Do You Think Women Are Funny?
How do we confront the gatekeeping culture of the comedy scene?
‘Women aren’t funny.’ It’s a line society has peddled for decades. Female comedians still struggle to break into this industry, as much as ever. But is this because women aren’t funny, or are there other factors at play? One study suggests it’s an issue of bias, rather than fact:
College students (N = 228) from 3 countries (Britain, Canada, and Australia) rated the funniness of male- and female-authored cartoon captions while blind to the gender of the caption authors. Participants were then asked to guess the gender of the caption authors and which gender they believe to be the funniest. Participants both male and female in the Canadian and British samples believed men are the funniest gender, whereas participants in the Australian sample were split between men as funnier or the genders as equally funny. No difference was found between funniness ratings of male- and female-authored captions for the Canadian and Australian samples. The British sample rated female-authored captions as funnier. Support was found for a bias in attributing male authorship to the funniest cartoon captions and female authorship to the least funny for all countries. This stereotype may be self-fulfilling in nature, and additional mechanisms maintaining this stereotype are proposed. (PsycINFO Database Record © 2016 APA, all rights reserved)
If women are as funny as men, why do they struggle to succeed in comedy?
A quick search on the internet reveals lots of men repeating the same complaints:
‘They only talk about their vaginas.’
‘They only talk about sex.’
‘They only talk about sexism.’
‘Most female comedians are lesbians, which don’t represent women as a whole.’
I see. Because no male has ever discussed his genitalia, talked about sex, nor feminism. Got it. And who says lesbians can’t represent women? They are women. I’m a straight woman, and I feel represented when a lesbian comic gets up and does her bit. But why the pressure for female comics to represent all women, anyway? This is something that is never expected of men. When was the last time a straight, white dude had to represent anyone but himself? This, folks, is privilege 101.
Let’s not forget the arrogance it takes to dismiss an entire gender. If this is all a man thinks female comics talk about, it’s obvious they haven’t taken the time to consume much of their work. How would they even know?
Do you know what I enjoy about female comics the most? The lack of the obligatory rape joke. You know the one. The one that proves you’re brave enough to ‘go there.’ Because you’re an edgy comic. There are few men these days who don’t feel a perverse need to include at least one rape joke that punches down.
That’s not to say I’m 100% against rape jokes. But if a comic is going to do one, first off, it needs to be actually funny. Secondly, it needs to punch up, not down. Here’s one of my favourite rape jokes:
This bit makes fun of the man’s aggressive behavior, rather than making light of the victim.
Female comedians are treated as a niche than part of mainstream comedy
This is a problem, because it accepts that men are all different, and assumes women aren’t. Don’t believe me? There are countless cases of comedy events restricting the number of women on the bill. As a comedian, how do you hone your craft? By getting up in front of people, by gaining experience through repetition.
If you don’t get the opportunities, or stage time, your professional growth will be slower. Added to that, fewer people will know you exist in the first place. Women are told places don’t bill women any more, because once they hired a woman and she wasn’t good. Great. Punish all women because of one. They would never dream of doing that to a man.
Some people have tried to set up women-only nights, to help women perform and get experience. They get criticism for being ‘unfair to men.’ Never mind that opportunities exist for men everywhere else, but not for women.
The comedy scene is not safe for women
Sexual harassment is rife. Women who seek help or opportunities, are often told by men they will, in exchange for sexual favors. Women are sexually harassed and in some cases, assaulted. It’s so bad that women have set up private online groups to warn each other about men’s misconduct. They give strategies on how to stay safe, and who to avoid. Considering there’s no HR department in the comedy world, this has been a godsend. Of course, when men find out about it, they don’t like it. If only there was something those men could do to end the need for these groups? Hmm.
Are you familiar with the comedic works of Eurydice Dixon? Silly question. Of course you aren’t. She never had a chance to get her comedy career off the ground. It’s a bit hard when you’re dead at 22 years old. She was walking home one night from a comedy gig. She texted her boyfriend to let him know she was okay.
On that walk home, a 19-year-old man raped and strangled her to death. Police told women to ‘increase their situational awareness.’ The women of Australia howled them down for it.
Meshel Laurie tweeted a response:
When I was a 22-year-old comedian, I constantly walked home alone from gigs in the middle of the night because I couldn’t afford tram fare, let alone taxis. Should we allow murderous rapists and poverty to ensure we’re locked inside for our entire lives?
She has a point. Stand-up gigs are almost exclusively night time performances. If women need ‘situational awareness’ and their only option is to walk home, does that mean women need to quit comedy to survive? It shouldn’t. And for men, it’s far less likely to come to that.
The attitude that women talk about boring topics irks me
We’ve listened to straight, white, cis-gendered men for an eternity. Does it not occur to them that we’d like to hear from someone else, for a change?
Some men may not be interested, but guess what? A lot of us are. My family loves stand up comedy. My male partner and son enjoy female comedy as much as male comedy. But too many times we’ve turned off a male comedian’s special, ten minutes in. Why? Because by then, they’ve managed to degrade someone, usually women.
The entire universe does not need to always cater to straight white men’s tastes. Shocker, right? It’s a shame when men dismiss women in comedy. Not only are they missing out, but they would benefit from a different point of view more than anyone else. They might even learn something.
When men dominate comedy, it’s easy to assume it’s because there are more men who are good at comedy than women. That men are naturally funnier. But we know women are funny, too. The industry keeps women on the fringes, throwing them a few breadcrumbs if they’re lucky. Men organizing gigs assume the demand for women isn’t there. My suggestion for comedy lovers is to make it known as a consumer that there is a demand for female comedians.
Watch their comedy specials on your TV streaming service. Leave ratings. Follow women on their social media, and give them the praise they deserve. In the past, I’ve left suggestions in their comments, such as, ‘give that woman a Netflix special!’ If you can, go to their gigs. If you can’t, watch them on Youtube. Follow their channels. Like, subscribe, comment, share. Whatever you can do to show that we, the consumers, want to see female performers. That we know women are hilarious. We’ve been wishing for more exposure long enough. It’s up to us to create the demand.