She is also significantly reversing modern ‘rape jokes’: for example through discussing “Anti-Rape pants” in her comedy, she laughs at the fact that rape isn’t occurring. Whilst blue comedians use rape jokes, Christie makes Anti-rape jokes allowing her political aim run through her well-crafted set. This shows that feminist comedians are not only in demand; but some women like Bridget Christie are also drastically changing Stand-up comedy with this new sub-genre.
So what is the current state of female comedy and what is on the horizon for women in Stand-up? The comedy doctors believe: “We are in a good place at the moment, in terms of women in comedy in Britain. The large proportion of interesting acts coming through at the moment are women” says Dr. Oliver Double. Dr. Sophie Quirk, Comedy lecturer at Kent University, in a one-on-one interview says “Women are getting much less of a rough time”. Quirk continues saying “as a society, I’d like to think this is the way we are moving towards in general, we are seeing in comedy this starting to come up. I remain optimistic”.
Jimmy Carr and Lucy Greeves concur by saying “Certainly there are many more role models for women contemplating a comedy career than there have ever been before”. However Bridget Christie says “Sadly, I think we have another 100 years before women are truly represented”, so there is still progress needed before true equality.
It’s fairly obvious to notice that women are not under-represented anymore as there are an armada of funny women on and off the stage who break the “unfunny” stereotype. In the next several years we can look forward to seeing more hysterical women in comedy. Until that day comes, it’s always good to know that women can be, and are, hilarious comedians. If you are in doubt of the fact, you simply need to see more live comedy- stop watching panel shows and Live At The Apollo. Have a look at any comedy night near you and you we realise that anyone can do comedy.
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