[note: to the people who might see themselves in this post…I actually don’t care about your opinions so please keep them to yourself, thanks - CM]
WHY WOMEN ARE A “PROBLEM”
Women are growing in number in the comedy world, and some men just can’t seem to take the heat.
Some male comics will moan at every turn that it’s because the women aren’t funny, or they are “sleeping their way” into opportunities, or they “have it easier” or they are “bitches”…they complain too much or they ask for things they don’t deserve.
Some of us DO happen to be bitches, but please don’t paint our whole gender with the same brush, ok? Being a bitch is a lot of work and I take my role quite seriously.
Someone explained to me a while ago the real reason these men have a problem with women in comedy:
- It’s not that they are all women-haters, in fact, many love and support women
- It’s not the fact that they want comedy to be a total boys club - again, they like having women around and want to see more women (even if just for the dating possibilities)
- It’s not that they don’t think women are funny - women, just like men, come in all stripes and variations in terms of their style and ability.
- It’s not because women complain too much, demand too much, or get too much (all comics are entitled otherwise they wouldn’t have any hustle).
- It’s not because women use their sexuality to benefit (the thought of sleeping with someone for stage time is pretty laughable)
No, the real reason, my friend explained to me, is very simple:
The more women in comedy, the less men there will be.
Now obviously, there is room for as many comics as want to perform. New people can start rooms, and in cities like L.A. where there are reportedly upwards of 10,000 comics, there is still a thriving industry. If anything, the more comics, the better.
Women are now among the people who get “brought up”, as it were. The ones who make it to the 1% of comedians who get on television, or the 10-20% who actually make money performing.
If the market is flooded with women, of varying levels of skill and types of humor, well the powers-that-be will have to start booking them, paying them, using them (heaven forfend!). They will start choosing comics with an eye towards gender, in the name of presenting balanced programming and lineups. After all women are more than 50% of the population, and it follows that female audiences would like to see themselves reflected onstage and onscreen.
And who, do you ask, will suffer?
Not the very funniest men, the super talents who burst out onstage like they’re rocketed in on a bolt of lighting. Not the hustlers, the guys who work their ass off and are always reaching for higher heights. Not the stalwart, beloved veterans who destroy consistently. Not the grizzled road comics who are known from Saskatoon to St. John’s.
No, the guys who will suffer will be your average Joes, the guys who stumble in, deliver the same old 5 or 10 minutes with a meager enthusiasm and a moderately good writing. The guys who try to pass dad jokes off as, you know, actual jokes. These guys who used to be able to get work by being just funny enough are now finding those spots are getting taken up by ladies.
Ladies who are smart and funny and sometimes even pretty, too. And who aren’t about to start apologizing for “stealing work” or whatever other nonsense. And who will roll their eyes at their complaints and carry on killing it night after night. [Ed note: I am not one of these women, I wish I could be even a fraction as breezy as these chicks]
Some well-meaning dudes will step in and try to explain why there aren’t as much women on stages - especially here in Toronto where there are generally only one or two women on any male-run show, if that. Some will try to teach me a convoluted statistics lesson when all I’m actually talking about is representation - the amount of women represented on a given show. Some will tell me that misogyny is a rumor and feminism is a joke. Some will tell me repeatedly how much they love women when their actions don’t back it up. Some will insist that “quotas” are a bad thing that must be avoided by all means. Some tell me I am oppressing straight men by running a women/LGBT-only show. Some say that I am setting myself up to fail because I will make myself persona non grata in the local comedy scene.
Sadly, only the last is true. And it’s not even that true, actually. Most bookers could give a shit what your politics / personal life / attitude is like as long as you deliver a happy audience at the end of your set. Some comics have even proven you can be an all-out sociopath and still get plenty of spots!
MISTAKES, I’VE MADE A FEW
Much like how calling someone a “racist” shuts down the conversation, calling someone a “misogynist” is the best way to convince them to ignore you forever. People aren’t racists or misogynists, but rather, their actions are racist or misogynist. Just because you do something racist or misogynist doesn’t mean you even intended to - much of systemic oppression stems from larger frameworks that the individuals involved don’t even see, that they go along with unwittingly. These structures are in place so that individuals can avoid blame while at the same time putting the onus on an oppressed person for their own disenfranchisement (“No women have been on my show because none have asked”). I am merely pointing out the foundations we stand upon (“Why haven’t any women asked to be on your show…How can we change things for the better?”). It is up to the comedy community as a whole to either fix things or take the blame as we continue to ignore these problems.
As a result of my very strong and loudly held opinions on this matter, I’ve made myself a bit of a target for both direct and indirect attacks. Many female and queer (and even straight male!) comics have thanked me privately…though it becomes hard to enjoy these kudos while I take the heat of a small and scattered pocket of scornful men who have decided I am public enemy number one.
