Monday, 24 January 2011

Women Aren't Funny? - You Can't Prove a Negative

On the way to work this morning I saw a giant poster for new topical comedy, The 10 O' Clock Show.

In the poster for this comedy show, there was funnyman Charlie Brooker, funnyman Jimmy Carr, funnyman David Mitchell, and...Lauren Laverne.

Lauren Laverne; occasional TV presenter.

If you're going to have a token female on a comedy show, why not at least have a token female comedian?

It's not like there's a lack of choice. There are countless brilliant female comics currently gracing the stand-up circuit. Have been for years.

But nobody believes they exist, precisely because nobody ever uses them.

And then comes the familiar chorus; "Women aren't funny...Channel 4 must have looked high and low for a funny woman and not been able to find a female comedian other than Jo Brand, you won't be able never see any on TV...if they were funny you'd have seen them, you'd have heard of them..."

It's the same argument that misogynists have used down the centuries to reinforce the idea that women are inferior; "What's a woman ever invented, eh?...all the biggest inventions have been by men...women can't be as intelligent as men, if they were, they would have, historically speaking, achieved more"

Conveniently forgetting that women were, for most of history, excluded from having an education and the resultant arenas of science, invention and literature.

It's hard to invent the telescope or discover gravity when you're not allowed to learn how to read.

Women in Ancient Greece weren't even allowed out of the house. Who knows, Plato's wife might have been feeding him his best ideas?

It's the same with comedy. Women don't get a platform, people conclude that this is because they don't deserve one, this idea becomes embedded, so women continue not to get a platform.

Repeat this process ad infinitum.

Once an idea is embedded, it's hard to shift it, even with positive proof.

The amount of times I came off stage during my time on the circuit, to be greeted by the words "That was good, for a woman. I don't like female comics, but you're alright"

Even though they'd seen a woman confound their prejudice, their prejudice remained in place.

Albeit it with the slightly weird caveat of 'except one woman who I saw with my own eyes but who must have been a freak of nature who fell into a vat of radioactive funny as a child'.

They're the opposite of racists who cite their one black friend. Racists do that to prove they're not racist. Misogynists weirdly use their one example to maintain their prejudice - "Ok, you've proved you're funny, but no other woman could conceivably be, I'll have to see them all individually"

Of course male comic after male comic can come out and die on their arse, but the audience's faith in men as natural comedians won't waver.

How very fair.

Remember when Charlotte Church won a best female comedy newcomer award?

As much as it upheld the myth, it wasn't proof that women aren't funny, it was proof that women aren't given the chance.

To beat women over the head with all the things they haven't had a chance to achieve adds insult to injury.


Cripesonfriday said...

I didn't watch the show, I have an irrational dislike of Jimmy Carr, but I don't think it's a bad idea to have a non-comedian on a show like that if they are used as a sort of moderator, a straight act that pushes the comedy along.
That said, there are many female comedians out there who could have been added to the show and your point about the sexism/misogyny in comedy is definitely valid.

Christina Martin said...


Yeah, there is definitely an argument for having a straight person in that format.

Shame it's always the woman though...

Faze Red said...

I came to make the same point, that it was very likely to have been an editorial decision to have a non-comedian to steady the ship.

The three male members of the team are proven in the area and Channel 4 really appear to want a win. So I'm not surprised they didn't pick a female comedian from the circuit. Of course this doesn't undermine your point that there should be TV proven female comedic talent to choose from.

Christina Martin said...

Thanks for your comment.

Yeah, it probably is deliberate.

As you say, it ended up being a springboard for a rant about women in comedy.

Ceramix said...

Kind of liking the idea of "radioactive funny." Where can I get some?

Tom said...

I'm with you completely. Laverne's inclusion is incongruous. There is no better straight-man than a brilliant comedian. Wit, timing and the art of understatement (three things we're unlikely to find in an average TV presenter) are mandatory to play the part effectively, especially when up against the likes of Mitchell and Brooker.

Unfortunately there is little that could entice me to watch the show, as despite my best mute button efforts I was unable to entirely eradicate Carr's part in it.

Christina Martin said...

Confession time.

There is no such thing as radioactive funny.

