What's It Really Like To Be A Female Comedian?

October 25th 2015

When director Paul Feig announced last year that "Ghostbusters" would be remade with an all-female cast, outcry and screams of injustice flooded Twitter and Reddit.

Most of the anger, sadly, surrounded the fact that the film would star all women.

Why? According to this guy on Reddit, they aren't funny enough.

Male commenting on Ghostbusters remake female castReddit/Ghostbusters - reddit.com

The notion that people find men funnier than women isn’t a new one.

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And we know it's not true.

The gender "hilarity disparity" has also been the subject of scientific research. In a 2011 study called “Who’s funny: Gender stereotypes, humor production, and memory bias,” researchers took a small sample of men and women and asked them to write funny captions for 20 New Yorker magazine cartoons. They were given 45 minutes, and their captions were then rated by a different group of men and women.

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On average, captions from the men were rated slightly higher than women’s. During the memory portion of the test, unfunny captions were incorrectly attributed to women more often than they were to men.

The crass ceiling

To understand what this bias looks like in a comedy club, and what it's actually like to be a female comic in 2015, ATTN: spoke two different female comedians about their experiences.

Luisa Omielan is British comedian with global experience.

Comedian Luisa OmielanKristian Dowling - kristiandowling.com

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Alison Stevenson is a Los Angeles-based comedian who has performed at clubs all over the country.

ATTN: When did you first realize that being a woman in comedy is different from being a man?

LO: Haha I wouldn’t know, I have never been a man. All I know is that if a man had as much commercial success and could relate to men on the same level that I relate to women, I believe I would be a lot richer and further along in my career right now.

AS: It didn't take me long for me to notice. As soon as I started booking shows I would see the line-ups, one or two women on a show versus six men. Men have the luxury of booking shows through camaraderie. It's not as much of a boy's club as it once was, but a lot of women still have to deal with not being cared much about by the boys-at-large. Especially if we are not of romantic interest to them or (god forbid) have boyfriends already.

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ATTN: Do you think people find funny women threatening?

LO: People tell me this all the time. I don’t think so, I never have done and have only ever known funny women. I think people who are unsure of themselves would find anybody confident threatening, that’s more or a reflection of them than it is of the funny person. It's quite often I meet a man and as soon as I tell him what I do, he will either completely ignore it or then tell me jokes and that he should be a comedian. I don’t know if that’s threatening or just because he is used to having his own voice heard.

AS: In some ways, yes. I've noticed in my personal life that it bothers a lot of guys if I'm funnier than them. Especially on dates, so many guys rely on their humor to be charming. I have found that almost none of them actually are funny and have had no problem telling them that (I can only fake laugh so much). Humor is a sign of intelligence, and there are a lot of men out there who can't deal with dating a woman who might be more intelligent than them.

ATTN: Do you think it’s becoming easier for women to break into comedy?

Luisa Omielan in "Thigh Gap..What Thigh Gap Bitches?!" standup YouTube/Luisa Omielan - youtube.com

LO: I think it's hard and industry is very slow to catch up, so I don’t think its easier. I mean, compared to how it must have been 20 years ago it must be easier comparatively, but it's still not easy by any means.

AS: Yes, I think so… I've noticed in the past two years especially how much more supportive female comedians are being with one another. We're being less competitive and more inclusive. We're taking more initiative, booking each other on shows, and generally helping one another out. However, as much as we are told that the industry is looking for more funny women, I still find that the people booking the majority of big gigs are still straight white men.

ATTN: What do you think is the biggest difference between famous male comedians and famous female comedians?

LO: I think to be a famous comedian, you would have had to work pretty hard at your craft. I think female comics may have had to jump through a few more hoops to get there. I don't think it is anyone to achieve that level of success though. Every person has earned their place. I think one of the key differences, is that one female comic represents female comedy as a whole, where as one male comedian would just be taken on face value. ‘Oh I don’t like him as opposed to ‘aren’t all women awful.'

AS: There are far less famous female comedians.

ATTN: What message do you have for women who want to go into comedy?

LO: Just do it, be fearless and gig hard. Rest will follow.

AS: Do it. Speak from the heart. Don't let anyone tell you what you can and can't talk about. No topic is off-limits as long as you find a way to make whatever it is you're talking about unique to you. Dig deep, and go beyond finding the easiest punchline. There is a lot of bullshit you're going to have to deal with, but there is also a lot of joy that comes from proving idiots wrong. Never forget that your words are powerful.

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Share your opinion

Should more women to go into comedy?

No 18%Yes 82%