Features

What do comedy and politics have in common?

Yesterday, I woke up to the news that Louis CK had announced he would be coming to grace our shores with his questionable material and legacy of predatory behaviour towards women. Along with many other great, angry comedy fans, I took to Twitter and wrote: Disgusted that @ComedyLeeds is having Louis CK for two nights of performances. Surely the term ‘disgraced’ suggests that this terrible decision shows such contempt for women.”

My soon to be (not so) friendly neighbourhood troll Bill later came back with the oh so witty retort: “Disgusted @Barbsatron censoring which comedy we can and can’t go see. U remind me of the protesters that stopped that play that portrayed the prophet mohamed. Dark day for England. Watch Louis C.Ks specials on Netflix cuz the killjoy dictators won’t let you watch him live here.”

You’re really missing the point, aren’t you, Bill?

My twitter than ‘blew up’, as the kids say. Later in the day, I was alerted to the fact that the Leeds comedy club in question had cancelled his shows. The club promoter told Chortle that: ‘The sheer amount of hatred from both the industry and members of the public made running the shows utterly untenable.”

The belligerent ‘feminazi’ that I am just couldn’t let it go. To Twitter I took: Backlash didn’t make the ‘shows untenable’, the fact that he’s a sexual predator did. Hopefully the promoter learnt a lesson. There’s no ‘deliberating over a weekend’ about this issue. Don’t endorse a sexual predator. EASY.”

Caroline Hunt (@lineyhunt), a colleague of mine from The Women’s Equality Party (and a brilliant activist) then tweeted: “Love that one of my @WEP_UK sisters got this fixed before I even noticed. Excellent work @barbsatron”

All in a day’s work. I’d personally like to think of myself as a Bat(wo)man of Sexism in Comedy. A sex crime fighting digital superhero. Remember Bill? Well, he kept his opinions coming, calling me loud-mouthed and self-important.

Yes, Bill. Yes, I am. He’s right! I don’t tend to keep my opinions to myself when it comes to women’s inequality. Sexual harassment, sexual abuse, sexual manipulation and all in between is just not a laughing matter. The casual tolerance of Louis CK’s behaviour by (let’s be honest) mostly privileged, white men (not all of them, obvs) in the media and comedy industry sickens me. It sickens all of my sisters, like Caroline, in WEP too.  

That’s why WEP exists. Ending violence against women is one of our key objectives. The WEP stand for changing culture, our policy states we intend: “to end violence against women and girls, the whole of society needs to change: all women need to be able to walk down the street in peace. Our country has a gendered culture where men are seen as entitled to dominate, a media which portrays women as sex objects and minimises the significance of rape and domestic abuse: this creates an environment in which sexual violence is tolerated, condoned and enabled.”

The above statement reeks of the whole Louis CK situation, doesn’t it?

WEP policies to tackle misrepresentation in the media, and to teach comprehensive sex and relationships education in our schools, will help change this. Our European Election Manifesto states that “an estimated 45 to 55 per cent of women have experienced sexual harassment since the age of 15.” Maybe you’ve just nodded your head in recognition as furiously as I did when I read that statement? Last year at Edinburgh Fringe, the Home Safe Collective was launched by a group of women including comedian Angela Barnes to “help comedians who are members of vulnerable groups get home safe from gigs, following the violent murder of Australian comedian Eurydice Dixon, who was attacked walking home from a show in Melbourne.” A fantastic initiative that just simply shouldn’t have to exist.

Ask any woman in the comedy industry about their experiences of sexism and misogyny and they will share enough stories to depress you forever. MCs apologising to their audiences for having a woman on the bill. Women having to spend more money and time to ensure their physical and sexual safety on the way home from late night gigs. And of course the classic: women aren’t funny. Don’t get me wrong, we’ve made some progress in recent years. Some of us have been promoted to the remark of: you’re funny for a girl/woman/bird.

Isn’t it great, then, that WEP was co-founded by none other than Sandi Toksvig? Queen Comedian Supreme! What this means is we do politics differently and we come up with fresh, new and innovative policies … and human, relatable and often humorous ways to communicate them. See: our latest campaign for the EU Elections!

You might think: how is this the question of whether women are funny ‘political’?

Stereotyping and unconscious bias, just like overt sexism, misogyny and gendered violence is political. That’s why another one of WEP’s core objectives is: equal media treatment. WE stand for: Representing the people

To again quote our policy: “Researchers have shown that in the most popular TV programmes across three genres and four channels, men outnumber women by a ratio of almost 6:4. WE value the dynamism and creativity of the UK’s media industry and recognise the UK’s strong tradition of free speech, but believe more must be done to ensure fair and balanced representations of women.”

If you’ve only ever been exposed to a tiny number of women comedians and they’re not your cup of tea, that’s fine. But, as humans, we can be lazy. No doubt we’ll be told for years to come that we shouldn’t have another woman PM, because look how well it went the last time.

Notwithstanding the fact that the Comedy Club in Leeds should never have invited Louis CK to perform (sorry Bill, there I am again with my ‘censoring’) based on the fact that he is a sexual predator and does not deserve such leniency… there are literally thousands of brilliant comedians that could be selected. A message is sent: we’d rather have a ‘disgraced’ straight, white, privileged man than any other group. This is what happens when there is no diversity or representation amongst those who are in senior positions or hold decision making roles.

Funny Women gives a platform to the truly diverse range of female comedy talent we boast here in the UK. I honestly get goosebumps when I think about the level of talent I’ve experienced since joining the team.

Women’s Equality Party is home to some of the most inspiring, talented and ambitious women I have ever come across. We all believe that no woman has freedom until all women have freedom. Activism has been injected into my veins since joining: sorry Bill, it’s going nowhere.

Both organisations I volunteer for strengthen my belief and passion for the other, on a daily basis.

The WEP has just won our first seat in local government … big up, East Congleton! Next up: the European Elections. The WEP are in it to win it. Catherine Mayer – the Co-Founder of WEP is the lead candidate. If you live in London, you can vote for her and our other incredible candidates.

I will be proudly voting for the WEP on 23rd May and I’m unashamedly using my platform and my voice to ask you also to do the same! In the words of Catherine, “a vote for WEP is the most positive, meaningful and impactful you can make”