Comedy and Feminism are not very good friends.  Feminists are stereotyped by people both within the comedy community and "regular people" as humorless and they often back up this "they don't get it" stereotype by railing against comedy almost as much as they do mysogynistic rap lyrics.  On the other hand, they kind of have a point, comedy is sexist. 

First of all, let me orient you to my perspective.  I consider myself a pragmatic feminist - I think men and women should be treated equally and I also think men and women are inherently different.  If I pass out from smoke inhalation, I want the fireman who breaks down my door to be physically able to carry me outside.  A majority of men can do this, a majority of women can't.  If it means only 10% of the fire & rescue crew are women because there's only one lady in my town buff enough to pass that test, that's cool.  I also believe the sexes have mental, emotional and psychological differences that are based in biology and compounded by socialization.  There's only so many women who get computer science degrees, so there's only so many women you can hire to sling code.  And to an extent, that same theory applies to comedy.  But whereas tech companies probably err on the side of affirmative action, comedy errs way the fuck on the other end of the spectrum. 

So, yes, comedy is sexist, but not in the way you think. It's not a rejection of gender equality.  It's more like Comedy is the last place untouched by feminism.  I've been given or overheard advice like, "You can't be too attractive because men don't want to think of pretty girls as being funny" "If your joke is about some woman thing, always start out with 'Guys, you know when your girl..'" "Don't get lazy and talk about sex or your period."  All of those pieces of advice have some merit, but they also come from some Mad Men frozen-in-time idea than men are the main consumers of comedy so you better appeal to them and only them.  Meanwhile, young female comedians I've talked with are constantly approached by women at shows, thanking them for talking about sex & relationships in a way they can finally relate to.  And come on, dudes are constantly telling jokes about their shit and their cum, how is that somehow privileged as less hacky than talking about a little period blood?

But these attitudes are still widespread among the people who book clubs and TV specials and produce shows. So go ahead pick 10 lineups at random.  Like I said, there aren't enough women doing comedy to require 50-50, but there's plenty of seriously funny women to fill up more than the paltry percentage you'll find. 

Some cool links to stuff about women in comedy


Then there's the offstage sexism. Because comedy has always been male-dominated, it's organically become a Bro-dom.  And, as artists, most comedians want to create with people who they know they get along with and who share their vision.  Just like how in the business world if you go golfing with your boss, you might get some accidental favoritism just because you're there, a lot of projects are born while friends are just hanging out, grabbing a beer, or playing basketball.  And, for the most part, these activities are sausage fests.  So women aren't being excluded, they're not even there to be excluded.

And then there's sex.  Comedians are just funny insecure rock stars and have girls constantly throwing themselves at them just like rock stars.  And they're usually more than happy to partake & make no secret of it.  Female comedians, on the other hand, constantly have to watch for whispers that they got a spot because of someone they slept with or that their boyfriend wrote that good joke for them.  I've never once heard anyone say "Man, this guy sucks, how'd he get on the show?" "Eh, he probably got the spot with his dick." And woe unto the female comedian who is labeled as having hooked up with "too many" of her male peers.  Remember those sausage fests where great ideas are born?  Yeah, she's definitely not invited. 

And predictably, this environment with lack of opportunities and sexist attitudes among the men leads to old school cattiness from other women as well.  I've been blessed to meet a good number of very funny female comedians who have the "rising tide carries all boats" attitude, but unfortunately there are plenty more whose attitudes toward other women run the hostile gamut from "There's only gonna be one woman on this show, it better be me, not you" to slut-shaming to "That female comedian is so bad, she's making us all look bad." (I'll admit it, I've thought that last one)

What's Your Problem Ep 3: Cursed with a Vagina

But every coin has two sides, and just like the housewife who controlled the pursestrings had a lot of power over the husband bringing home the paycheck, women can sometimes get a little extra out of the system.  Through some combination of the maternal/sisterly thing, the fact that girls are less threatening, and probably a little bit of attraction here and there, I've made friends with comedians way ahead of me in the game - they've been on my shows, they've vouched for me with bookers, they've given me advice and they've made me funnier just by letting me hang around with them.

And as much as I think a lot of very talented female comedians aren't getting enough spots, those of us who are much newer often get better spots than we deserve because we're filling the token spot.  And plenty of female comedians absolutely gets spots with their vagina - and in some cases they have enough talent that it ultimately doesn't matter how they got there once they get on stage.

Overall, I'd honestly say that sexism in comedy has been more of a pro than a con in my journey so far.  I've reaped the benefits that I could, but only because it absolutely exists. 

AuthorThe Comedy Groupie