Let’s bust some myths about ‘female stand-ups’

Oh Guardian readers. Most of you are my kindred spirits. Some of you, however, are people who just want to write ungrounded, shortsighted comments that barely resemble a proper opinion, let alone a constructive one.

Predictably, Mark Logan’s favourable review of Bridget Christie’s highly anticipated return to The Stand, where she performed her Fosters Comedy Award-winning show A Bic for Her last year, has roused the ‘women aren’t funny’ brigade yet again – with the majority of these bemoaning the idea that feminism can be funny.

What these quick-to-judge figures don’t seem to understand, is that a huge part of the current feminism movement (or fourth wave, if you like), has spread on social media like wildfire for three particular reasons; feminism in this day and age is common, sexualised culture in the West and awareness of practices such as FGM outside of our more local bubble, and finally, humour – yes, feminists have found their voices, and we’ve been making each other laugh on the subject ever since.

(It’s tempting to say ‘women’s voices’ – and of course, that’s a large part of it – but actually there are some brilliant men who openly call themselves feminists, brilliant stand-ups among them including my boyfriend, musical double act Jonny & the Baptists and activist Chris Coltrane).

So let’s bust some of those FQAs (Frequently Quoted Assumptions) right now, shall we?

“Female comics’ topics are limited to hating men, periods and under-representation in comedy”

This year, if you make the wise decision to see the wickedly awesome, super duper, charismatic Lou Sanders in Lou Sanders in Another Great Show Again, you’ll be treated to the sight of Sanders tap dancing with a vagina on a stick. The vagina is not having a period. Or at least, it wasn’t during the preview I saw anyway. In fact, guys, I’m going to come out and say it now. Why aren’t women talking about periods onstage? I’ve seen a couple of semen jokes onstage – why not a bit of menstrual blood eh? WAIT, COME BACK, I’LL GET TO THE BLOODY POINT (geddit).

I’ve seen a lot of female stand ups in my time, but I’ve never seen a women target all men, joke about their ‘monthly visit’ in excruciating detail or say their aren’t enough women on the circuit as a joke. I’ve definitely had conversations with people about women stand-ups (I’m kind of having a one-sided type right now) and line-ups, but one of the biggest is still panel shows – where many fill their ‘woman quota’ with a female non-comic – Rachel Riley, I’m definitely talking about you (sorry) – and don’t feature female regulars or hosts (there’s Celebrity Juice and Viral Tap, both ITV2 – and very niche!).

The Guardian (yes, them again) wrote an article about the presence of more female comedy performers than ever before at this year’s Fringe. Although it didn’t explore this, I believe that the reason more women are going is because of stand-ups like Christie, whose success means that the stigma around ‘women not being funny’ is thankfully fading – in other words, it’s more economically viable to be a women performing at the Fringe, because people are less likely to be put off by seeing a female face on the poster.

“All the women comedians I’ve seen have been rubbish. Isn’t that Jo Brand awful?”

Firstly, I feel sorry for this hypothetical commenter. Comedy is subjective, so if you don’t find Jo Brand funny, that’s fine – just look elsewhere. Brand’s subject matter can veer to the domestic side, but that’s not a bad thing – and it often sharply dissects those expectations of perfection in relationships. And if you’re going to call Sarah Millican talentless, rather than accepting her stand-up isn’t for you, then there’s probably no hope for you.

“The women they’ve featured on Mock the Week have been rubbish”

Have you seen Mock the Week recently? It’s not just the women!

“Haven’t seen any Bridget Christie she might be great she might be terrible but she can’t be worse than her husband”

Ok – I’ve probably made some grammatical errors myself, but as I copied this comment verbatim from everyone’s favourite left leaning digital news website (ok, just mine), I’m resisting adding commas to the above quote. (NOTE TO SELF: STOP PROCRASTINATING!)

This wasn’t the worst comment on Brian Logan’s article, but it encapsulates the issue Christie must face in nearly every review, interview or article that features her as its subject; her husband. Onstage Christie does not refer to her actual comedian husband, but an invented ‘stage’ one. I don’t know a huge deal about Christie’s personal relationships, but what I do know is this – she’s hugely talented, she writes her own material, her material is distinct from his and her career is of her own making. End of. She may have featured on a show with him, but she’s also at the top of her game – if he wasn’t part of the show, she would still be involved. She’s not married to Harry Hill, Kevin Eldon or Kerry Godliman, but she featured on their respective sitcoms (Harry Hill’s Little Internet Show, It’s Kevin and Kerry’s List). And Fred MacAulay featured on her award-winning Radio 4 series Bridget Christie Minds the Gap – but they don’t have a romantic relationship either.

