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Mandy Nolans Soap Box: I don’t usually like female comedians…

Mandy Nolans Soap Box. I don’t usually like female comedians…

This is the beginning of a sentence that women comedians hear all the time. It’s usually a pissed person after the show who thinks they’re complimenting you by telling you that you’re the best female comedian they have EVER seen. That’s because women comedians, in their opinion, are usually disappointing.

I guess they are mainly disappointing because they’re not men and they’re not telling the ‘universal human stories’ they are used to hearing.

All men’s stories are universal. Ours aren’t. They’re women’s stories and women really should be careful what they ask people to listen to.

Women are half the population but curiously we are still seen as niche. Feminism will have finally achieved equity when our stories are considered as universal as men’s and can be listened to without flinching in embarrassment and wondering if you’ve accidentally turned up to a CWA meeting.

If there are all women comedians on the bill people ALWAYS ask ‘can men come?’ ‘Is it a women’s show?’ No, it’s not. Then why are 90 per cent of the crowds to our touring two-woman show, female? I love working to rooms full of women, but nowhere is the statement listed ‘Women Only’. It reflects a pervasive cultural code that still creates an antagonistic environment for women in comedy.

I’ve been a comedian for 30 years and I’ve never heard anyone ask of an all-male bill, ‘Is this a men’s show?’ The audience will always be unsurprisingly 50/50. And when the show is finished and one of the men performing wasn’t as funny as the others, either because they were having a bad night, or they’re inexperienced, or they’re trying new material, or perhaps they really are shit, no-one rants in the car on the way home, ‘God I hate male comedians’. Or approaches the bloke who had a good set with, ‘I usually hate male comedians’.

Male comedians aren’t put in a subgroup. They’re not actually even called ‘male’ comedians. They’re just comedians. That one bloke who did poorly is allowed to just suck by himself; he doesn’t have to take the credibility of his entire gender down with him.

Not so for women. We’re not individuals. We’re not even comedians. We need a gender qualifier so people can make a decision whether to turn up or not. We’re ‘female’ comedians. Some dickheads still insist on calling us ‘comediennes’.

Like our male colleagues, some of us are stronger and more experienced than others. Some of us are starting out. Some of us are having a bad night. But on a bad night we don’t get to just drive home knowing we bombed, we did something far worse: we just reinforced this belief that ALL women comedians suck. Sorry, girls.

So back to the statement which some drunk idiot came up and blurted out the other night. (It’s usually a male saying this, but not always.) He continued with the assertion that we (my colleague and I) are actually funny. ‘Thank you, drunk man, for telling us we’re okay.’ He then gets out the gender boot and concludes: unlike other women comedians he’s seen who aren’t.

Basically what he’s saying is that I’m good (and so is my colleague! Crikey! two at once!) and all the other women in my industry are shit. If you approach comedians who happen to be women who’ve had a blistering set with that kind of job-gendering bias, then please stop. We don’t like it.

There are many women out there fighting for parity in male-dominated professions who don’t feel elevated by taking a leg up on the back of their sisters. We don’t want you to tokenise us by making us ‘exceptional’. We’re not.

When you tell me I am better than other women in my industry, and basically as funny as a man and I say thank you, then you are making me complicit to a pervasive belief that women aren’t funny. It’s not true. Our industry is full of talented funny women. It seems weird to group them based on their gender because they’re all so incredibly different.

Like men, all women comedians are NOT the same. There is no reason why having a vagina or not having a vagina inherently makes me more or less funny than someone with a penis. Having a penis doesn’t make you funnier. (Except when you’re naked and you’re running and it’s flapping on your leg.)

However having the penis does gain you advantage. It is a gold pass to the privileged seats at the front of the gender plane, which is probably being piloted by a man. If it were being flown by a woman I wouldn’t be knocking on the door of the cockpit (they’ve even gendered the driver’s seat), ‘Is this an all-women’s flight?’.

And when she brings the plane safely onto the tarmac I push my way through once again to patronise her with my sexist endorsement of her surprising skill: ‘I don’t usually like women pilots. But you’re really good.’


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Some of The Echo’s editorial team: journalists Paul Bibby and Aslan Shand, editor Hans Lovejoy, photographer Jeff Dawson and Mandy Nolan

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