Pretty funny... for a woman

Taylor Glenn writes another of those 'sexism in comedy' articles...

I should start by saying that I sigh, rather deeply, when I see the myriad of articles about ‘Being A Woman In Comedy’ that get shared to their social network death. Are we still writing about this? In 2011? Yes, we are, and not without good reason. Is it my main issue as a comedienne, to muse about my gender and the precarious link between my comedy and my lack of mantackle? Not at all. And yet here I am, begrudgingly compelled to write about the topic.

It’s because I had a gig not so long ago where someone actually came up to me afterwards and uttered the dreaded words ‘you’re funny’ followed by quick-dilating pupils and a subtle nod

‘...especially for a woman.’

It wasn’t meant as an insult, yet it was one of the most backhanded compliments I’d ever received. It didn’t make me angry, either – it just surprised me. Partly because the person saying it was a woman herself. But chiefly – because that woman had just broken the code. We aren’t supposed to admit that we aren’t fully supportive of our ‘sisters’. We’re supposed to high five and say ‘right on! Love yer scarf, where’d you get it?’ and roll our eyes at the poor, drooly, primitive men who just don’t get us and never will, bless their droopy testicles. But if I’m being honest, I often find myself more intimidated by female-heavy audiences than male omes. I fear the hen do more than the stag.

Like a lot of things, some of it must lie in upbringing. I grew up in the States with two older brothers. It was a male dominated house, and one where finding a voice of sarcasm and wit meant not just attention, but survival. All-out feminism was frowned upon in my family – I think my mother feared rumours of buzz cuts and nipple rings – yet I was expected to buck up and hold my own with the menfolk when it came to banter. Also frowned upon was strategic flirting. I was taught to be very friendly to people, but never to use sexuality to get anything (except, erm, sex).

Maybe it was also a difference in gender culture (you can wear a baseball cap and no makeup without being assumed lesbian in America, we’re so super progressive that way!) or litigious culture (Americans are too afraid to be sexist lest they get their asses sued). Maybe it’s because I have what used to be a ‘boys’ only’ name which helped on job apps, dunno. But I never really considered being a woman a disadvantage in anything. It wouldn’t have occurred to me that if I worked hard at something, that the person holding the keys to that something would give them to someone else because they were a man.

Yet there is no denying that comedy remains a male-dominated industry in the UK. Or that women are often treated differently on the circuit by promoters. Sure, the kissing of cheeks might be written off as a cultural thing here, but hugging and saying ‘sweetie’ and indeed, yelling ‘put your mic in your cleavage!’ during a set certainly shouldn’t be. Besides, I’ve got very little cleavage to speak of, you insensitive bastard.

And as many a sociologist, psychologist and comic have established over the years, as well as that woman who dished up a patronising pat on the head at my gig, sexism isn’t merely a male vs. female thing.

But.... I don’t know what to do about it except to keep playing the game. The game being: I don’t let anyone get away with treating me differently than a man where I can help it, and otherwise, I don’t let it get to me – or at least I try my damndest. I’ve no desire to incorporate angry rantings about sexism in my set, and I don’t rage about men being assholes and women being underrepresented and disadvantaged beings in the comedy world – even if that’s sometimes what’s going on around me. I guess I just try to keep my energy on what’s funny to me.

When I set out to do this, I always knew I’d have to work hard – really hard – to prove myself as a comic. Maybe even to prove myself as an American comic in the UK. But I didn’t ever intend to have to ‘prove myself as a female comic’ so I’m not changing my tune now.

I recall a quote from one of my favourite comics, who happens to be female (and American), Lily Tomlin, who said ‘We’re all in this together. By ourselves.’ There’s enough of a battle with yourself in this game without getting caught up in the battle of the sexes.

Maybe that’s too simplistic, or even silly. But hey, I’ve got it on some good authority that I can be pretty funny for a woman.

Published: 6 Jan 2011

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