Not Just For International Women’s Day

Emma Holmes

Emma Holmes

International Women’s Day, 8th March, has once again come and gone leaving in its wake many a female comedian wondering, “what if this was the norm?”

Each year in early March comedy promoters around the globe don their diversity hats and host an ‘all female line-up’ or ‘women’s night’ in celebration of International Women’s Day. On principle this is an excellent idea, a fantastic way to get female comics the stage time that they rightly deserve but it does beg the question, with so many excellent up-and-coming female comedians, why, in 2024, is comedy still such a man’s game?

The world of stand-up comedy has always been a male-dominated industry. We can argue for hours about why this is but all that matters is that it was and, more importantly, still is, a man’s world. The age old trope of ‘women just aren’t funny’ has surely by now been dismissed. With the rise of Netflix specials and YouTube shorts, women are proving time and time again that they are as, if not more, funny than their current male counterparts.

As a promoter and performer currently active in the English-spoken comedy scene in The Netherlands, the stand-out difference amongst starting male and female comics is the choice of topics. While many male comedians are still obsessed with oversharing about their genitalia, bodily fluids and partners, women have, admittedly due to what is considered socially acceptable, taken a road less travelled thus leading to some of the most creative and varied comedy on the scene.

I cannot speak for other countries but here starting female comedians find it easier to get booked than their male equivalents. It’s not because of their skill or talent but instead because many bookers have a diversity quota. Now, I must preface this by saying that this is still a step in the right direction. If you think your line-up is too male dominated then it is genuinely a great idea to actively search for female comedians to alleviate that.

However, I think that what we need to do is to go further and accept that, just as men and women have different needs, so do male and female comics. We need to come to terms with the fact that equal opportunity does not mean equal outcome. Giving women spots is a good start, but not enough for a change in culture.

I suspect if we were to look at the number of women who stop performing after three to 10 shows, we would discover that it is a much higher percentage than for men. As promoters, female line-ups are a fun diversity trope bringing in new audiences and making everyone feel like they are doing something good for the world. Real support though is about making women feel safe. It is scary enough being a starting comedian learning the ropes of the artform, let alone being the only woman on an all male line-up, or, on occasions that should be rarer than they are, in the entire room.

In the same way as a dog is not just for Christmas, safe spaces for female comedians should be what we are striving for year long not just on International Women’s Day.

We must not forget that equality is still a relatively new concept, still in its adaptation phase, and women are still learning how to demand attention and how to take up space. Probably the biggest stand-out difference between male and female comedians generally is that the confidence into which many male comics seem to be born simply isn’t as apparent in women.

Female comics tend to take time to grow into their onstage persona and need the experience of stage time to help them gain the bravado needed to land punchlines. At the end of the day, a lot of comedy only works because an audience feels safe in the hands of someone who looks assured that they will, indeed, make you laugh and no one can deny that most male comics have that assuredness.

What women need now is a chance to gain stage experience and build that borderline arrogance that we stand-up comics need to really land our comedy. Promoters of all sexes need to come together and start producing more balanced and more diverse line-ups in a bid to create safer spaces for female comedians because, at the end of the day, it will benefit the comedy scene as a whole.

If as women we don’t tend to have that natural confidence then compliments from bookers and peers can go a long way. Albeit, stereotypically, women tend to be overthinkers and as providers of safe spaces we can use that to grow the industry as a whole.

So if you see a female comedian who you think is doing well then take the time to tell her. You might just save her from her self-doubt. And, who knows, maybe you will have just convinced the next Taylor Tomlinson to give comedy one more shot.

Pictured: Gina Yashere hosting the first Funny Women event to celebrate International Women’s Day held at the Cafe de Paris, London on 8th March 2004.

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