It appears as though the age-old debate of ‘Women aren’t funny’ is still ongoing. So where does this assumption derive from? Interestingly, an evolutionary psychology theory proposes the notion that humour is competitively produced by males to impress potential mates for breeding.
This may seem slightly dubious but in fact, research conducted by psychologist Geoffrey Miller demonstrates that females indicate a preference for mates who makes them laugh, whereas males prefer a mate who laughs at their humour.
Whilst this is an entirely plausible theory and offers an explanation regarding comedic differences found in males and females, it is not fair to sustain the preconception of women simply not having an ounce of humour within them. With testosterone-fuelled comedy panel shows like Mock the Week and Never Mind the Buzzcocks, it came as no surprise when the BBC recently pledged to ban all-male panel shows; hopefully paving the way for more female comedians to grace our screens.
Perhaps the most apparent problem that female comedians are encountering, is the deliberate expulsion of women throughout the comedy business. This significantly contributes to the lack of female visibility on comedic booking acts. Female comedian Jenny Collier shared her experience of this by posting a screenshot of an email on Twitter she received, informing her that her booking had been cancelled simply due to her gender.
The concept that limiting female stand-up bookings is a means of positive discrimination is absurd, particularly when considering the fact that a 2010 poll conducted by Channel 4 revealed that 94 out of the 100 ‘greatest’ stand-up comedians were men. Unfortunately, the numbers in the comedy industry have since worsened since the 2010 poll; of the 20 highest-earning stand-up comedians in Britain at the moment, just one – Sarah Millican – is a woman.
How then, can it be argued that limiting female stand-up bookings exists solely for the purpose of benefitting female comedians? Surely, it in fact places female comedians at a significant disadvantage?
Fortunately however, there have been measures introduced to encourage more women in comedy to succeed and one instance of this is The Funny Women awards. Lara A. King, recent winner of The Funny Women award, disregards the idea often posed to explain the lack of women in comedy; that men are simply funnier than women, irrespective of any comedic disadvantage proposed by psychological theories or ‘positive discrimination’ faced by female comedians.
She states, “Just because more men are doing it, that doesn’t necessarily mean they are better at it. I think they get given the breaks a bit more, and they get given a little bit more slack. I think women are less encouraged and less supported. People who book comedy nights do tend to think that just one woman on the bill is really quite enough.” Is it too hopeful to imagine that this issue of gender inequality in the comedy business can soon be eradicated?
Be sure not to completely rule out women in comedy though, because from sketch and character comedy to improvisation, they have established themselves to be greatly diverse performers. With the fantastic success of The Ellen DeGeneres Show, it would be easy to forget that Ellen’s career actually originated in the stand-up comedy scene. Tina Fey is also another female who rose to prominence, from being the former head writer of Saturday Night Live, as well as writing the film script of the popular comedy Mean Girls.
As comedy has opened up, women who once might not have dared write comedy, or writers who hadn’t considered performing, have been emboldened to become writers and get on stage. Successful comedian Sarah Millican was asked in a recent interview whether she has confidence for the next generation of female comedians. “Absolutely!” came her answer. “It’s important for those females interested in comedy to be inspired and get out there, be noticed.
“For myself, Jo Brand influenced me greatly. I can’t imagine what it must have been like for her to stand up on stage when she was such a rarity. But I am so grateful that she did, because it has made my life so much easier, and it’s definitely paved the way for the rest of us female comedians to become recognised.
“And in turn, we are paving the way for the next generation of female comedians. Who’s to say, maybe at some point in the not too distant future, there’ll be no paving that needs to be done. It will be entirely paved. We will have a lovely patio of female comedians.”
By Humayraa Shaikh