Why I pray to Katherine Ryan | Opinion: Jordon Best on the power she draws from other female comedians

Why I pray to Katherine Ryan

Opinion: Jordon Best on the power she draws from other female comedians

Before going on stage, I say to myself ‘in the name of the Katherine, the Sara and the Lou Sanders’ and it allows me to channel the feminine energy I need to tell my best wank joke on stage in front of 25 people. 

Away from the stage, I generally don’t like people to know I do stand-up, as it usually elicits one of three tiresome responses. The first, ‘tell me a joke’, is one I find particularly annoying as I don’t carry around a Rolodex of one-liners suited to the middle-aged man patronising me at that point in time. The second, ‘what comedy do you do?’, harmless, though I still haven’t found an answer that isn’t me stumbling through some um’s and ah’s and saying something cringey like ‘observation’. The third, more prevalent than you would think, is something about me being a woman. 

In one particular instance, it was by a man who usually replies to me asking if he wants sugar in his cappuccino with: ‘Nah love, I'm sweet enough.’ An undeniable comedic genius, we can all agree. 

The conversation went like so. ‘Oh, someone told me you do comedy.’  To which I replied, ‘Yes.’ This, apparently, was a keen invitation for him to inform me that women aren’t funny (harsh, I know, but he called me ‘sweetie’, so it’s fine). Followed by his well-thought-out argument that women can laugh at ‘men’s things’, but men can’t laugh at ‘women’s things’. 

I encourage women not to laugh at men’s ‘things’, it’s mean and it’s not their fault it looks like that. 

I didn’t bother arguing, because what can you say to a person who believes the only thing women should say is ‘dinner’s ready’ and ‘Gee, you’re so good in bed, Gary." 

The nature of such a sweeping generalisation such as ‘women aren’t funny’ is bizarre to me. If a male comedian isn’t to my taste, I can’t imagine ever thinking ‘well, that settles it, men aren’t funny’. Or even, ‘Australian men aren’t funny’. Or even, ‘Australian men aged by approximate estimation 30 to 35 aren't funny’. I could maybe say, ‘Australian men aged by approximate estimation 30 to 35, from the remote coastal town of Yamba aren’t very funny’. Even then, that’s only because not many people live there and I doubt their comedy scene is very good. 

When on stage, I sometimes feel the crowd pull back. There is a sense of ‘prove it’ laid on the shoulders of comedians who don’t fit an archetype. Some may debate it, but I believe women have to work harder for laughs that may be easier offered up to men telling the same joke. I am, for the most part, just trying to make people laugh. To be a representative of the entirety of womankind in the eyes of some spectators is a lot of pressure on that favourite wank-joke. 

A hint to audience members: to say ‘I don’t usually find women funny, but you were good,’ is not as nice to hear as you think. 

Growing up, I watched a lot of stand-up. Above all, I'm a fan. I often used to binge-watch specials with my dad. One day in the hellish era of my early teens I said to him ‘women aren’t funny, are they?’. Horrific, I know, especially considering what better craic my friends and I were than any boys in our year. 

My dad, a quiet man who would be bound to the couch all afternoon if the cat was on his lap for fear of disturbing her, made sure Katherine Ryan appeared on the television soon after. Katherine Ryan’s In Trouble led me down a marvellous wormhole of obsession into those in the British comedy scene, a far-off wonderland, for me and me alone. It was only once I had watched every scrap of content I could find by Katherine, Jo Brand, Sara Pascoe, Roisin Conaty, Lou Sanders and Shappi Khorsandi that I felt I could finally make content of my own. 

It’s not to say that I no longer enjoyed men’s comedy, I just learned I was allowed on that stage, too. 

Personally, I don’t find the problem lies with the comedy scene itself, aside from a few bad experiences, comedy circles are usually welcoming of change and I appreciate the sense of camaraderie found in them. I have to respect the conscious effort of inclusion being made while not ignoring there is a long way to go. 

Representation in media was crucial for me. It was a monumental turning point in allowing me to envision what I was capable of. It’s the reason that when I hear ‘women aren’t funny’ I can take solace in the fact that I know they’re wrong. That I will never again feel 14 and that men’s stories are the only ones worth hearing. 

Before I go on stage, I will continue to say my little prayer to the women who inspired me to do the thing I love most in the world, the thing that drives me, that ignites me and perhaps most importantly stops me from spending my days in bed eating stale fries. 

May my best wank-joke have mercy on your soul, Amen. 

Published: 28 May 2019

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