I was actually bitten by a radioactive spider, who did a bit of stand-up on the side.

Paul Munford said...

What am I missing here? Lauren Laverne IS funny! Do you mean that women that don't do stand up can't be 'Professionally' funny? Who's prejudices are we examining here?

Anonymous said...

Just like to say that I WOULD agree with this blog if not for the fact that Laverne is actually quite funny. She's a likeable character and while she may not be a comedian, has a good wit and works well off the guys, Jimmy Carr in particular.

And honestly, I can't think of that many female comedians who don't just joke about being a woman, anyway. Some of them are great and likeable, e.g. Sarah Millican, but most bash out the same old rubbish. When female comedians are good, they're better than most males. That just doesn't happen often enough because not enough of them write about anything other than 'I'm a woman, men are idiots!' It's a shame but true.

Motherflipper said...

That did strike me as an odd decision. If the aim is to have a British equivalent to Stephen Colbert and the Daily Show, etc, then I don't see why you couldn't have four comedians. They'd just have to take turns playing it straight. Whenever I've seen Colbert and Stewart doing segments together, the joy of it is that both are feigning at playing it straight.

Choosing someone like Laverne strikes me as a cynical move by Channel 4 to try to get women interested in a show that seems to be aimed at young men. They'd actually have gained a greater load of credibility if they'd told Brooker and Mitchell (Carr doesn't get a say) to pick a comedienne or two to have on the panel.

Anonymous said...

Happened with George Elliot - I mean being denigrated as a woman, not that she couldn't get on Ch4. Quite apart from publishing under a male pseudonym, when commentators realised she was a woman they said she looked masculine and must have shrivelled ovaries.
Things don't change much...

AndyG said...

I like Lauren Laverne and think she's quite funny, actually. Is there something wrong with me?

Anonymous said...

I have thought "funny for a woman" in my time, so I guess I'm part of the military-indutrial complex. There are lots of female comedians, of course, but I just can't get into what they're talking about (even Jo Brand, who seems to represent a counterexample for you). Maybe it's because every female comedian I've ever seen has tried to be funny *about* being a woman, instead of just trying to be funny. The exception is Sarah Silverman, who tries to be funny about being Jewish, instead of just being funny.

While I'm sure being a woman is hilarious, there must surely be other things to talk about.

Also, in your defence, Lauren Laverne should not be on that show. It's a bit unsettling have the narrative equivalent of Debbie McGee on that thing.

White Rabbit said...

There are just as many hilarious females out there as there are men. I agree with you that the odds are against them. I believe that humour has nothing to do with gender.

Over on my blog I won the Irish Humour Blog award for God knows what reason but I'm proud to have won it in a category full of men. It was a shock for many people to say the least.

Anonymous said...

If you'd been asked to recommend someone to take Laverne's seat, who would you have suggested? I know that's not your point, I'm just curious...

Neon Blue said...

I take your point on the lack of women in comedy on tv, but I'm not sure how you're drawing your definition of comedian/non-comedian. Of the three male presenters, Jimmy Carr is the only one who's a stand-up. Charlie Brooker is a tv presenter and occasional writer, and David Mitchell is an actor and writer. Mitchell gets his rep for being a 'funnyman' from panel shows, which is the exact same place that Lauren gets hers (the fact that he's been on more then her is more a judgement of those shows then really about her relative merits as a funny woman.) In terms of live tv, Lauren is the only one with any decent amount of experience in it at all, which is something the show definitely needs.

Anonymous said...

I think it's a little too neat that the straight-man foil should just happen to be a woman. The woman can't be a comedian because all our best examples of female comedians aren't as thin or as white or as pretty as Laverne. (Not knocking her at all - she is talented on top of these things, but not as a comedian. Knocking the system that gives her this opportunity above someone better suited.) Comedians, not least those in this show, have scope to be Not Conventionally Attractive - it almost works to their benefit in being funny. But whoever put the show together seems to think that if the female element is also one of those unstunning comedian folk, nobody will bother watching. We'll recoil from the ugliness!

But even if they HAD to pick a beautiful woman, why not someone like Shappi Khorsandi? Then we could have even mix up the ethnicities a bit too, heaven forfend.

