Catherine Otero - Teen Aspect - June 20th, 2020
It is clear that the world of comedy has always been male-dominated and that notion has yet to change. Among comedians, 26.7% of them are women compared to 73.3% who are men.1 Why is there such a large disparity between male and female comedians?
Well, the answer can trail back to the almighty, yet dense response – Women are not funny.
As much as one would hate to believe that this is a genuine answer utilized against the questioning of these large gaps in the employment percentage of male and female comedians, it is. In the early 2000s, this response attained great popularity with scientific studies being performed to answer the question of why women are not funny and with popular media outlets, such as Vanity Fair, coming out with headlines titled: “Why Women Aren’t Funny” and “Why Women Still Don’t Get It.” Since then, it has become societally unacceptable to release headlines such as those or to bash women to that extent, yet that does not mean it has stopped occurring. In the comedy industry, it is extremely common for misogynistic comments to ensue because the comedy world is, inevitably, a man’s world. Aspiring comedian Emily Weir has been forced to reflect on the “boys club” that is comedy since she began participating in male-dominated stand-up competitions at 19: “I entered a competition a few years ago where I was the only woman on the bill. My competitors were older men who would chastise me by making comments like ‘Get your tits out!’ It really shocked me that as a woman I could threaten them,” she says.2 This is a matter of great concern because occurrences like these are happening every day to women, whether it be crude comments from colleagues or audience members, it has become increasingly difficult to feel safe in this industry as a female. Not to mention, the high level of sexual harassment that women in comedy face. A BBC study found that 53% of women experience sexual harassment at work. For female stand-up comedians, that figure rises to 75%, with 25% of female comedians having been molested by a fellow comedian.3 This vast difference in percentages may be an immense culture shock to some because the topic of female comedians is rarely discussed and almost silenced. During the 2015 ARIA Awards, comedian and Triple J presenter Matt Okine pointed out during his acceptance speech that there were no women nominated in his category for ‘Best Comedy Release’. Okine’s recognition of the underrepresentation of women in comedy was not broadcast that night.4 This can only lead to the assumption that the entertainment industry allows these misdemeanors to go unpunished, which only raises concerns about the lack of real gender representation in our society.
Some may bring about the argument that the reasoning behind these low percentages is due to the fact that few women actually participate in this industry or wish to take part in it, yet that could not be further from the truth. Various women have been taking their shot at comedy, however, there is a very small pool of opportunities that women are granted to go through with their attempts at a successful career as a comedian. It is as simple as that; it is a lack of opportunity – not a lack of talent. And the only possible explanation for the repetitive bashing and hounding and recycling of ‘why are women not funny?’ is that either people are too ignorant to face the real cause or that they don’t want to face it.5 To take a deeper approach to analyze this situation, it is important to understand why comedy itself is so popular in the first place. Comedy allows one to discuss sensitive topics surrounding politics, religion, ethnicity, gender, etc. through jokes. These jokes question what is deemed “normal” in our society and help to test the boundaries of cultural thinking, either reinforcing existing norms or paving the way for cultural change.6 So, when these jokes are being uttered by a marginalized group such as women, those who are considered privileged in this industry (white men) are threatened by women bringing up the dark side of society and gender bias through their jokes and succeeding at it. Men are discouraged by the fact that a female comedian’s target audience is females, yet they do not take the time to understand where they are coming from nor sympathize with their experiences, so all they can do is formulate an underdeveloped response such as – Women are not funny. Going back to the lack of opportunities presented to female comedians, in the event where a female comedian is provided an opportunity, no female comedians will accept their invitations, for fear of tokenism7 or the concept of recruiting people from underrepresented groups to present the illusion that a workplace is for gender equality.
The world of comedy is one that grows more difficult to navigate by the day for women. Society is evolving and we are in a different era compared to the heightened misogyny of the early 2000s, isn’t it time that we give female comedians a chance?
1. Kolmar, C. (2022, April 18). Comedian Demographics and Statistics : Number of comedians in the US. Comedian Demographics and Statistics : Number Of Comedians In The US. Retrieved June 5, 2022, from https://www.zippia.com/comedian-jobs/demographics/
2, 4. Adriane Reardon (writer), E. M. C. (graphics). (2016, May 16). The feminine critique: Women in comedy. FARRAGO. Retrieved June 5, 2022, from https://farragomagazine.com/article/farrago/2016-05-16-the-feminine-critique-women-in-comedy/
5. Chowdhury, A. (2020, February 14). Female comedians and their gendered burden of being funny. Retrieved June 5, 2022, from https://feminisminindia.com/2020/02/14/female-comedians-and-their-gendered-burden-of-being-funny/
3, 6, 7. 2019, C. J., & Sayer, K. (2022, April 11). Funny females: Where are the women in comedy? The Oxford Student. Retrieved June 5, 2022, from https://www.oxfordstudent.com/2019/07/06/funny-females-where-are-the-women-in-comedy/