Quickhit: Harding on Greer and women in comedy

Kate Harding dissects Germaine’s latest blithering (Germs doesn’t always blither, but I cannot think of a better description for this particular effort) in Salon. Great job.

I was having the “why aren’t there more women working in stand-up?” conversation with a comedian and a punter at a comedy club last night, after the punter had looked at the gallery of comedian portraits and asked why there were so few women on it. The punter felt that my measured observation that all the male comedians there that night had left their wives at home to look after their children (and the one woman on the programme being currently childfree) was “that same old excuse that women have been using for thousands of years”. The comedian, to his credit, made an argument referencing perceived status in society and cultural expectations.

H/T Amanda Marcotte on FB

Categories: arts & entertainment, gender & feminism, media

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18 replies

  1. More Salon – there’s also a really good piece by Rebecca Traister dissecting some jaw-droppingly lousy advice :
    Sexual harassment: Why not just quit?
    Anyone got more particularly good dissections of asinine op-eds to share?

  2. Has Greer forgotten the days that she used to do skit comedy?

  3. “that same old excuse that women have been using for thousands of years”.
    That sentence has just deeply wounded me.

  4. @ Anna:
    I know just how you feel. It pole-axed me, too, and I was grateful for the diplomatic contribution of the male comedian that gave me time to pull my claws in before I committed an act upon the punter’s person that would have been very bad for business.

  5. I’m just wondering — and I may be way off base here — how much this has to do with matters of audience identification with the comedian? I know in children’s literature we talk about the way that girls are generally taught to identify across gendered boundaries (they have to be able to identify with male characters in order to be culturally literate) while boys are not (after all, it’s considered a bad thing for boys to identify with female characters). Insofar as the stand-up comic is a persona with whom the audience must identify in order to actually get the jokes, I wonder if the same thing is in play — the male members of the audience have never been taught to identify with women, while a good portion of the female audience members are also more used to identifying with male characters.

  6. @ Beppie:
    Doesn’t sound way off base at all, and is partly the point in Kate’s piece about how culturally men described as having a good sense of humour are telling jokes, while women described as having a good sense of humour laugh at men’s jokes.
    There’s also some status play happening, as the comedian mentioned referencing the study on military convalescents in pyjamas vs in uniform and how those of higher rank got heartier laughs when in uniform.
    Male comedians have the luxury of playing faux-low-status (I’m so ugly/clumsy/unlucky – hear my stories) to soften the high-status of being the one on the stage with the mic and to get the audience relating to them – women generally don’t play the faux-low-status card to anything like the same degree because if they do the audience will switch off altogether.

  7. Also, men have cultural investment in ‘man jokes’. I was at an Arj Barker gig, and he can be very funny, but at one point he was banging on about how night is great and day is crap, like you know what does DAY have to offer, you went for a hike, but it’s not like that night where you were sucked off in the alley behind a bar in Spain.
    I just…all the men, partner included roared with laughter. Cos DICKHAPPYFUNNYJOKES but meanwhile, HE got ‘sucked off’ evoking an image of some nameless anonymous hot chick. So the dick was present and the women were absent. That humour seems to really tickle the boys, when it’s just them and their club. They don’t let us do that. Even if we make the jokes we’re never part of the club.

  8. FP, your comment reminded me of the oft-quoted “Men are afraid of women laughing at them, women are afraid of men killing them.”
    I certainly have discovered that some men get very very very defensive and angry if they’re laughed at. It can get very scary.

  9. Yeah, Anna and FP — a couple of years ago, when The Chaser’s War on Everything was really big here in Australia, it always used to get me that if women had tried to do half the stuff that the Chaser boys got up to, they simply wouldn’t have been allowed to do it. And I don’t mean the actual illegal stuff that they did — just their everyday pranks. If a group of women tried that sort of thing, most people wouldn’t see it as funny — they’d see it as a cause for moral panic.

  10. The whole business of funny reeks of double standards. Like the way my supervisor used to call the misogynist drivel written by some academics “tongue in cheek”, but the gags I wrote in papers picking said academics apart were “snide”.

