My first comedy set in Amsterdam was about a terrible date I had been on. The guy took me to the cinema but refused to pay for the popcorn, instead, stealing kernels from clueless strangers sat next to him. Needless to say, there was no second date. It got a good reaction from the audience, but as I got off the stage, the MC took me to the side and gave me what I’m sure he thought was friendly advice: “don’t talk about dating on stage- it’s too easy to joke about. As a woman, you have more to prove.”
I wanted to be angry at him, but in all honesty, was he wrong? My eight minutes on stage were always spent trying to convince the audience that not only was I funny; but that all women were funny – so no pressure, then.
I did stand-up for about six months, and with every show I was enjoying it less and less. I was sick of being introduced as a woman comedian. I was sick of male audience members thinking it was okay to grope me. I was sick of being called ‘the token woman’ in a line-up – even by the bookers themselves. It was lonely, and it wasn’t fun anymore. So, I quit. This was hardly easy for me either, as some people called my decision ‘unfeminist’ – by quitting, I was apparently failing other women in comedy. I felt like I couldn’t win.
I never fully left comedy though – as many stand-ups can attest, it’s addictive. I turned to writing instead, both comedy articles and even my own sitcom. It wasn’t until about a year and a half later that I started hearing rumblings of change happening in the scene.
New open mics were opening up around the city. More and more of these were being run by women as well as men who were allies. In turn, more women were entering comedy, and it wasn’t unusual to have several women on a line-up, or even women-only nights. It felt safer to me this time. With a bit of trepidation, I came back, and so far, it’s been one of the best decisions I have ever made. Is it perfect? No, but what is? For me what matters is that I feel 100% supported by the wonderful, funny, talented women around me. It’s also not just the women – many men in the scene now are also thoughtful, kind and supportive.
One night, in particular, stands out to me. Roxy JC and Gillian Graven organised a night with Funny Women, a UK-based organisation that puts on women-only shows. I was anxious to go on – I had done women-only shows before where no one had turned up because women aren’t funny. Yet to say the show was a success would be an understatement: the crowd was full, and the comedians killed it. (Dare I say that the vast majority of the comedians were far funnier than many of their male counterparts?) More importantly, however, was that before the show began, we all sat and chatted. I felt lucky to finally make friends with the other women, to share our experiences and to be inspired by comedians like Emma Holmes, one of the first woman comedy organisers in the country. It was a really special night for me, and not one I will forget, as it was the first time I thought: ‘fuck the inferiority complex, women are far from victims – we’re fucking funny!’
My advice to anyone wanting to do comedy is to just do it. There is plenty of support available in the Dutch scene now – don’t focus on what makes it harder for women in comedy, but instead think about how you can turn weaknesses into sources of power. Ok, there might still be bookers who view you as the token of the night, but you know what? Take that spot, and smile sweetly if any comedian dares try to say to you that you’re ‘so lucky’ for being able to get onto so many shows. Of course, there are always ways in which the scene can be improved and more inclusive, not just for women but also for POC and LGBTQ+ comedians. So what can male comics do to support women?
- Don’t tell us what to joke about
I know you think you’re doing us a favour, but until the day comes that dick jokes are officially banned, I don’t want to hear that women comics need to avoid specific topics. We may indeed decide to not talk about childbirth and periods, but that is our choice. There is nothing wrong with normalising women’s experiences.
- More women, less Louis CK and Aziz Ansari
So you’re a feminist? Great! Act like it. Don’t support comedians who treat women like shit. I don’t care how funny you think they are – it’s irrelevant. Use your male privilege for good and make it a safer space for women. Challenge all straight-white-male line-ups, and don’t settle for lazy ‘there were no women available tonight’ bullshit – there is always an abundance of funny women available, trust me.
- Spread awareness and push for solutions
Talk to us. Ask us what we think could make the scene better. We are all limited by our own perspectives, so find out what ours is. Speak up, and let us know you are here to support us through your actions.
Oh, and don’t call us female comedians; we are just comedians and pretty hilarious ones at that.
Ellie Connor was at Funny Women: Time of the Month Amsterdam. The next one is on Tuesday 7th January and every first Tuesday of the month at the Fox & Solo. For more information check our event page here!