Not only do women get judged more harshly as performers, they also account for only around 10 per cent of the industry – with most of the top gigs and pay packets going to the men. This discrimination that occurs in the comedy industry is, on one level, a microcosm of what happens in society. So although women are now much more prominent on the comedy circuit, the sad truth is that there is still a long way to go before women get heckled in the same way as men.
This year, as men and women have confronted long-suppressed evidence of sexual abuse so pervasive it’s simply the air we breathe, we’ve also begun to reckon with a kind of toxic humor that so often excuses such behavior — the ways in which humor is used as both sword and shield, and women as cannon fodder. As Rebecca Traister recently wrote in New York magazine, this moment is not just about sex, but about work. In the context of the comedy industry, it’s about how women have been and continue to be shut out of professional opportunities and the chance to shape cultural narratives because of the adolescent prurience of the men who run the show.
What to do? Expose girls and boys to funny women. (My son adores I Love Lucy.) Encourage your daughter to take a comedy class. (Encourage your son to take one taught by a lady.) If your daughter’s the class clown, applaud. (I’m teaching mine the art of deadpan and dropping well-placed swear words for laughs.) If she’s shy, that’s funny too — being authentically funny means being exactly who you already are, just in an exaggerated way. And overall, make sure girls are heard and not shushed. Because bonus: comedy skills — confidence, resilience, authenticity — are also life skills.
"But I’d say almost every female comic could name a comedy club she can’t walk into, a booker she can’t email or an agent she can’t pursue because of the presence of a problematic guy. We are all avoiding someone who could help us make money. Female comics do a lot of calculating, finding alternate routes to a career."