Women Aren't Funny

Women are not funny.

So said someone to me at an Edinburgh Fringe years ago. I was not a performer at that particular fringe; I was not producing a comedy show nightly to audiences. She was. Yes, she. That statement was said to me (on Chambers Street) by a funny woman in the middle of her comedy run at the largest arts festival in the world. We were walking in a group with her fellow performers looking for a late night bar. Following her statement, I said ‘what?’ her fellow performers said ‘yeh, women aren’t funny: at least not as funny as men.’ In the spirit of putting things in quotation marks, my brain (and possibly my mouth) said ‘fuck that’. I went back to my digs and wrote 5 minutes of stand up. I am not a stand-up comedienne, but I wrote the thing, because I was angry. I was really, really angry.

I’m not just angry at people saying that women aren’t funny; I’m angry that it was a woman who said that women aren’t funny. I’m not just angry at people saying women can’t be funny, I’m angry at anyone saying that a woman can’t do anything to the same standards as a man. It’s true that stand-up comedy started in men’s clubs. A man would literally stand up and tell a joke, and then another man would stand up and tell another as a response or an adage. It’s stand-up because you’re standing up. That night in Edinburgh, I chose to stand up.

Stand-up started as a man’s game, but so did medicine, teaching, engineering and politics. Does this mean that men are intrinsically better at medicine, teaching, engineering and stand-up because of the old politics of men ruling women? It’s kind of ironic that it’s because of politics that women were never considered as participants in these and many other fields, and now more and more women are becoming politicians; and the opinion that women are unequal to men in certain fields is definitely political (as is the argument that men are not as capable as women in certain fields). I consider my actions that night to be political. I made a choice to respond creatively to a political issue. I didn’t realise this at the time, it’s only on looking back that I’m aware of it. I wrote comedy because I was angry, but my set wasn’t about politics or anger, or even gender; it was a light-hearted set of observational comedy: highly personal and very, very silly. I wanted to fight fire with water on this one. I was sharing accommodation with a male stand-up who runs a comedy night in London and asked him (still in my red mist of gender inequality rage) to put me on his next bill. I acted irrationally in asking him to do so, and woke the next morning with the one thing worse than a hangover – the reality of having committed to performing stand-up.

In the days leading up to the show, I felt sick. I spent the whole day before the show within ten feet of my toilet because I knew that at any moment, I was going to throw up my nerves. I have been a professional performer for ten years and have honestly never felt so fearful of a performance. At around sixty seconds in, I got my first laugh. The video footage shows me saying to my then boyfriend: ‘Kevin, they’re laughing!’ before he gently encourages me to carry on with my set. It wasn’t an act, it was an experiment, and it proved my hypothesis.

Funny women are becoming sexier than sexy women. Because regardless of their looks (and many female stand-ups are absolutely gorgeous), they are making us laugh and that’s a bigger turn on than any stocking or hair extension. I’ll sleep with a funny man long before I’ll even look at a gorgeous boring one. It’s easier for a man to laugh me into bed than it is for him to romance me there.

Comedy is currently enjoying a surge of ladies; both mainstream and fringe, and has been for a while. Funny women are slowly conquering Hollywood. Just look at your Golden Globe hosts for the last two years. My battle was smaller and far more personal, but I watch the progress of high profile funny women with pride and interest. Funny is taking over.

Laughter is universal, and the language of comedy is very personal and very unique depending on the relationship and situation. It’s time we started appreciating laughter for laughter’s sake and not deciding what’s funny depending on gender. Not all women are funny, not all men are funny. Not all men are great doctors, not all women are great doctors. Not all men are great politicians and not all women are great politicians. I am not a great political, medical or educational mind, but I am funny, and I’ve got the video footage to prove it.

(c) Jade Allen 2014