“You’re not going to talk about dating, are you?” I remember a guy asking me this moments before I was about to perform. It was at a dive bar in Santa Cruz, my first year into stand up comedy (and already doing glamorous road gigs).
I was new to stand up and this question left me feeling uneasy. I did my set, and yes I talked about my dating life. I didn’t do it with the passion I usually have. I was self-conscious, and completely in my head about it. I could feel every man in the room rolling his eyes as soon as I mentioned a recent break up.
After that night I set out to do material that didn’t check any of the “female comedy” cliche boxes. I ditched the dating and sex material, and instead tried making jokes about religion, and my family. I channeled my inner Seinfeld and attempted to find out what the deal was with vegetarianism and mused on the origins of age-old idioms about needles in haystacks and straws breaking camel’s backs. It wasn’t very funny, and was more cliche than any of my previous material. I didn’t feel like I was progressing as a comedian, because deep down these were not things I wanted to talk about. And yet, I was being much more lauded by my male peers for these jokes. These are the same male peers who I would soon see go onstage and proceed to talk about their bossy girlfriends, and their dick size. That’s, more or less, the comedy scene in a nutshell.
My breakthrough in stand up happened a few months after that night in Santa Cruz. A guy I went on two dates with sent me an unprompted, apologetic text telling me that he didn’t want to be my boyfriend. A bit was born, ridiculing the cockiness of that man and every man who behaves that way. I was passionate about stand up again, finally realizing that I knew what my voice was all along. I briefly strayed away out of fear that male comedy fans wouldn’t like it, but in that moment gained valuable clarity: fuck what they think.
Now, I have an album. My very own album that I made on a very low budget. It was recorded in a dive bar in Silverlake, and is not attached to a major label. It’s not going to change the world, I know, but it’s mine and I’m proud of it. Before it’s release, a lot of my previous fears came crawling back. I almost didn’t want to put it out, scared yet again of what male comedy fans would think of it on this larger platform. My confidence was being shattered once more.
In more recent years the are women funny? debate reached new heights, most notably when honorary fuckboy Christopher Hitchens chimed in with his hot take saying that we’re generally not. I’m not going to get into this issue the way thousands of think pieces already have, but I will say this: men (generally) don’t want women to be funny.
It’s why “female comedy” came to fruition, and it’s why there is such a negative stigma attached to it. It’s the reason romantic comedies only get critical acclaim when they’re made by men (think, Woody Allen). It’s why men can talk about their experiences in dating, their sex lives, the differences between men and women, and have it be considered simply comedy. It’s why women are more scrutinized for every joke they tell, and it’s ultimately why I was scared to release my album.
Why are men more inclined to become comedians than women are? It’s not because men are funnier. It’s because they don’t feel the same pressure women feel to stay away from it. The male point of view is generally seen as prolific, while the female point of view is cliche. Male humor is the standard, while female humor is niche. Even if they’re talking about the exact same things.
It’s cyclical, really. More men in comedy means more male comedy fans. More male comedy fans means less incentive for women to try and break through, out of fear of being thought of as unfunny by men who — as I mentioned earlier — don’t want to believe that a woman might be wittier than them. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been approached by a female fan who says something to the effect of, “I’m normally not a fan of stand up comedy…” I get it. You’re normally not a fan, because the stand up you’re used to seeing is dudes talking about dude shit.
More women need to be in comedy for comedy to really change. Having more women on stage means more women will show up to watch. My first year into stand up, I easily could have given up. I was expected to. Instead, I powered through and realized something important: women are over half the population. If only women like me, that’s fine.
From that point, I made a commitment to only do the material I wanted to do. Now, I shout about being ghosted and talk about my sex life and freely criticize male behavior, without a care as to whether or not the men in the room will laugh and believe it or not, men are laughing. Most of the time.
To all other women out there who want to give comedy a try, this is my call for you to just do it. Give it a go. Write the jokes that resonate with you and show up at those god awful open mics. Keep at it, and learn from other women. It’ll take time, but put that time in. I can’t guarantee it, but there’s a good chance your effort will be greatly rewarded.