Comedian Ben McKenzie writes…
This year itâ€™s not an â€śarticleâ€ť that perpetuates the â€śdiscussionâ€ť, but Tianna Nadalinâ€™s recent review of Jen Brister. There are plenty of problems with the piece, not least that it consists mainly of poor retellings of Bristerâ€™s jokes rather than any kind of critique of her style or ability, but that canâ€™t hold a candle to the second sentence, which originally began: â€śVery few female comedians can pull off funny funnyâ€ť. This phrase has since been edited out, without explanation or even acknowledgement, but the clear implication of it remains: women canâ€™t be â€śfunny funnyâ€ť, only â€śwoman funnyâ€ť â€“ some other standard for comedy that only applies to women, as if men have some unfair advantage. And frankly, that makes me angry. Angry angry.
Comedy is a tough gig, and like most industries, dominated by men â€“ but only lazy thinking and ignorance of feminism can take you from â€śmale-dominatedâ€ť to â€śwomen arenâ€™t good at itâ€ť. Nevertheless, such thinking is rife, and hardly new: in 2006, punters rejected my flyers for womenâ€™s shows because â€śchicks arenâ€™t funnyâ€ť â€“ and many who did so were women. My attempts to challenge this thinking were met with stony silence â€“ and no deeper reasoning.
I was going to try and dissect where this attitude comes from, but the simple truth is that our society is still pretty damn sexist. But how to dispel the bullshit? Itâ€™s hard to find someone who who will openly discuss their prejudice. But, dear reader, through extensive research (I asked comics, punters and Twitter) I have discovered the main arguments that underlie this â€śopinionâ€ť. Join me now, as I respond to our imaginary, happy-to-be-challenged bigot in a fairly one-sided, vaguely Socratic dialogue.
Funny women only talk about relationships, vaginas, tampons, emotions, family, domesticity, personal problems, [insert 1950s idea of womenâ€™s conversational topics here].
Balls. This is the most common argument, but the least convincing. Letâ€™s put aside that male comics also talk about relationships, personal problems, domestic life and vaginas (and indeed balls); this list basically leaves a female comedian with very little to talk about that wonâ€™t confirm your bias. Most people complain about the tampons, yet the only reason Iâ€™ve seen women doing tampon gags is that they were all offered $50,000 last year by Libra Fleur to make this particular myth a reality. Somewhat unsurprisingly, that ad campaign never materialised â€“ though some of the resulting â€śyou keep your $50k and Iâ€™ll keep my dignityâ€ť material has been truly inspired, perhaps none better than Bec Hillâ€™s epic, not-what-Libra-Fleur-had-in-mind cardboard cut-out commercial performed to Journeyâ€™s â€śDonâ€™t Stop Believinâ€™â€ť
If you believe this, you need to see more female comedians. Actually, get out and see any. Jen Brister talks about being British and the politics of empire. Karin Muiznieks writes songs about flashers and serial killers. Francesca Martinez reveals the idiocy of how â€śnormalâ€ť people treat the wobbly among them. Geraldine Quinn (nominated for the Golden Gibbo this year) sings anthems for those ordinary yet extraordinary moments in all of our lives. Jo and Brydie expose the layers of resentment that lie beneath our best friendships. DeAnne Smith (2011 Barry Award nominee) talks about…well, about whatever the next crazy thing is that pops out of her head. And let me tell you, all of that is hilarious, and there are almost no tampons mentioned (though maybe a few cocks and vaginas).
Besides, who says jokes about tampons canâ€™t be funny?
Funny women arenâ€™t attractive.
These two concepts are entirely unrelated, and besides, if you donâ€™t list â€śfunnyâ€ť high on your list of attractive attributes for any person to have, thereâ€™s something wrong with you. Next.
(No, Iâ€™m not going to list a bunch of hot lady comics. We all have our comedy crushes. Besides, we funny men are hardly all oil paintings ourselves. Have you seen Greg Fleet?)
Funny women are aggressive.
Donâ€™t confuse assertive with aggressive. A woman who has a strong opinion and tells you about it isnâ€™t necessarily getting in your face. But is aggression a bad thing in comedy? Itâ€™s a valid stylistic choice. You might as well say â€śfunny women are laconicâ€ť. Some of them are, and you may not like laconic, but style and gender arenâ€™t really linked. Janeane Garofalo might get a bit aggressive, but hey, sheâ€™s complaining about American politics; how else can you respond? Hannah Gadsby (another Barry award nominee) and Geraldine Hickey are gentle but no less a powerhouse of mirth.
Funny women are too polite to be funny.
Now this is just taking the piss. A minute ago they were aggressive! You can be polite and funny, anyway. Just ask Courteney Hocking, Laura Davis or Lou Sanz â€“ any one of whom, by the way, can be incredibly dirty and polite at the same time. Sorry, did I just blow your tiny mind?
Funny women lack confidence.
This just doesnâ€™t stack up. Letâ€™s see you enter an industry in which youâ€™re a minority and stand in front of a crowd of judging eyes and ears and make them laugh for a whole hour. If you canâ€™t, maybe itâ€™s you who lacks confidence.
Funny women want to steal my partner.
Have you ever seen the hetero couple in the front row at a comedy gig? You know the one? Who seem fine and relaxed when thereâ€™s a guy on stage, but as soon as a woman comes on, the woman looks unimpressed and either crosses her arms or puts them around â€śher manâ€ť? Yeah. That says more about you than the woman on stage, Iâ€™m afraid.
Funny women never had to rely on being funny to get a date.
My, you are a mass of contradictions! You donâ€™t like her because sheâ€™s being funny to steal your man, but sheâ€™s no good because sheâ€™s never had to do that? Iâ€™m pretty sure women have never had to rely on being able to pay for dinner, speaking French, or buying expensive gifts to get dates either. But thatâ€™s okay; we live in the twenty-first century now, where we can move past such outdated notions of requirements for relationships. Come and join us!
Funny women arenâ€™t as famous as funny men.
Okay, youâ€™ve got me here. The leads in sit-coms are nearly always men; the headliners on stand-up shows are nearly always men; the biggest posters and ads during Comedy Festival are always for men. Strange, isnâ€™t it? I mean, what with them being given all the same opportunities as men, and all the same support from the industry, and equal love and support from punters, and… Oh! Wait, I think I see the problem here. Itâ€™s you.
Funny women are empowered to voice their opinions in a public forum, which threatens my world view and makes me uncomfortable.
Wow, youâ€™re pretty self-aware for a misogynist.
Ben McKenzie is a veteran of five Comedy Festivals and the brains behind the Melbourne Museum Comedy Tour. Now in its fourth year, the tour has employed many talented funny funny women including Kate McLennan, Stella Young and Amanda Buckley. He is well aware of the potential irony of a middle-class white male comic defending funny women, but feminists come in all shapes and sizes. His favourite dinosaur is Stegosaurus.