I set up Funny Women with the intention of creating a safe space for women in comedy and over the last (almost) 20 years I have been saddened by continuing reports of abuse, both mental and physical, from within our industry. What’s worse is that many of the victims were told not to tell anybody or talk about it because ‘nobody would believe them’. This kind of coercion is fundamental to abuse of all kinds across society so ‘times up’ on letting the perpetrators get away with it.
As a young woman, I had my own experiences of what I now know to be forms of abuse. Fast forward 40 years and I find myself as an older wiser woman in my mid-60s faced with ‘abuse’ masquerading in the form of ageism and condescension. Sadly, nothing changes and I don’t want the next generation to fight these battles all over again.
Which is why I’m calling upon our amazing Funny Women community, with the help of our new charity partner TIMES UP UK, to address what is still going on in our industry, right under our very noses. If you need a reason to get involved – please read on as I chronicle the progress of change as documented here on the website over the last four years.
In January 2018 following a somewhat tumultuous 2017, women in the US entertainment industry were looking to change society rather than changing for society. We wrote this article asking ‘where’s the F in comedy?’ and how a group of famous American women, including funny women Carol Burnett, Abbi Jacobson, Amy Poehler, Illana Glazer, Mindy Kaling, Jenny Slate and Tracee Ellis Ross, put their names to an open letter in the New York Times announcing an initiative called Time’s Up.
This featured a $13 million legal defence fund for people in less fortunate positions in order to enable them to report incidents of sexual misconduct. Award-winning producer and writer Shonda Rhimes told the New York Times: “If this group of women can’t fight for a model for other women who don’t have as much power and privilege, then who can?”
Later that same year we wrote about Amy Schumer who asked men ‘to get off our necks’ and tweeted her own version of the Time’s Up message, addressing men who have claimed to be scared to mix with women for fear of being caught up in the #MeToo movement.
With all this activity in the US, we took the initiative to find out what was going on in our own community closer to home and you shared your experiences of the live UK circuit with us in this article about how we’re ‘Standing up to be funny’. You had a lot to get off your chests and we received stories that ranged from attempts at public humiliation through to harassment and sexual assault.
In February 2018, responding to the growing TIME’S UP movement in the US, a group of UK-based women: actors, producers, writers and others from the film, TV and theatre industries, catalysed a sister initiative, TIME’S UP UK. They published an open letter in The Observer and TIME’S UP video recorded by Emma Watson ahead of the 2018 BAFTA Film Awards.
Yet, even though we continued to gig, write new material and, most importantly, call out this abusive behaviour both sides of the pond, back in America Louis CK was allowed to gig again with no consequences after being outed as a sexual predator by women on the US comedy circuit. Not once, but again and again with his behaviour being excused or ignored because of his fame.
During the Edinburgh Fringe in 2018 I met the Scottish Dutch comedian Gillian Graven who had written an article about her experiences of abuse on the comedy circuit in Amsterdam. We asked to republish a translated version in English here on the website and this went on to precipitate the launch of our Amsterdam chapter early in 2019. I hope that our collective solidarity and allegiance to the Times Up movement will dilute the damage that has already been done to women like Gillian.
We are led to believe ‘by science’ that men are funnier than women and more comfortable around humour and it’s often used as an excuse to manipulate and abuse female acts trying to find their way around the comedy circuit. This toxicity was such a shock to me when I set out with my high ideals and why I want to continue offering a safe haven, and transparency around circuit practice.
I am trusting that our partnership with TIMES UP UK will bring about more awareness of what women have to endure to get noticed in the world of entertainment and comedy. I think we should be savvy, sexy, outspoken, gorgeous, and funny just as our male contemporaries are feted for being clever, cool, rude, handsome, and hilarious. Nothing about any of these attributes should ever be seen as provocative and a ‘come on’ for abuse and unwelcome attention, either verbal or physical.
ABOUT TIME’S UP UK
TIME’S UP UK’s mission is to tackle sexual harassment, bullying and abuse in the workplace, starting initially on film, TV and theatre but also being aware that in raising the issue and calling for cultural change, it resonates across all workplaces. In pushing for action in any one industry there is a sharing of good practice across other sectors supporting a wider momentum for sustainable change.
TIME’S UP UK champions 50/50 pay parity, and equal representation across leadership to bring about sustainable cultural change. This year they launched the TIME’S UP Guide to Working in Entertainment, a set of three guides empowering arts and entertainment workers with information about their rights, industry-specific norms, and practical ways they can advocate for themselves and their safety.