Women just aren’t as funny, or so they say
“Nah. Thanks, but no thanks. No offence – I just don’t think you lot are all that funny.” So spoke a real charmer this time last year as I attempted to unload upon him a flyer for my one-woman comedy show at the Edinburgh Fringe. Don’t get me wrong, I love my job – but in what other job, (apart from being a football referee obviously) are your skills so openly called into question on account of your gender? You wouldn’t go to a restaurant and demand a male waiter because you don’t think the waitress will manage not to eat all your chips on the way to the table; you wouldn’t refuse a prescription from a female doctor in case she absentmindedly prescribed Skittles instead of actual drugs; and you wouldn’t decline to get on a bus driven by a female driver just in case she had to pull over for a bit and think about fluffy kittens.
Women aren’t funny. That’s the old truism. It’s odd because the biggest sitcom on TV right now is Miranda. But apparently we now have our quotient of funny women. We have Jennifer Saunders and Miranda Hart and Sharon Horgan and that’s probably enough for now, thank you. Almost as if there’s a limit, imposed by some ancient and terrible old prat, and we’ve reached it, and if we surpass it the world will implode.
I’m a character comedian, and so I write and perform my own material and the biggest journey for me since I started out has been the journey of growing gigantic balls (you will need UV lights of professional quality and an incubator). I’m no shrinking violet, don’t get me wrong, but learning to trust your own voice, and that you have something to say, is tough. And it makes it that bit harder if you know that some people in your audience have already decided that you can’t be that funny because you’ve got a D cup (ok, a C cup).
In Edinburgh, women doing character comedy are so often pulled up in reviews for simply trying to showcase their acting talent. I find this strange for two reasons: one, if you didn’t like the show that’s because you didn’t find it funny, not because she was showcasing her acting which should, one presumes, broadly be a good thing. Two, I don’t think I’ve ever read a review in which a male character comedian has been accused of the same.
I was talking to the brilliant comedian Cariad Lloyd about this only the other day and we were discussing how during preview season all of our male comedian friends were ridiculously and puke-inducingly relaxed about Edinburgh, whereas all we ever seemed to do was worry. She said that sometimes it feels like when men go on stage and try a gag out, it might fail but people will probably applaud them anyway. When women go on stage and try out a joke that falls flat on its arse people look at you as if to say, “what made you think you could do that?”, or worse, female performers themselves think, “why did I try that, how humiliating, I probably should just give up.”
It’s almost like we’re not allowed to fail in the same way that male comedians are – or rather, any individual failure only confirms the general rule that women suck at comedy. The silence of the audience actually means, ‘I told you so!’ But nobody says, ‘That male comedian did a mother-in-law joke I didn’t like, and therefore I have concluded that all people with penises are inherently lacking a sense of humour’. Somehow, men messing up is funny. Women messing up is embarrassing. Look at the reaction in parliament last month when Anne Marie Morris, a Conservative MP, tried to make a point but somehow worked herself up into a frenzy of high-pitched hysteria. The men all around her parped and wooped like an army of flatulent seals.
The result is that some women become more cautious. They try and avoid sticking their necks out. They take comfort in the rules. My idea of breaking rules at school was to not wear Kappa trousers like everyone else was…and only because my Mum refused to buy them for me. But comedy is all about breaking the rules – being anarchic and saying the wrong thing, failing a thousand times before you can succeed once. And I see my male contemporaries performing, and particularly in previews they are great at just trying stuff out, throwing stuff at the wall and seeing what sticks.
But I do sometimes wonder if that’s all people think we like to do. Women follow the rules and are there to tell you off if you step out of line. Men are the ones who goof around. Women definitely don’t goof. I watch a lot of sitcoms, and it’s rare that the female characters are given anything to actually do, other than berate men for being childish and idiotic. It’s the old ‘rolling their eyes’ syndrome. They’re always the rule makers, never the rule breakers.
However, a fellow comedienne recently said to me that there are more articles about women in comedy than there are actual women in comedy. And now there’s another one. Maybe the answer is to stop talking, and start doing. After all, I’ve got some giant balls that are nearing the end of their incubation period, so it’s time for me to roll them out and flatten all of Edinburgh with them.
Catriona Knox’s show Hellcat will run 1-27 August, 5.40pm at Underbelly, Bristo Square, Edinburgh FestivalTagged in: Arts, comedy, culture, edinburgh festival, women
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