The thing about comedy – and it’s something I love – is that it’s a community. An industry with a performing circuit at its core, many performers know each other, share the same bill, organise gigs with each other and perform in the many new act competitions held each year. Essentially they help each other out – and they watch and enjoy each others’ sets. It’s supportive and refreshing. So therefore the idea of a leading alternative comic who won the most iconic prize in stand-up comedy last year appearing on a show about alternative comedy? Not that surprising is it?

“Women can’t do proper jokes”

Challenge your perceptions at the Fringe this year; if you think women can’t do one-liners or puns,check out Bec Hill, who started the hugely popular Pun Run night in London. If you think they can’t do near-the-knuckle rudeness, book a ticket to Katherine Ryan. It’s ingenious, borderline bonkers ideas you want? Lou Sanders is your woman. Friendly, funny and joyous? Go see Hatty Ashdown (and look out for Aisling Bea back in London). Political comedy with heart? Josie Long. Characters and/or improv? Cariad Lloyd and Pippa Evans are both doing laugh a minute shows this year. In the mood to see a panel show? Look out for Grainne Maguire’s What Has the News Ever Done for Me? (Check out Danielle Ward hosting her podcast panel show alongside team captain Margaret Cabourn-Smith, Do the Right Thing if you’d like to cheer up your commute.) Sketch comedy? Lazy Susan, of course! Sharp, hilarious and personal stand-up? Sarah Campbell.

“Feminism isn’t funny”

Sites like The Vagenda and writers such as Caitlin Moran aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, but they inject irresistible humour into the subject. And the art of good comedy is to always ‘punch up’ – unless you’re playing a character, such as Rachel Parris’s nightmare diva singer Felice in her show, Rachel Parris: Live in Las Vegas. Therefore, feminism is ripe for comedy – just as left wing, alternative comedy thrived in the eighties, feminism is fighting a absurd battle that needs to be had – and that means there’s humour to be mined.

Even if Bridget Christie’s comedy isn’t to your taste, if you were to analyse it, you’d surely have to appreciate the structure, the purpose and the commitment to the performance. She sends-ups perceptions of feminists, brings the ridiculous double standards of sexism to the fore, critiques her own bubbling anger and she also opens up a debate that will last with the audience once they leave the venue – last year it was through playing an inspiring recording of Malala Yousafzai talking about surviving the attempt on the life by the Taliban and the aftermath, and this year she’s making her intention to make a stand against FGM known.

“I don’t like ‘female comedy’. It’s my least favourite genre”

Well, luckily for you, it doesn’t exist!

In conclusion…

If you think women aren’t funny, you’re simply not looking hard enough. We don’t see enough of a variety of female acts on the TV for everyone to see someone to their taste, but the spectrum of acts around is so broad yet they don’t all get showcased on TV. Go out into clubs, go to the Fringe, make some effort – go on YouTube, or Chortle, or follow-up on tips from – yes, you guessed it – the flipping’ Guardian.

But whatever you do, don’t believe what you read in the comments, ok?

 

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4 comments

  1. Oliver Mackey · August 6, 2014

    Your article is far too polite.

    1) Comedy has no objective gender divide. If you have one if your head, you’re an idiot. The end.
    1) A) If you can’t find “female” issues hilarious, then I hope you live on some sort of man-only island so these issues never come up in your real life, so insightful commentary on them doesn’t elicit any sort of humorous response. You don’t have to be of a certain ethnicity or from a certain part of the world to find a particular joke regarding said subjects funny. If the context are gender-related issues and you suddenly fail, see 1).

    2) Comedians, like any entertainment professionals, will use skills they are good at, which involves subjects they know. Female comedians making jokes will very likely involve their own experience of being a woman. This isn’t a huge jump. I can’t imagine male comedians never reference ‘issues’ men have or their interaction as a man with women as a source of comedic material.

    3) Each comedian is their own comedian. You’re under no obligation to find any, or all of them, funny. Again, gender is an irrelevant quantity.

    4) If feminism bothers you, move to Iran.

  2. Colin Greaves · August 7, 2014

    Good points very well made, Frank! Just to add one more name into the mix – Nina Conti. Those face mask things may be stupid but I defy anyone not to laugh during her set.

  3. Frankie Ward · August 7, 2014

    Thanks Colin! Nina is fabulous – I filmed with her for a visualised radio pilot once. She’s very lovely too which is a bonus.

    I’ve totally missed out loads of brilliant women – I feel guilty! Sara Pascoe, Danielle Ward, Margaret Cabourn-Smith, Jenny Bede, Sofie Hagen, Lucy Beaumont, Katherine Bennett, Rachel Stubbings, Nadia Kamil, Jo Neary – it’s such a long, healthy list!

  4. Colin Greaves · August 7, 2014

    She looks lovely, to be fair, I’m sure she’s a delight in real life. Don’t feel guilty, it actually enhances your point if anything – so many good female comedians you can’t name them all! Can’t pretend I’ve come across the ones you’ve listed but now have research material, cheers!

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