Comedy, Festivals, News & Commentary

Funny ladies: women stand up

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Several UK media outlets declared last year the year that feminism found the Edinburgh Fringe. Many of the biggest shows of the festival dealt with feminist themes and women shone in the comedy sphere, with Bridget Christie taking out the award for Best Comedy Show for A Bic for Her and Adrienne Truscott (one half of the Wau Wau Sisters, picture above) winning the Panel Prize for her debut solo show, Asking for It: A One-Lady Rape About Comedy Starring Her Pussy and Little Else!
Christie’s show attacked sexism and explored ways that women could tackle it. Truscott’s show, currently at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival, sees her perform nude, from the waist down, exploring misogyny in comedy and reclaiming the “rape joke”.
Although both these shows drew plenty of attention and acclaim, women were still massively underrepresented at the Fringe; in the Best Comedy Show category, Christie was the only female nominee and the Best Newcomer category only featured one woman.
The barriers that female comedians face were thrown into the spotlight at the Edinburgh Fringe, and that dialogue has trickled through to this year’s Melbourne International Comedy Festival.
This weekend a minor controversy hit the festival when Herald Sun published a review of Alice Fraser’s Everyone’s a Winner which focused largely on the way Fraser was dressed, criticising her “hideous green” shirt and calling her a “plain Jane”. The comedy community was outraged and the review was quickly taken down by Herald Sun (though Fraser has uploaded a copy of the original to her blog), before an amended version was published yesterday.
Adrienne Truscott appeared at a Wheeler Centre forum in Melbourne last night with local comedians Hannah Gadsby and Celia Pacquola and British stand-up Sara Pascoe to discuss the lives of female comedians today. The forum, moderated by Clare Bartholomew and entitled “This Is What A Comedian Looks Like”, was part of the Jeez Louise program, a Melbourne International Comedy Festival event focused on women in comedy.
Truscott spoke about the reaction to her show at the Edinburgh Fringe, saying that female comedians are often bunched together in people’s minds despite their diversity. She had one experience where a notable black male comedian said to her, “I love your show, very funny and I think you’re better than Bridget Christie.” Truscott said she had the urge to say, “Thanks, you’re great too, but you’re no Richard Pryor”.
But the force of the female comedians in recent years has clearly shaken the male comedians, some of whom have claimed they’re being overlooked because of the attention on women. Truscott says she’s overheard comedians saying it’s not a good year to be a male comedian.
The panellists said they constantly hear the same attitudes about female comedians dragged out time and again.
According to Celia Pacquola: “Pretty much three times a week, people say to your face, ‘I don’t think women are funny, but I like you’. They think they’re giving you a compliment.” She says it’s the equivalent of saying: “Pigs aren’t meant to wear clothes, but look at you, you’re wearing that fedora.”
Jibes about women only doing jokes about their periods or motherhood are also still alive and well, according to the panel, but Sara Pascoe questioned why certain subject matters are considered less worthy than others. “We should all be talking about motherhood every single day,” she said.
They all agreed that every time they walk out onto a stage (unless it’s in their own show) there’s immediate judgement on the basis of the gender, but Pascoe said that it’s a problem in comedy that extends even beyond sexism.
“There’s an archetypal image of what a comedian is – a middle-aged man, fat belly and a stupid face – anybody who walks out and doesn’t fit that gets that reaction,” she said.
Pascoe has been following the controversy surrounding the BBC’s recently announced ban on all-male panel shows. There has been heated debate with many suggesting that the move to include a “token female comedian” was unhelpful, but Pascoe believes that the visibility of women would outweigh any negative perceptions. She recently appeared on QI and says that she knew it was because they were required to have a woman on every episode.
In spite of these all of these difficulties, Gadsby said that as audiences for comedy change and grow wider, perceptions are changing and the comedians appearing onstage are becoming more diverse. It meant that while she’s faced the occasional hostile audience, she’s been able to cut through while avoiding the kinds of rough, testosterone-fuelled comedy clubs and open mic nights that are traditionally considered the launching pads for comedians. “I just wasn’t interested in trying to shout down drunk, mostly men,” she said.

6 responses to “Funny ladies: women stand up

  1. “sees her perform nude, from the waist down, exploring misogyny in comedy and reclaiming the “rape joke”.”
    Presumably she was funny as well? Nothing worse than a half naked woman exploding sexism full-frontal on and not being funny.

    1. I haven’t seen this particular show yet, but the reviews would suggest that she was funny as well. And she’s brilliantly funny in the Wau Wau Sisters.

    2. Mike, would you ask whether a naked male comedian exploring sexism full-frontal was funny? Seriously. Eye roll.

    1. Hi Jane,
      The image is from Adrienne Truscott’s show, Asking For It, which has been a big talking point in the discussions around this issue.

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