Award winning comic and poet Mab Jones talks women and comedy and how anger at gender inequality led her to the stand-up circuit:
I got into comedy through that most unfeminine of emotions: anger. Anger at political injustice; anger at social inequalities; anger at the fact most of my friends are now popping out sprogs and seem to expect me to love the little dears, too (I don’t).
As a kid I was always being told to be quiet; in my late twenties I erupted in a fireball burst of pent-up aggression when a novel I was writing transformed into some dark, rude, and very raw little poems, with which I am finding success on the comedy, spoken word, and burlesque circuits.
It’s become apparent to me in my three years of performing, however, that there are relatively fewer female comedians than male ones.
There are plenty of theories as to why this is: Germaine Greer gives a good account of it here, but as a funny woman myself, I would rather look to other funny women for an answer.
A recent venture into Wales by the Funny Women, run by Lynne Parker, found me amongst other laugh-inducing ladies last a week or so ago in Monmouth, and I was determined to seek an answer.
Lynne began Funny Women as a vehicle for women-in-comedy because, even now, “promoters continue to resist booking female comics”, even though there are plenty of us out there.
This year’s Funny Women Awards, an annual competition for stand-ups without Y chromosomes, saw troops of talented, tenacious women on stage at heats all around the country, and I cannot say that the funny factor was any less at these than it is normally. The audiences, made up of both men and women, were heehee-ing and haha-ing in as great a degree as any other comedy event. The giggles per gig are no less. Why, then, the disparity in the male/female comedy ratio?
Headliner Shazia Mirza inadvertently gave one answer, in her hilarious routine which repeatedly referred back to her mother’s request/command to marry and multiply;
“Give me grandchildren!” is the matriarch’s plea.
A good Muslim girl, you’d think, would surely have acquiesced by now. But Mirza is a fiery intelligence who has ignored the pressures placed upon her by mother, family, and her Muslim religion, turning them instead into material for her comedy set.
Routine becomes comedy routine, here, in this refreshing reversal.
But how many women are ever so brave? A disapproving mother is one thing; a disapproving husband is another. I have plenty of wannabe comic friends who’ve withdrawn from the ‘circuit’, not because they have nothing left to say, but because their husbands/partners don’t want them to say it.
Women are still, it seems, tied to the kitchen sink, and their families make the ties with words; sometimes, too, with threats or fists. 25th November, the day of the Monmouth gig, was White Ribbon Day, a campaign that looks to reduce the level of global violence against women.
How many women in the world are afraid to speak up, let alone pursue comedy as a hobby or profession? How many funny women have had the funny part of their characters punched or kicked out of them?
The figures are overwhelming. But, for those who make it to the stage, the rewards are great. I don’t know of any greater high than giving a good performance on stage, of having a hundred other humans hanging on your every word.
For some of us, as trite as it sounds, the audience is our partner, and laughter is our child.
Women are men, in this sense, as it’s the one on stage who sows the seed – if the audience is receptive, then the thing takes root. And I am a woman who loves sowing her (comedy) wild oats.
Whether it’s a woman or a man on stage, then, the result can be the same – a funny person can have you in tears, in stitches. Promoters, remember this. And audiences, come see for yourselves. I hope to catch you in a dark club or theatre, soon.