Too often female comedians are forced to make themselves the butt of the joke rather than showcasing their own wit and experience. Why is this, I wonder?
Having seen Sarah Millican live a few years ago, I can say that, at least to a degree, female comedians restrict themselves, deliberately or not, to joking about their eating habits and romantic lives far more than their male counterparts. Despite being downright hilarious, it seemed that a lot of Millican’s jokes revolved around eating too much and spending time with a cat.
It’s not that women aren’t funny. Not by a long shot. Quite frankly, I think so many female comedians are undervalued and have the potential to really break out of the mould the public sets them in. To be perfectly honest, I’d rather watch them than see yet more recycled material from Michael McIntyre. Not that I don’t love the likes of McIntyre and Russell Howard, but it irks me somewhat that they have the freedom to talk about literally anything and make it funny, whilst women face societally-enforced limitations. We do have things to say too, you know?
The late Victoria Wood is widely viewed as one of the queens of British Comedy – and part of the reason she was, and remains, so well-loved is that her comedy was accessible. A unique stand-up comedian, Wood was always viewed as honest in her comedy and I think this is a trait we should value more. Let’s be honest about everything, normalise talking about the lived experiences of women without their relationship to men.
Corinne Fisher, co-host of Guys We Fucked, a celebrated anti slut-shaming podcast, has spoken about about being confronted by a male audience member after a show on several occasions and being branded a “slut” because of the sexual content of her jokes. Amy Schumer has lamented being labelled a “sex-comic” despite talking about sex a good deal less than many male comics. It seems that we can’t own our sexualities as women, but have to have them dictated to us by men. Fuck that. We’ve got more to offer than just moaning about our periods and how men have disappointed us.
The sexism female comedians face is only exacerbated when looking at female comedians of colour. Comedy is, like so many other areas, dominated by white men. Irene Tu, who describes herself as “gay and Asian, but mostly a comedian” admits that comedy has the “old boys club” vibe, and the casual misogyny, racism and homophobia often displayed at open mic nights can make starting in the industry extremely difficult.
[men] have the freedom to talk about literally anything,women face societally-enforced limitations
Part of the reason I’m a fan of Tina Fey and Amy Poehler is that they talk about real issues regarding politics and social justice rather than just making cracks at their personal lives and eating habits. Ellen Degeneres is another woman who barely talks about sex. And you know what, they don’t need to. Because everyone knows they have other funny things to say. But let’s not pit women against each other. Sexism in comedy, just like in pretty much any area of life, is a very real thing; women don’t need to aggravate the situation by stepping on each other.
On the other hand, when I think about my own life (and I am by no stretch of the imagination a comedian), a lot of the stand-out “funny” moments do come from mishaps in my sex life, or from screwing up in the gym. And it’s perfectly fine to talk about that kind of thing if you’re comfortable with it. People often squirm when women make crass jokes about sex but don’t bat an eyelid when men do the same. Why are we so uncomfortable with women speaking freely about their sex lives and their bodies? It seems that a lot of the time people are uncomfortable with women speaking freely. I’m looking at you, patriarchy.
It’s not just during the shows that discrepancies between male and female comedians become obvious – when was the last time you saw a male comedian being slammed in the tabloids for what they wore to the BAFTAs? In 2016, can we please throw double standards out of the window already?