Not only have I pissed off the haters, I have also pissed off some dudes in comedy I actually respect. Because they think I’m telling them “YOU’RE the problem!” or “I hate straight men!” Neither of these things could be further from the truth. I have a list of at LEAST a hundred straight men I like. Definitely not more than 200…let’s not go overboard.
I’VE LOST THAT LOVIN’ FEELING…WHOOOA THAT LOVIN’ FEELING
I recently went on hiatus from stand up. I get a lot of people asking me why, especially from people who are trying to book me for things. I started my break in October and had to cancel dates through the new year…I’ve even turned down paying gigs which for a baby comic like myself is truly bittersweet.
I started two years ago and went hard from day one. I loved the community, the sense of adventure, meeting new like-minded people, laughing our asses off together, watching people and jokes evolve and grow. Working on a bit and getting it tighter, and sharper, and having great shows and watching my friends kill. Bombing hard and having a commiseration beer with pals afterwards. Hovering around out front of a bar before a show in packs, nervously smoking, idly chatting, catching up, each waiting for our turn in the light. Come on, if you think about it, it’s pretty romantic, the world of stand up. But over time, the dark side of comedy reared it’s ugly head.
Don’t get me wrong - I primarily took a break from stand up for my own personal health reasons, which I’m not going to get into. But these health reasons were certainly compounded by the exhaustion I felt from dealing with the sideline drama of a million male Humber Comedy graduates who wanted to use me as a sounding board for their Mommy Issues. With guys who think they are Toronto’s kingmakers and have said and done some pretty ugly things. With guys who were just random acquaintances who decided to hold me up as the example of all of their Women Problems and try to take me down a few pegs. With guys who will spend hours harassing me on Facebook, Twitter, or over email just to try to make a point that they can ruin my life and I can’t touch theirs. With guys coming to my show at a dyke bar (which is supposed to be a safe space for queer women) and trying to engage me in an argument then and there.
You know what I lost, in all of this? The love. Comedy used to make me feel like a million dollars, but that went away shockingly fast. No matter how good a show I had, I would just want to get the fuck out of there before some male comic sidled up with the intent of drawing blood. Before someone who doesn’t like me got on the mic for a cheap shot. Walking into open mics and having a whole table of comics pointedly walk out when my name was called, or talk loudly over my set. It makes it pretty hard to make people laugh under these circumstances, and even harder to leave the house when you know this is what you’re in for. I stopped going to certain rooms, then just open mics, then shows run by anyone but my dearest friends…and then I stopped.
And in a way, worse than the haters are the guys I thought of as friends who turned their backs on me. Who watched me be treated terribly and didn’t even say to me “Hey I’m sorry you went through that.” Who waited until the worse possible moment to drop a bomb - “It’s your own fault people don’t like you.” or, “If you keep guys off your show, you’re not going to get anywhere, you know.” Or, “Ignore it. What can you do, anyway?” Or flat out “You should quit because you’re going to end up blackballed either way.”
And no, I haven’t quite been blackballed…thankfully. Because my break is going to last until I get the drive back, not until the doors are graciously held open for me. Nope, I don’t need any help in that department - I will kick down those fucking doors like Rick Ross looking for a slice of pie. I am funny, I know that. And a lot of great supportive friends and (*blush*) fans who have reached out to remind me of that, even when I thought I was quitting for good. So sorry, fuckfaces, you’re not rid of me - not yet.
Am I a victim? No, I am not. I knew the consequences of speaking up and being a loudmouth. I knew the result would be this - nothing but my own discomfort and little-to-no lasting change. The people who hate me and misunderstand my actions and words are not going to read this article, and if they do, it will only be to use as a weapon against me somehow in the future.
So what’s the point then? Well, basically - this is just the type of person I am. I would rather shout out against the bullshit than drown in it and pretend that everything’s great. I would rather walk away from comedy leaving a dent in it than the other way around. But ultimately I have to stop doing something that was turning me into an upset, rage-ful, sad and exhausted pile of garbage…I mean, honestly, what kind of creative outlet is that?
So I’m off. In a cloud of smoke like the Wicked Witch of the West. Off to focus on producing WRITE CLUB and Laugh’s at Slack’s and all the other wonderful projects I’m involved with where I get to meet and work with lovely, intelligent, positive people who keep their bile to themselves and respect me for both my jokes and my politics.
If you’re interested in learning more about misogyny in comedy and the world at large, a great place to start would be Jen Kirkman's new project "MA’AM" - MEN AGAINST ASSHOLES & MISOGYNY…and if you’re a guy who wants to make a difference, why don’t you go ahead and submit to it?
ETA: Please see my follow-up piece here