  11. Most of the funny women I have known, women who were totally capable of being publicly funny, of writing a structured show and delivering it, didn’t have the self confidence to get up at a try out night. Not even my friend whose entire life has been immersed in the industry.
    Conversely, lots of my uni friends were happy to get up on stage to perform skits in groups. Then it only takes one woman to be fearless, the others will go along with it given the opportunity. Of course, in most of those groups there have historically been one or two women and five blokes.
    There isn’t really a forum where you can try out a couple of group skits. That stuff used to come out of universities, but university theatres have lost a lot of funding. Obviously returning funding to university activities would be excellent, but it wouldn’t make things any easier for the women who don’t enrol, or who are only at uni for the essential activities before heading home to care for their children.

  12. Another reason I think for the fewer women in comedy is, something along the lines of what kate wrote, that women are less likely to have the kind of self confidence needed to do comedy, for many reasons, including that we feel we’re likely to be judged more harshly just for being female, and then that our supposed failure will be taken as a representative of all women in comedy.
    Michelle’s last blog post..Oh why me.. why do you make me read these things?

  13. @ Michelle:

    and then that our supposed failure will be taken as a representative of all women in comedy

    Oh yes: the “one woman didn’t strike me as impressive, therefore no woman can ever be impressive” dismissive generalisation that happens to POC depressingly often as well.
    I’ve told this story before, but the scales really fell from my eyes with a male friend of mine who specialised in droll misanthropy that I used to find amusing – I lent him a book and when he returned it he didn’t say “not my sort of book thanks”, what he said was “women can’t write science fiction”. After that his deeply seated sexism in nearly everything he said just stood out in sharp relief and I found I hardly liked him any more.
    The book was by Lois McMaster Bujold.

  14. So this discussion tells me, proper analysis of the complex societal pressures producing the effect in question: not that hard. When did Greer, who had one of the sharpest minds in the world once upon a time, suddenly stop being able to do what we can all do?

  15. Gobsmacked! Not that the ‘women aren’t funny’ discussion is going on, but that it was started by G, and that it was presented in such a simplified way. Where to start? I’ve got an essay that I keep picking up and putting down, but maybe I should just write it…I started performing standup (by accident) a few years ago when I was 37, and that confidence factor that Kate talks about really makes sense to me. I keep thinking how ridiculous it is to start now, but honestly, I couldn’t have done it before.
    That comment does not surprise me at all, tigtog – in a way, standup has been perfect, because I’ve got a partner with a traditional job so I haven’t had to worry about childcare – but most of my audience isn’t out at 9 pm on a weeknight.
    And that ties into Beppie’s point about relatability which is spot-on – the thing I love is that even when I’ve had a terrible gig, there’s always one woman who comes up to me afterwards and says, I just loved that. Someone was once explaining the psychology of an audience to me and telling me that women who are in the audience with a man are less likely to ‘let themselves’ laugh if the man isn’t laughing – no idea about the veracity of that, but it does seem to be true that if there’s a deep man’s laugh in the audience then you’re unlikely to die on stage.
    So much to say…but I’m exhausted…we opened our (all-woman) show at the fringe last night and I couldn’t sleep afterwards. Plus, reading that original article just wore me out.

  16. I just went and read the article again and am struck almost dumb by this: “The greater visibility of male comedians reflects a greater investment of intellectual energy by men of all walks of life in keeping each other amused”…my eyes must have glazed over last time I read it. If I’m reading it right, it’s on a par with the comment that was made to you, tigtog, about the excuses we’ve been making for thousands of years (which, as I’ve said I’m not at all surprised to hear, having had it put to me in different ways on more than one occasion).
    I just think that whole article is a real pity – there is some good analysis to be done, as Kate has shown, but Greer’s article isn’t it.

  17. To be honest, I was kinda relieved when I read Greer’s piece. She’s a feminist icon of mine (in spite of our different opinions on a few things) and she has come out with such mortifying stuff lately, like that rubbish about Michelle Obama’s dress.. that when I read here that she’d done it again I thought oh noooooo.
    Still a misguided piece of hers though.

  18. @ blue milk:
    It’s far from the worst ever piece she’s done. It just hits hardest on those of us with a special interest in and love of live comedy.

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