Laura said...

It's always been the same format. Funny guy with a pretty blond woman to roll her eyes and giggle at his jokes... The Big Breakfast, Jonny Vaughan and Denise Van Outen, Vic, Bob and Ulrika.

Crazy to think that women are still picked for the looks rather than their personality.

Matt said...

Was just watching Shappi Khorsandi on Live at the Apollo on iPlayer last night as it goes - not that that invalidates your point.

I'm sure you're in a better place to know, but aside from mysogyny, is it not a contributing factor that way more men try to be comics than women?

Anonymous said...

Writing indignant articles about the state of females and comedy still doesn't make you ladies seem any funnier. Kinda reinforces the fact that you aren't if you think about it.

Christina Martin said...

I've never had so many comments in one go!

I'll come back and reply to them when I've had my tea.


Izzie said...

'Women comics aren't funny cause they only ever talk about being a woman'
Sure, cause it's it's not like dick jokes are the foundation of most male humour...

Anonymous said...

Laura: Until the end of time, people in general, men or woman, will be picked for their looks instead of their personality. Get used to it.

Michelle said...

I figured the reason Lauren was there was more to do with the fact that she has live TV experience - a point that, iirc, was raised when the programme screened on the election evening.

This role for Lauren was to me emphasised by the fact she was the one who introduced the viewers back after breaks etc on the show last week.

Anonymous said...

Please name some other funny female comedians.. that you would have picked for that show?

I'd like to suggest that any and all female comedians are funnier than Michael McIntyre.

Azi said...

I wish producing companies would stop casting according to stereotypes. If the show can't carry with the writing and acting, then they shouldn't stoop to such tactics as playing to the prejudices of the audience. That just reinforces the stupid stereotypes that limit the show in the first place.

L. Erskine said...

There is so much truth in this.

I have a great sociology book (it's at home so I don't have the title on hand) that discusses how men interact with one another vs how they interact with women.

It sites that men consistently will laugh at jokes told by other men and will not respond the same when the same jokes are told by women. It also sites that men also do not actively listen to women as much as they do to other men.

Obviously, this is not true of all men... and things are changing (especially with the younger generations who aren't denied a fuller range of emotions like their older counterparts)... but as a female, I can vouch for the frustrating, awkward blah that happens when I show personality around the wrong males.

When dating it's a requirement that he be able to make me laugh and that he be able to laugh at my jokes without trying to take them over.

I think this all ties into the issues that women in the business arena have been discussing as well... such as the way that women in powerful positions are perceived, even when saying and doing exactly what a man in her role would say and do. Sexism is alive and just as pervasive as ever... it's just a bit more subtle so it's easier for men (and some women) to ignore.

Anonymous said...

@Christina Martin more incoming traffic because Simon Pegg tweeted your post?

Sue Starlight said...

Scholars agree women invented agriculture. Perhaps they did it so the species wouldn't die out when men failed to "bring home the bacon" (or beef or mammoth or bunny rabbit.) Maybe there are just more famous American women comics than British. Stand up isn't the only way to be funny.

Chris Spann said...

The argument of women in comedy is a terribly sad one - especially when people like Lucy Porter, Nina Conti, Sarah Millican, Josie Long, Isy Suttie and Loretta Main proving it wrong on a daily basis? (I would add Bec Hill to this, but I've only seen Youtube clips of her). The fact is this: Women can be just as funny as men, there are just fewer female standups on the circuit. I've seen brilliant female comedians, I've seen crap female comedians, and guess what? They're just as bad/good as their male counterparts.

Nicki said...

I thought I'd love the show but was disappointed - it seemed a bit tired and like they were trying too hard at the same time. I thought Lauren Laverne was good though, so maybe having a straight woman worked even if for me there was something missing from the show. She was the glue in the comedy sandwich. Just a shame that they missed the mayonnaise out.

Anonymous said...

It's hilarious how obvious it is that so many of the negative comments from males were clearly made without having read more than a sentence or two of the article.

