Comedy scene 'is sexist'

Industry weighted against women

The comedy world is still weighted against women, some of the industry's leading lights have claimed.

Audiences are reluctant to accept female stand-ups, misogynistic gags are still acceptable and women find it tougher to deal with rowdy crowds and life on the road, the panel of experts said.

But others involved in the discussion at Edinburgh - where an all-male Perrier shortlist was announced yesterday - claimed that becoming a success in stand-up was difficult for everyone, not especially for women.

Australian comic Julia Morris (pictured) said: "Women and men alike see a female comic come on the stage and go 'aw, no, this is going to be shit!' People think all female comics want to talk about their periods."

However TV producer Amanda Robins said that women do have a different style to men, but said: "Why should women have to change their own personal and gender-induced sense of humour to fit into the male-dominated world of comedy?"

Perrier Award director Nica Burns argued that there are a lot women in the industry at all levels - promoters, producers and agents - who have the power to change things.

But Morris said the demands of life on the road meant many women quit before they got to that level.

She said: "At the grass roots, the circuit can be pretty shit, with travelling and hassle and all for £60 in your pocket at the end of the night. It is a pretty lonely existence."

Fellow comic Jackie Clune said a sexist attitude was endemic on the circuit.

"Twenty years ago it was OK to make gags at women's expense," she said, "then it got marginally better. Now it seems that it's turned full circle and it's all right again to treat women appallingly, but it is not."

Marcus Brigstocke, whose Edinburgh show contains an awards judge character claiming that there are no funny female comics, said his joke was acceptable.

"It's funny. If the gag brings the house down night after night, people should get a sense of humour and stop taking themselves so seriously."

Clune said: "So it would perfectly acceptable to say 'kill a black man' if the audience thought it was funny? To joke about middle-class white men is not going to unsettle the base of patriarchy."

The panel concluded that the solution was for women not to try to compete in the existing arena, but find their own way to the top.

Burns said: "Women don't have to use stand-up as their only option to rise up through the ranks, look at Jessica Stephenson and French and Saunders. They spent the minimal amount of time on the circuit and then concentrated more on theatre."

But the comics said that some women were still attracted to the power of stand-up.

Susan Provan, director of the Melbourne Comedy Festival suggested more all-female bills on the circuit. "Women only gigs should be encouraged in a softly-softly approach as it is in Australia," she said. "Introduce headliners and then a couple more and audiences don't even notice, as long as they have a good time."

San Francisco comic Scott Capurro agreed: "It has certainly worked in the gay and lesbian comic community, and enables a more supportive environment - which can only be a good thing."

Published: 22 Aug 2002

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