Straight White Hate Mail

Hannah Fairweather

Hannah Fairweather

I was signed quite early – eight months into my comedy career. Instead of assuming that this might mean I actually possess some talent, a lot of people, including this week’s subject, Nick, before they had even seen me perform, made comments to imply that my agent was simply looking to fill a quota.

This hurt my feelings, and when my feelings are hurt, I write jokes.

Just after I had signed on the dotted line, I was backstage at one of my favourite comedy venues when two fellow comics kindly congratulated me on my recent good news. I must inform you, for reasons that will later become obvious, that both these men were straight and white. This rare breed of comics expressed to me that they were impressed by what I had achieved so early on. They were and still are comics I respect so I was flattered and thanked them for their kind words.

“They do tend to do THAT”, Nick, whom I had not yet had the pleasure of meeting, scoffed from a few feet away. I didn’t know what he meant by “THAT”, but his tone, combined with my impressive deductive reasoning skills, led me to believe it probably couldn’t be translated to “sign comics based on a combination of talent and potential”.

I asked him to clarify.

He said “you know… sign women before they are ready”.

He proceeded to tell me that he was not signed. He elaborated that the reason for this, despite being in the industry much longer than I, was most definitely because he was part of the most disenfranchised group – straight white males.

I am also no stranger to sexism because I grew up playing golf competitively and then became an accountant, before becoming a comedian. The only thing that strings my haphazard CV together is my unwavering desire to steal roles God intended for straight white men. Every industry I have existed in has been deeply sexist, but it is difficult to say which one is the most sexist because they all exhibited sexism in different ways.

Golf is probably the most obvious starting point given that it is often ‘joked’ that the word itself is an acronym for Gentlemen Only Ladies Forbidden. I wasn’t convinced this was a joke when I was a kid and clubhouse rules dictated I had to stand outside, drinking my glass of Coke, in the pouring rain, because I wasn’t allowed to enter the building and sit on the comfy, and notably dry seats, with the boys.

The sexism in golf was my main motivator to work hard and hone my skill. I could prove that I was better than the boys. None of this would grant me the great privilege of entering the building, but I didn’t care because a type of meritocracy existed in golf, and my talent was indisputable.

Recently, Nick was featured in an article that included a discussion of how sexist the comedy industry is. Specifically, in his opinion, how it victimises straight white men. In this article, Nick mentioned how he wanted a meritocracy in comedy, and he chose a sport as a yardstick. I’ve just managed to explain why a sport famously occupied by old white dudes has a meritocracy and even I was baffled by his sport of choice.

Nick decided to express that he dreams of the equality we see in football. I personally wouldn’t have chosen a sport known for deeply ingrained racism, but hey, that’s just the opinion of a silly girl. A silly girl, whom, should she have chosen to play football professionally instead of golf, would have earned approximately one pence to the pound of her male counterparts.

I wasn’t sure whether to write about this, but I figured the article I am responding to is public and he has just made it so damn easy and, after all, Nick wasn’t very nice to me, and I haven’t forgotten. Undoubtedly if he reads this, he will either stand by the words he said to me or say I am lying. My bet is on the latter, and he perhaps has a strong argument for this, because including him, there were three straight white men backstage with me – and we all know that this never happens! They simply do not get gigs!

However, I just want to say to Nick directly – colleague to colleague – things haven’t been going great for me either. This industry can be tough at times, especially right now. Recently I was dropped, and mid-pandemic no less.

When I was dropped I was told that it was because of ‘resourcing’, but a short while later, I watched my ex-agency sign a few men. I expected this to happen. I very much knew I was hearing the ‘it’s not you, it’s me’ of business breakups. When this happens, things can amicably come to a conclusion, even though you both know they are eventually going to move on. However, if, a matter of weeks later, you see them in the park holding hands with some guys who have podcasts with episode titles like Is Rape Culture a Dangerous Myth? it tends to sting slightly more.

I had listened to this podcast before and even complimented one of the hosts on his work. He’s a lovely guy who has been nothing but kind to me and I really wanted to enjoy his work; the episode I had previously listened to and complimented him on was with a comedian I like and it was a good episode. However, after my breakup, I made the all-too-common, all-too-unhealthy choice of stalking my ex’s new partner’s social media (or, right-wing platforming podcast).

I have now listened to every episode. I think this puts me in a rather informed position to comment on it. I have a new favourite episode. This particular episode featured a guest who talked about how easily things come to women in comedy. He suggested we are fast tracked to success, and it sounded all too familiar to what Nick had once said to me.

I think it’s wild that so many share this view – what upsets me most is that there is a consistent thread between what all these men claim they want. They always centre the discussion around a desire for a meritocracy. I share this particular desire. However, I think there is something deeply wrong if you see someone from any minority group and assume that their existence on a lineup implies a lack of meritocracy instead of an abundance of talent.

It was mind-blowing to listen to this episode after being dropped by the same agency that went on to sign them. The podcast hosts say that they don’t necessarily agree with the views of their guests, they just want to hear people out. I like to hear people out too, and, in listening to this episode I attempted to do all the mental gymnastics I could to see the points the guest was making. I realised maybe he had a point. Maybe men have to do so much more to achieve the same outcome as women in the entertainment industry. Maybe we do get more for doing less. After all, I was dropped on the same day as Armie Hammer, and he had to do way more than me for exactly the same outcome.

If the hosts actually are open to hearing both sides of any argument, I would love to respond to this particular episode. If they want to hear a counterargument to the suggestion that industry support comes easier to women, call me. Speak to your new agent about times that might work, and say hi from me.

I was devastated when my agent dropped me, and I spent a long time wondering why I wasn’t good enough. This is something I think men like Nick ought to consider once in a while. I repeatedly refreshed my ex-agency’s website to see if anyone else was removed from the roster at the same callous pace I was, only to observe that the discrepancy between the 31 men and 12 women was growing. I couldn’t help but wonder if ‘resourcing’ meant there was not enough space for me, or for people like me.

I could be wrong – comedy is subjective – perhaps my agency just didn’t think I was good enough. They are allowed to think that, and I am allowed to take great joy in proving them wrong. I’ve written a show in which I talk about why I think they are wrong. I don’t think they’ll like it, but again, that’s probably because comedy is subjective.

I keep repeating that comedy is subjective, but this fact is one of my favourite things about the art form and the industry, and it is part of what makes it my favourite sexist industry™. I love being on stage and feeling like nothing matters except the words I have written. I’ve learned that for the most part, comedy is pretty simple – if you’re funny, audiences will laugh. That sounds kinda like a meritocracy to me.

After Nick felt the need to suggest that everything I have worked hard to achieve could be accredited to nothing more than my gender, it was really nice to have an audience laugh loudly at my jokes. He performed right after me, and the poor guy didn’t do so great. He walked off stage, and solemnly sulked back to the green room muttering under his breath; “that audience don’t tend to laugh much”.

I thought that was a strange observation, because in my experience, they do tend to do THAT.

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