But OK boys, we're all totally inclined to take you seriously. Oh, YOU'VE never seen a female comic that you like. Well that proves it. After all, you're not prejudiced at all so you probably go out of your way to see female comics and check them out, right? You probably don't just scoff when you see one and go listen to a hack male comic make penis gags instead. No, not at all. I bet you're all right on top of the female comic scene and totally qualified to tell the whole population of women that none of them are funny.

And hey, guess what? We're sick to death of endless ( and unoriginal) jokes about your cocks every day too. But notice how no one's using that as an excuse to say that no man can ever be funny? It's amazing how many men mistake their personal taste for a universal truth about what's 'worthy' in any particular field. "We like penis jokes so anyone who makes them is officially 'good enough'; we don't like vagina jokes so even though there's a huge proportion of the population that might very well like them, nobody who makes those can ever be considered good enough". Not by these men, The Self-Appointed Arbiters of Taste for Everyone Whether They Like it or Not™.

Christina Martin said...

Right here goes. I need to do this in batches as Blogger will only let me post so much.

Tom - Agreed, most comedy partnerships or groupings share the straight role to great effect. Often it takes a lot more comic ability and timing to be the straight man.

Paul - You're not missing anything in that regard. I didn't say she wasn't funny. I said she wasn't a comedian, and that I was disappointed that a professional or up and coming female comic couldn't have been given a shot. I was using it as a springboard to talk about lack of representation.

Anon - Again, just to reiterate, I wasn't saying she isn't funny. I was using the fact that three male comics were selected and the female role was not filled by a female comic. My favourite female comedians don't rely on tales of daft men and periods. Helen Keen talks about outer space and science, Josie Long talks about...everything! When I did stand up my main preoccupations were organised religion and Bid TV. I'm just sorry you feel that way.

Helenblackman - I always made a point of dressing down when I did stand-up. You could still hear whispers from people in the back row weighing up if you were fit or not. Get your tits out would feature quite often. When I was listed as a writer for Viz, their facebook group forum had a photo of me posted on it. They concluded I was 'alright, not the best' What does it matter? I'm a writer.

AndyG - No, nothing wrong with you. I didn't actually say she wasn't funny, as above, I was using her inclusion over and above a female comedian, as a springboard to talking about larger issues of women in comedy.

Anonymous the Second (I dub thee!) - I like the Debbie McGee analogy :) My experience of comedy seems to differ from everyone so far who has cited why women aren't funny. I guess because I spent five years gigging every single week. I saw every female comic going. The best ones are on the alternative circuit, and you'll find them talking about outer space, semantics, Jesus, all sorts. There are always going to be hacks. There are hack males too. Wank jokes anyone?

White Rabbit - Humour is indeed down to the individual. Well done on the award!

cipergoth - I would have chosen Isy Suttie. She's well known, and on Channel 4 with David Mitchell in Peep Show, so not a gamble.

Neon Blue - I suppose I associate Mitchell and Brooker with comedy because Mitchell is ex-Footlights and is a comic performer, and Charlie Brooker writes funny and has transferred that across to 'performimg' it on TV. I take your point though.

Christina Martin said...

Anonymous the Third - Agree. Women always seem to play straight. In conventional sitcoms female characters are just there to roll their eyes at the antics of their daft husbands it seems. It would be nice to get some of the good lines.

Laura - Indeed. Women do seem to take the supporting role in TV comedy. As a straight act or just laughing at men's jokes. That's why it would be great to use a female comic. Writing and making the jokes too.

Matt - There certainly are more men than women on the circuit. Going out alone late at night to sleazy comedy venues doesn't appeal to many women. A fair few of my friends have felt threatened or harrassed on their way home at 2am. But there are still a fair few. I'd say it's 2 in 5.

Anonymous the Fourth - Yeah you're right, I thought about it and we're not funny. None of us. And all black men have rhythm. Thanks for clearing that up.

Izzie - Yep. And I honestly can't even remember the last time I heard a female comic talking about being a woman.

Michelle - Fair enough, but if she was just there to do the admin, that doesn't make me feel better.

Anonymous the Fifth - I would have chosen Isy Suttie for this gig. There are tons though. Helen Keen who just recently did a radio pilot deserves to be on TV. Intelligent and offbeat. Bridget Christie would be a good choice too.

