Last issue, Adriane Reardon published an article about women in comedy. While it did tackle a few issues that women in comedy face, such as a number of double standards and the aggressive sexual harassment that occasionally occurs, I still feel like it only brushed the surface. Therefore, I decided to write another article in addition to hers that highlights what I perceive as the main issue that face women in comedy: the institutionalised sexism and the toxic male culture that goes unchallenged. I had only performed on the Melbourne circuit for about a year and a half before I took an indefinite leave of absence, and I mostly performed in inner city venues run by my young, progressive friends. Thus, this article only reflects my own personal experiences and opinions and I am in no way talking on behalf of every female in the world.
My main frustration on the circuit was with the lack of consequences for those male comedians that did contribute to the toxic environment and who sometimes would go as far as to sexually harass the women around them. When I was very new to the scene, I went to a gig as an audience member. There were only 30 people in the audience, all of which were comedians. My best friend and I were the only two women in the room. At this stage, I had just barely begun to befriend the other comics and I was desperate to make a good impression. In the second bracket, the room runner got up to do his spot. Towards the end of his set he said “Ok. I’m going to leave you with an impression. This is what a girl looks like when a boy cums on her face.” I rolled my eyes and looked at my bestie with a “here we go” look. The guy then stopped and said “Actually, where are the girls at?” He proceeded to look around the room until he spotted me. He then pointed at me and said “You! This is what you look like when a boy cums on your face.” He then mimed jerking off and being hit in the face with cum. I was absolutely humiliated and beyond angry. I was in a position where I didn’t feel like I could heckle him or stand up for myself, because he had the power and I didn’t want to come across as a woman who didn’t know how to take a joke to my new friends. I was literally shaking with anger in my seat, but I was powerless. As everyone left, they all walked over to that guy and shook his hand and thanked him for the gig. I was appalled. Later on, everyone agreed that it was a fucked up thing for him to do, but no one said anything to him. And that is the attitude that makes being a woman in comedy hard.
I remember reading an article about a woman who had staged a silent protest after a comedian told a rape joke. He later walked off the stage saying to her “I hope you die”. Unsurprisingly, all of the backlash from this incident landed on the girl, and not on the comedian. Other comedians came to his rescue and defended his actions. The general consensus was that “if you’re sensitive, then you shouldn’t go to comedy.” This is a perfect example of the toxic attitude surrounding the industry. This comedian still got gigs after this incident. He wasn’t made an example of or criticised by his peers. He was heralded as someone who fought a feminist and won. It’s been 2 years since that happened, and yet, nothing has changed. The amount of times I have seen men do offensive material and suffer no consequences is unbelievable. The amount of times I have been mocked for my feminist beliefs is unbelievable. Being politically correct is seen as a bad thing amongst certain circles within the community. But it really isn’t. Being politically correct just means that you don’t want to make anyone feel bad about who they are. If you can’t make edgy or controversial jokes without being offensive, then you aren’t a very good comedian.
Women in comedy has been a discussion point for the last few years, so it must come as no surprise that most female comedians are sick of talking about it. As far as I can tell, all women want to do is get out there and do their job without constantly having to justify their existence. Saying that, the women in male dominated industries discussion is obviously important, but I don’t think that the issue has anything to do with women; it’s more about the male culture that refuses to change. There are so many men that think because they aren’t inherently sexist, that they are heroes doing God’s work. So many room runners who think that because they book female acts, they are knights in shining armour saving us damsels in distress. But all they are, are not dickheads. If you are a man in comedy and you see someone do or say something unacceptable and you do nothing about it, then you are part of the problem. I think that the women in comedy today are doing their part to break down double standards and create opportunities for themselves. It’s now time for the boys to stand up and do their part to crush the institutionalised sexism in the industry.
This article was originally published in Farrago Magazine