A look into why women aren’t ruling the comedy world.
If you search the top ten most paid comedians of 2013, you’ll find that all are male. Surprisingly, that is no shock. Comedy has largely been known as a “boys only club” and still is to this day, even with the rise of popular, female comedians. And unfortunately, women are still breaking through the glass ceiling in comedy because of the simple, third grade statement, “Women aren’t funny”. It has become a stereotype and a bold statement. And the worst thing is that this stereotype isn’t taught as not true but instead when it is said, a male will almost guaranteeing laugh and say, “yeah, women comedians suck.” Now, while the simple statement is not a true testament, there may be a reason why the ladies aren’t at the top of the list with the dudes, other than the unpopular, popular opinion.
Rounding out the top of the highest paid comedian is, expectantly, Jerry Seinfeld (1). With a net worth of $820 million, Seinfeld is not only at the top of list for highest paid comedians, but he also hangs with the big guys in the overall acting category. Seinfeld created a financial empire and is still reaping the benefits from his very popular, 32 million-viewer show, Seinfeld. By the ninth season, in 1998, Seinfeld was earning $1 million per episode (2). While Seinfeld may not be the best comedian/actor to compare to a female comedian because of his massive amounts of popularity and wealth, it still does not diminish the fact that women have yet to be in the big leagues in the comedy world.
Tina Fey, arguably one of the top female comedians, has a net worth of $45 million, a number that doesn’t even come close to Jerry Seinfeld’s (3). It does however surpass both Russell Peters and Louie CK’s net worth. The only problem is that in the year of 2013, Fey brought in $10 million while Peters brought in $21 million and Louie brought in $16 million (1).
So, even with a higher net worth, why can’t women top the list for highest paid comedians in yearly stats? Two words: ticket sales (4). The comedians on Forbes’ list of highest paid comedians all earn most of their income from live shows rather than prerecorded TV episodes or series. To become a top earner in the comedy industry, a performer must sell out 4,000 ticket theatres. To do that, you not only have to be funny but also popular in the culture. Women have conquered the first, but are still struggling to overcome the stereotypes that rule their potential audiences. So here, we meet the false statement again.
The obstacle of ticket sales is not the only thing in the way of a woman’s comedy show. As Lara A. King, winner of the Funny Women award put it, “People who book comedy nights do tend to think that one woman on the bill is really quite enough.” (5) This brings into view another stigma surrounding female comedians. Viewers see female comedians as one genre instead of individually. Laughter is to comedians what money is to bankers, so when a male, half of the viewing population, thinks that all women talk about are their periods and emotions, they do not think they will laugh, so they don’t attend shows, ticket sales suffer, and bookers don’t book female comedians. So, while Sarah Silverman discusses taboo subjects and Chelsea Peretti purposefully avoids the topic of periods, men still aren’t laughing because of the social stigmas.
While social stigmas provide the most adhesion to the glue, women are also, in part, holding the glass ceiling together. The comedy scene can be a scary and unfriendly place. So, when a club owner skips payment to a female comedian, they assume that the woman will not speak up for herself and collect her fair share (4). These club owners are looking at woman as an object to manipulate and take advantage of and this is a direct reflection of a woman’s confidence in the workplace. Not only that, but women immediately level the playing field by not touring at all or only to certain places. Maria Ciampa, co-producer of the Women in Comedy festival put it as this, “Dudes might be okay staying at a place that doesn’t have a toilet seat. It’s a certain lifestyle that doesn’t appeal to me.” (4)
So, while women may not be able to grow in the comedy industry because of bookers and ticket sales, other factors come into play as well such as women’s’ confidence and the need for a toilet. All factors may be separate, but they all circle back to one statement. It is a statement that any third grade mind could produce; yet it is the glue that continues to hold the glass ceiling together for women in the comedy world: women aren’t funny. As society moves forward and the members of society see that individual people are separate from their race, ethnicity, or sexual orientation stereotypes, I hope that that females in the comedy world will also be seen as individual performers instead of a genre entirely separate from men. While in a couple of years, Jerry Seinfeld may still be at the top of the list for highest paid comedians, hopefully more women will overcome the obstacles they face and plant their feet in the race with the dominate male comedians that currently rule. It will take action from both society and female performers. Just being funny won’t be able to break the social stigma that is keeping women from dominating the highest paid comedian list, but by being funny, gaining confidence, and peeing in disgusting places, maybe women can slowly tear apart the glue that continues to hold the glass ceiling together.
- Vanna Le. “The Top-Earning Comedians Of 2013: Forbes”, The Huffington Post, July 12, 2013/April 24, 2015. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/07/12/top-earning-comedians-2013_n_3586775.html
- Matt Giles. “Breaking Down the Multi-Billion-Dollar Seinfeld Economy,” Vulture, June 30, 2014/April 23, 2015. http://www.vulture.com/2014/06/breaking-down-the-seinfeld-economy.html
- April 23, 2015. http://www.therichest.com/celebnetworth/celeb/actress/tina-fey-net-worth/
- Nolan Feeny. “Why Aren’t There More Women On The Top-Earning Comedians List?” Forbes, July 11 2013/ April 23, 2015. http://www.forbes.com/sites/nolanfeeney/2013/07/11/why-arent-there-more-women-on-the-top-earning-comedians-list/2/
- Leo Benedictus. “Where are all the female stand ups?The Guardian, March 20, 2012/April 22, 2015. http://www.theguardian.com/stage/2012/mar/20/female-standup-comedy-void