Azi - There is a lack of imagination on TV it has to be said. A shake up would be good on many levels.

L Erskine - Very interesting! Rings true with me. I wrote for a male comic once, and he performed my jokes, successfully, to a crowd at a club where I would have boo'ed off stage for being 'a bird'.

Anonymous the Seventh - Is that what this explosion of comments is about!? I've been at work ever since I posted my blog so didn't know that. Wow!

Sue Starlight - Stand up isn't the only way, but for those women who want to do it, more opportunities wouldn't hurt. I'm not talking special treatment. I'm just genuinely sad that some seriously funny women never get seen and celebrated.

Chris Spann - Yes, yes, yes. Agree with all you say. Nothing to add!

Nicki - A lot of new, hailed shows turn out to be just as stale as the last outgoing one nowadays. Tonightly was followed by the equally awful TNT Show. TV execs aren't learning. I wish there was more lovingly created stuff on TV, like in the 90s- Father Ted, Vic and Bob, Lee and Herring. People you can tell wrote it all themselves and were enjoying presenting it to you.

Christina Martin said...

I love your ire Anonymous the Eighth!

(I can count by the way. I skipped from 5 to 7 in the dubbing of Anonymous posters because Anonymous 6 was arguing with Laura and not me so I didn't reply)

Thanks to everyone who has commented.

Anonymous said...

Woah! Back up a second! 10 o'clock live was supposed to be a comedy? I thought it was a working example of how cringeworthy live tv can be demonstrating the merits of pre-recorded shows. I guess I should watch it again! A comedy? Really?

Christina Martin said...

A worthy theory :)

Anonymous said...

Two sides to this comment. Firstly I would agree strongly that female comedians aren't given a platform as freely as their male counterparts are.

However, I myself rather like Lauren Laverne and find her amusing despite not being a "professional comedian". But also I would have to say that I can freely list several other names off the top of my head other than Joe Brand. Sarah Millican is brilliant as is Holly Walsh or Ronnie Ancona. I could also list Shappi Korshandi, but don't find her in any way funny, and almost undermining my arguement.

But I myself love comedy and am fanatical about getting to comedy gigs. Yet despite all this, your original point remains very valid. Time to give more female comedians a chance, they can be as funny as men! Here endeth my long rambling nonsensical comment.

Christina Martin said...

Thanks Simon. All comments are appreciated, rambling or not! ;)

Anonymous said...

I think Lauren is funny especially on the radio.
However I think what she brings to the show is wealth of live TV and radio presenting experience which you can see propping up the others here and there. She has had some very funny lines and brings much more to the show than Jimmy. David Mitchell has been funny but his greatest contribution is his interviewing style. I don't think C4 have been sexist.

Christina Martin said...

Oh goody, another person making the same comment I have already addressed a dozen times.

Ok, once more for the road:

This blog is about there not being enough exposure for female comics.

It is not about whether or not Lauren Laverne is funny.

Laura D said...

Thank you! I completely agree with everything you said there. They never give women a chance to be funny on tv, but especially in Britain for some reason :(

Hope you don't mind, I'm linking this on my twitter!/lauradmcbryde

Christina Martin said...

Laura D - thank you and no, I don't mind at all!

Mona Monro said...

There are just as many hilarious females out there as there are men. I agree with you that the odds are against them. I think it's a little too neat that the straight-man foil should just happen to be a woman.

Anonymous said...

God, what a bunch of winges. "Mummy.... they never let me be funny!" Nobody is stopping you... you just 'aren't', Get over it, get a life.

And Christina, the straight person isn't always a woman. God you females are wingers. So you can't be better than men at everything! Hey ho....

Now... off to practice having babies again.

I'd come back and check responses, but I like to enjoy life. Bye :)

Christina Martin said...

"Get a life" says the anonymous troll.


Anonymous said...

There are plenty of female comics out there but all are not funny. You see comedy is a male preserve and have always been mostly funny unlike the talentless female comic. Respect to Lauren when due though; would I just love to whip her knickers off.

A little late with this reply. I actually came upon this page whilst searching for a viral hard core porn scene of Lauren Laverne.