A couple years ago, some LA comics started a Facebook campaign to call out shows that were booking one or no women on their lineups. It was actually a pretty effective "consciousness raising" exercise, even got picked up by the local NPR station, but the actual results of it are questionable at best. I thought it was in interesting and well-intentioned experiment, but of course this was before internet shaming had become as common as reaction gifs and cat memes. Now, shows and venues receive a regular trolling that, as Asam Ahmed puts it, "isn’t just a private interaction between two individuals: it’s a public performance where people can demonstrate their wit or how pure their politics are"
A great example is the tweet in the header image. This user is calling out a Los Angeles-based show to her 43 followers (I checked) from Washington, DC. This has literally zero economic or social impact on that show, it's just grandstanding for this girl's small group of friends, family and coworkers. She's not even looking at the context of how many women the show has previously had on or that the New York edition of the show the following night actually featured three women.
Which isn't to say a dearth of opportunities for female (and black, latino, arab and queer) comedians doesn't exist and doesn't need to be addressed. It absolutely does and it absolutely does. Ted Alexandro is right on the nose when he says "As a white male, I have undeniably been given advantages throughout that people of color and women are not afforded. Comedy clubs are largely owned and booked by white males. They decide who gets stage time, which then dictates who develops and progresses. Yes, of course you have to be funny, but white male voices are disproportionately nurtured and allowed room to grow."
Now, there are some bookers out there who are just plan misogynist, racist assholes. But quite a few actually aren't. Most are just struggling small businessmen who are trying to keep a risky proposition afloat, or when it comes to free and independent shows, they are comedians or lovers of comedy with no agenda besides having fun and putting on a great show. So this leads to two major forces that propel white men into spots, neither of which is nefarious.
- The viscous cycle of reliable profits - More white men get more opportunities to be on TV or move into a headliner spot to begin with, so they then get more opportunities to headline because clubs know they can deliver butts in seats.
- People like to work with their friends and people they admire - I book a lot of women because I hang out with a lot of women, who introduce me to other funny women and so on. If you're a white dude, you probably grew up idolizing Dave Attell, rather than Godfrey, and most of your crew is probably other white dudes. In a business where you don't get handed a lot of opportunities, but you do get a lot of headaches, why wouldn't you help your nearest and dearest first, especially if it means you get to work with people you already know you can get along with?
So, if you actually care more about seeing women (and queer people and people of color) represented on lineups than looking all righteous to your 43 followers, stop doing this crap and actually make a difference. Here's how:
Make Requests and Then Buy Tickets - Especially if you live in a city with only one or a couple of comedy clubs, don't tell them what you don't like, tell them what you want to see and then put your money where your mouth is. A quick look at Cap City Comedy Club in Austin's upcoming schedule shows Iliza Schlesigner, Nikki Glaser, Mary Lynn Rajskub and Ron Funches as upcoming headliners. That's not just thanks to Austin's progressive spirit, that's because these people are all on TV and have all proven they can draw a crowd. If you're such a fan of women in comedy, you should be able to think of three headliner level comedians right now and fire of an email, tweet and/or Facebook message that says "I love Jackie Kashian and want to see her at your club!" Even better, gather a group of your friends to all tweet or even do an online petition to show the club exactly how many people in your region want to see this performer. (PS, if you're in Austin, definitely go see Nikki Glaser July 8-11, she's phenomenal)
Support Comedy Development - Comedians don't just spring, fully-formed out of Zeus's head onto a club stage, they spend years and years performing in bars, pizza places, book shops and laundromats to hone their craft. Most of those shows are booked by other comedians or comedy lovers who are always looking for great talent to throw in the mix. Tell them who you love already and support people you see on the show and adore. I'll ignore your nasty taunt if you have a pittance of followers, but I pay attention to every single kudos and retweet a specific comedian I've booked gets. When you're negative, you're just another YouTube comment, when you're positive, you're a one-person Neilsen box. I assume there are more like you out there.
And you'd be surprised how fast this sort of positive word-of-mouth snowballs. We all go to each other's shows and see each other's flyers on Facebook. It's impossible not to go, "Oh wow, that Megan Gailey is everywhere, she must be good, I'll see if she can come do my show next month." And it's the system of comedian vouch that often pushes comics up into the paid showcase spots in NY and LA. If your city doesn't have a huge comedy scene, pay attention to the feature acts at the big clubs. They are either locals the club uses regularly or someone the headliner hand-picked to come with them, who ultimately wants a shot at headlining herself. Let the club know on your comment cards and every which way how you came for Attell, but fell in love with Jen Murphy.
I know it's a little more work than zipping off a 140 characters of useless outrage, and your college roommate won't be able to fave your comment card or private email, but if you want to see more women on stage, this is the way to go.