Females in comedy: The minority retort

Catie Wilkins
credit Edward Moore1 200x300 Females in comedy: The minority retort

Credit Edward Moore

Comedy seems to be one of the last places it is acceptable to say in public that women aren’t as good as men. And nobody can tell you off, or remind you that we’re supposed to be PC now. Instead they whip out some statistics and tell you that there are simply way fewer female comedians on the circuit. This might be true for now, but I’m not sure for how much longer.

I am a standup comedian who has recently returned from my first solo show at the Edinburgh Fringe. For a performer, the Edinburgh Festival can be a bit of a baptism of fire. You have to do your hour show every day, hoping that audiences and industry will come to see you, and you can eventually recoup some of the thousands of pounds you are spending on the privilege of being there.

I went up with some trepidation, not just because of the money and stress of doing a show every day, but because women aren’t funny. Sorry, I mean because of sexism. And because of how there is still a certain received wisdom or cultural stereotype that women can’t do comedy.

I’ll give you two quick examples of this then move on. My first ever review a few years ago, opened with the line, “I’m not normally a fan female comedy but…” And an MC once brought a friend of mine to the stage, saying: “This next act’s a woman,” to which the audience booed.

I know there is still sexism in loads of workplaces, but no one goes to tribunals in comedy. And it would be hard (as well as impractical) to drag a whole audience there anyway.

Also, people keep raking over the subject in articles. Christopher Hitchens said it. Perhaps most disappointingly and perplexingly of all Germaine Greer said it.

So I was worried that there would be prejudice against my ilk, and that this lack of a level playing field would make it even harder to get audiences in Edinburgh.

But once in Edinburgh, it turned out I was worried for nothing. My experience didn’t seem marred by my gender at all. The festival going public are much more accepting of female comedians than the stereotypes would have us believe. I even sold out a few times and got some lovely, positive reviews.

It kind of made me wonder why the stereotypes are still there, and that’s why I think things might be about to change.

People used to say that women weren’t as good as men at writing and performing music. In Caitlin Moran’s book ‘How To Be A Woman’ she recalled that during her time at Melody Maker in the early 90’s, there was an awareness of a lack of female artists in the music industry. But then, suddenly there was a big musical shake up, and following on from The Spice Girls, Destiny’s Child and the rest, now if anything it’s the female artists like Lady Gaga, Beyonce and Jessie J that are dominating the charts.

I wonder if a similar thing is about to happen in comedy. I wasn’t the only chick who had a happy outcome.

While I was up in Edinburgh, I couldn’t help but notice there were a lot of other shows by female comedians. There were loads. There has definitely been an increase in the amount of women taking shows to Edinburgh in the last few years, but this year more than ever, there was a noticeable influx of women debuting solo shows.

Not all these women got recognition in the national papers (although several of them managed to get nominated for the Fosters prizes) but then nor did the vast majority of male performers. There simply isn’t enough review space to go around, and Edinburgh gets bigger every year.

Not only were there more new female comedians, but they were as diverse and different from each other as anything that happened on the music scene. From the crazy, off beat surrealism of Lou Sanders; to the dry, gag driven sarcasm of Tania Edwards; to the Joyful showmanship, and dark sense of mischief of Katherine Ryan. It really seems like something new is happening in comedy.

And live performance isn’t the only area of comedy that this trend has been noticed and remarked on. Paul Harries recently commented on the rise of female comics taking over sitcoms in America. With Sarah Millican having her own BBC2 show commissioned, it looks like the UK is following suit. This could be the start of comedies version of music’s mid 90’s.

There is a whole host of amazing female comedy talent out there, on the verge of breaking through to mainstream success. I think soon it’s just not going to be possible to say there aren’t enough women doing Comedy.

Catie Wilkins is a stand up comic, she has been  seen on FHM’s Stand Up Hero on ITV4 and was one of DAVE’s Top 10 Comedians to Catch 2011. Catie has also written for BBC1 Children’s sitcom Hotel Trubble, Sex Bombs (BBC NI) and contributed to The Atheist’s Guide To Christmas, and will have her first children’s book published by Nosy Crow in Spring 2012.

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  • TomNightingale

    “but because women aren’t funny. Sorry, I mean because of sexism”

    See, you’re not funny. That is on the level of a Russell Howard joke!

  • TomNightingale

    If you liked French and Saunders it may explain why you don’t understand:-)

    (To be fair, Saunders can be funny at times).

  • Lynne Parker

    Great article and ‘here, here’ from us. We celebrate 10 years of Funny Women next year and have outlived the predictions for our existence by 5 years. Women are funny but in a different way to men.

  • mark mashiter

    but it doesn’t sound ridiculous – because we know its not true.

  • Ariane Sherine

    Excellent article. I look forward to seeing the acts you mentioned. Don’t worry about Germaine Greer, she’s famous for being contrarian. Ironically, the one time I saw her live (on a panel show) she was very funny.

  • James Mullinger

    What a brilliant and spot on article by a fantastic comedian.

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