*As you may have guessed from the title, this post falls somewhere between a review and a rant… You have been warned.
Last night, I had my first ever trip to the Manchester Comedy Store for a night of New Comedians courtesy of Stephanie Laing, Derron Herriot, Clayton Jones and Jenny Collier. The four acts and their host Alex Boardman were funny and confident, engaged well with the audience and for just £3 entry it was a bargain night of comedy.
Last up was Jenny Collier, whose quickfire blend of self-deprecation, Welsh heritage and laments on being single were deservedly well-received. Jenny recently garnered attention on various social media networks and news sites for posting a screenshot of an email she’d received from a venue, cancelling her from a comedy night because there were ‘too many women‘ on the bill.
So it was both apt and depressing when I nipped to the loo in the interval and overheard an audience member saying she ‘just didn’t find female comedians funny.’ It’s not the first time I’ve heard something like this said, of course, but in this particular environment – where we’d just heard a very funny female stand-up and had another to come – it was particularly disappointing. Especially coming from a woman. But it got me thinking – what makes people say it in the first place? What makes people believe that men can be funny, but women can’t?
Sitting in an intimate atmosphere like the Comedy Store’s downstairs bar, I was very aware of other audience members and it was obvious throughout all the acts that people laugh at different things. Whether a joke is funny or not is a very subjective issue. Even top stand-up comedians who sell out giant arenas divide audiences – I love Michael McIntyre, but my boyfriend doesn’t find him remotely funny. Likewise, I’m not a huge fan of Lee Evans or Russell Kane, but I fully accept that other people are. The difference is, I would never for a minute say that the reason I don’t find either of them funny is because they’re male. In fact you would never hear anyone say ‘I just don’t find male comedians funny’ because men are not sweepingly stereotyped to the same extent as women.
Technically, everyone on the planet has the capacity to be funny – just as everyone has the ability to sing or to dance. I’m not saying we’re all amazing at it (it’s so tempting to name names here, but I won’t), but we all have the equipment to make a joke. We all have experience of life and the world as material – we can all communicate through our voices and/or our bodies. So why this prejudice that women can’t use the same resources to make jokes like men can? I would happily bet that most people reading this have female friends who make them laugh. So why, if you put a woman on a stage behind a microphone, does everything suddenly change?
I don’t have answers to these questions, sadly. What I’m trying to say is: that everyone can laugh and anyone can be funny – it isn’t gendered. That comedians should be judged after their set, not before they even start – and it should be on the quality of their material and delivery, not on their gender, their name or their appearance. And that my night at the Manchester Comedy Store wasn’t just thought-provoking, it was a bloody good laugh.