Stand Up & Sock it to Them Sister by Gwenno Dafydd
Book review by Steve Bennett
After Bethany Black revealed last weekend that she was turned down for a gig as there were ‘too many women’ booked, it’s clear that the old prejudices faced by female stand-ups are proving stubborn to shift.
So perhaps then the time is right for a book about women in stand-up, from the early days to the obstacles the modern circuit throws up, based purely on gender.
In Stand Up And Sock It To Them Sister, Gwenno Dafydd has spoken to scores of performers, who have plenty of insight to share about their experiences. Only trouble is, she’s a truly dreadful writer herself, and anything useful that comes out of the book seems to do so despite her, rather than because of her.
Her passages have the tone of an unedited blog, not a book you’re asked to spend £12 on: bizarre trains of thought, complete with irrationally capitalised Words to make them seem important, interjections of Random Thoughts and a surfeit of exclamation marks for effect!!!!
Take this, when she speaks of music hall pioneer Jenny Hill, who was known for the adverts she placed in the Victorian press. ‘Nowadays this potential is available to all of use [sic],’ Dafydd writes. ‘With Twitter LinkedIn and Facebook enabling us all to be our own marketing gurus. Although I have to mention here someone contacted me on LinkedIn a few months ago and said she was getting rather fed up of seeing my postings about everything I was doing – grrrrrrrrr I thought that is what they are for!! - to grow business and relationships. They are not going to grow unless people know what you are doing and you may well annoy people in the process, which I obviously did!!! (by the way, she was in a well-paid secure job, so what was she doing seeing my posts in work time!!!!)’ and then it’s back to Jenny Hill… What drivel.
Her contribution are littered with irrelevant details about her personal life – look here’s a picture of her with her running medals! – or clunky, naively idealistic political points. Just try this mess, again randomly off-topic: ’Whist you’re at it let’s have a bit of wealth distribution from the house of Saxe Coburg too with all their ridiculous but powerful paraphernalia and too much money in the bank they could alleviate world hunger in one quick sweep if they chose to.’
Dafydd’s crimes against English also include coining an acronym, FSUC, for female stand-up comedians, which apart from offending a sense of simplicity and clarity, inadvertently has the effect of setting female acts aside from male comedians, who are just comedians. Why can’t the women just have the same term? To create something new seems as naff as calling them comediennes.
That underpins the inherent problems of any book like this, that it can set women aside as a different breed rather than equals but different. As such she sometimes reinforces stereotypes it doesn’t mean to – for example, by saying that some clubs are too ‘aggressive’ for women. But there are acts like Janey Godley or Jo Brand who’d face any room down, certainly better than most fey low-status male comics.
However, the fact that female comics face greater obstacles than their male counterparts is beyond doubt. Even before you get to the practicalities of the circuit and plain old sexism, there are issues of social and biological conditioning, about how men typically interact in groups differently from women or how both genders size up a woman for her attractiveness (covered much better in Sara Pascoe’s recent tome Animal). Dafydd mentions several times THE BIG MYTH (always capitalised, though it occasionally becomes THE BIG THEORY for no reason) that women aren’t funny, that still has plenty of misguided adherents.
Then there’s the everyday sexism, from the ‘show us your tits’ heckles, seedy promoters and policies like the ridiculous ‘no two women’ idea. Plus women do have a tougher time with the travelling and the late nights, because of the sort of society men have built.
Buy again Dafydd fumbles the ball. For starters, she’s just plain wrong in insisting all open spots happen after midnight, which might have been true when the Comedy Store was the only show in time, but not for maybe 35 years.
In another linguistically messy sentence she writes: ‘Life on the road can be quite gruelling for anyone, but has practical "challenges" [no idea why this word is in quotes] for women who tend to be the ones who do the washing, ironing and organising and "caring" on behalf of men who are on the road in whatever capacity whether that’s because they’re a long-distance lorry driver, in computers or a stand-up comedian.’
Equally clumsy she says: ‘So many of the comedy clubs on the London circuit are spread out throughout London [where else would they be?] with no coach and horses to get you from one to the other as in the time of the Music Halls.’ What the actual…? Is she really saying travel was better by coach and horses than by Uber?
This is an exasperating read, made even more frustrating because you could take all the interviews in this book, conducted over 20 years, and edit them to highlight their salient points and give real insight.
Instead Dafydd lumps answers to the same question together and hopes something useful will fall out. When you’ve read the fifth page of comedians telling you where they’ve gone to school, that seems optimistic.Though in the second half, when the interviewees – sorry, Interviewees, mustn’t forget the capitalisation – start talking about their job, their quotes do start speaking for themselves, and don’t need Dafydd to make her unhelpful contributions.
One of the most telling comments comes from Angie Le Mar: ‘I think it’s women themselves that stops women from doing stand-up. I think they’ve got a block there already. They start of going, "It’s going to be hard as a woman, it’s going to be hard as a woman."’’
This book gives hundreds pages worth of fuel to those insecurities, even though it never meant to.
- • Stand Up And Sock It To Them Sister: Funny, Feisty Females by Gwenno Dafydd is published by Parthian Books, priced £11.99. It is available from Amazon here.
Posted: 15 Sep 2016