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?

 

The New Year list

I’m deliberately not calling this post ‘New Year’s Resolutions’ because I don’t think I need to change who I am – and nor should you – but because I’m a fan of a to-do list and this is a good excuse to create an ‘action plan’ for 2014…

2013 has been, for the most part, fine. It’s gone ridiculously fast too. There were big changes at the start and end of the year (I got dumped by email in January – ouch) and changed jobs (moving to EastEnders in late December), but for the most part I feel like I’ve coasted along.

However, everyone should take a moment to think about the good bits as well as the disappointing receiving of electronic communications and so here are a few of the highlights…

#Team NCA

The BBC Radio New Comedy Award returned in 2013 (we got a BBC Production Award nomination for the 2012 multiplatform element that I produced which was pretty cool) and I found myself without a budget so recruited a big batch of amazing volunteers to help film and edited each film myself. The core group of Producer Tilusha, Production Co-Ordinator Tam and Production Management Assistant Isma were bloomin’ hilarious and wonderful. And of course the most fabulous Executive Producer Alison Vernon-Smith and the stylish (and talented) Production Manager Hayley Nathan. My favourite production of the 18 months I spent at BBC Radio Comedy.

Grainne & J-Bugg shake up the Beeb

I found two excellent, talented friends in the new Radio Comedy bursary writers…

A Summer of gigs!

Thanks to Elena Dana, I finally started gigging in London, even making my jazz debut. And I got a new telecaster… now to get an amp (see 2014 to-do list…) I also wrote at least three songs I can count among my favourites.

Making my own damn icing, thank you very much

When I baked in the Get Flat in 2012, someone else was around to do the icing while I made the batter. My early solo icing efforts were watery and rubbish. Then one day, thanks to a Primrose Hill Bakery coffee buttercream recipe, I cracked it. (Although I did have a massive icing fuck-up the other day and had to buy the pre-mixed stuff for a Xmas party at Grainne’s but never mind…)

Comedy! Comedy! Comedy!

I saw some amazing shows and met some hilarious, lovely people this year. People who made me laugh included: Bridget Christie, Phil Wang, Steve Bugeja, Rob Carter, Katherine Bennett, Kate Lucas, Adam Hess, Tom Craine, Joe Lycett, Dean Sekhon, Peter Brush, Grainne Maguire, Mae Martin, Nick Helm Sarah Campbell, Nish Kumar, James Bran, Joe Davies, Ivo Graham James Acaster, Dane Baptiste, Jonny Pelham (and many, many more – go and check them out…)

Producing a book… sort of

In the New Year the BBC will be releasing an iBook about writing for Radio Comedy that I produced… I’ll post more about this in 2014!

Anyway, 2013 review aside, there’s loads for me to be getting on with next year, so here’s some stuff I’d like to do in 2014…

  • Buy amp to go with new telecaster (rather than playing through mixing desk connected to computer speakers)
  • Finish painting bedroom – there’s no longer a reasonable excuse for the large unpainted patch behind the wardrobe!
  • Cook a wider variety of foods (other than jacket potato, pasta and homemade sauce and stir fry)
  • Invite friends over more regularly to share wider variety of foods
  • Apologise less for the way I look
  • Be less passive when someone judges the way I look unnecessarily
  • Buy more cushions for my large sofa
  • Keep up the exercise and resist chocolate/ice cream temptations!
  • Practice guitar more
  • Find rhythm section to play with me and Reece (who I’m working on songs with)
  • Get keyboard out again
  • Record more music – and record it better
  • Read more on my Kindle
  • Find permanent contract
  • Renew ISA
  • Fill up ISA
  • Invest in more loose leaf teas
  • Save up for Canon 5D
  • Be better at getting people together – but not feel so guilty if I don’t
  • Enjoy self as much as possible
  • Blog more!

There’s definitely more – most of that reads like a shopping list! I must have January sales on the brain….

Bridget Christie Minds the Gap

Earlier this week I met up with comedian Bridget Christie to chat about feminism ahead of her new series, Bridget Christie Minds the Gap, which starts tonight at 23:00 on Radio 4.

We spoke about Mary Wollstonecraft, the British Enlightenment thinker who set up a school for girls in Newington Green and later authored A Vindictation of the Rights of Woman, widely seen as the text that started the modern feminist movement.

Please share if you can and spread the word!

Finding out about feminism

Next week BBC Radio 4 is doing a bit about feminism, including the start of a new comedy series written and performed by stand-up Bridget Christie.

I’m doing a bit more on the website for it – so it’s not going to be the fairly plain space currently there, but I wanted to post some links here first – BBC Editorial Policy means I can’t publish all the links I want to because most feminist sites are campaign based, or (quite rightly) have a bias towards, well, you know, feminism!

So here’s some ace sites I think are worth checking out:

The Vagenda

From their ‘reasons to be a feminist’ series, to an articles on women in pop culture and the freedom of cutting your hair not having to imply political or social beliefs, the Vagenda is one of the most prolific feminist blogs on the net, while remaining utterly accessible to all. It is edited by Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett and Holly Baxter, who also write ‘The V Spot’ for The New Statesman.

The Everyday Sexism Project

Laura Bates set up this pioneering website to give women a platform to discuss their experiences of sexism – from derogatory comments to abuse. The stories now feature in weekly columns on the Huffington Post and the Independent newspaper and a book is on the horizon. Ultimately the project aims to dispel the myth that equality has been gained and ‘the fight is over’.

The F Word

Founded in 2001 by Catherine Redfern, The F Word is a contemporary feminist site, featuring articles and interviews centred around feminist culture and politics. The site welcomes contributions from new writers and does not subscribe to one particular feminist viewpoint.

The Fawcett Society

Leading the lobby for equality in Britain, The Fawcett Society is a charity named after peaceful suffragette Millicent Fawcett. The site features news on their latest campaigns – including equal pay and the impact of austerity measures on women – and how you can get involved.

PinkStinks

PinkStinks is a social enterprise that aims to defeat the ‘culture of pink’ that determines the ‘acceptable’ appearance of girls and replace it with one that motivates children to achieve based on merits that don’t rely on beauty or attractiveness, such as educational ability and effort.

UK Feminista

UK Feminista is a network of campaigners who want to see political, social and economic equality between women and men realised. As well as organising campaigns, they provide support and training to activist groups. It was founded by author Kat Banyard and men are encourage to get involved too.

Feminist Library

This South London library houses an archive of Women’s Liberation Movement Literature, particularly from the ‘second wave feminism’ period between 1960 and 1990. They support feminist networks and research projects, host events and raise awareness of Women’s Studies as an educative subject.

Gender Agenda

Gender Agenda welcomes everyone to submit articles on the subject of ‘feminism, gender, sexuality and anything related’. They host discussions between feminist with the aim that people will work out what their ideas really are if they can share their thoughts with the rest of the feminist community. You can submit a post for publication on the site and, aside from formatting, it will be published unchanged and uncensored.

Bridget Christie Minds the Gap starts at 23:00 on Thursday 7th March. (And it’s really bloody funny.)