‘No Labels Is The Way Of The Future’ Four Comedians Tell Us What The Deal Is With ‘Female’ Comedy

Do people really still need to define it as a separate genre? Come on now.


by Jess Commons |
Published on

Standing in front of a room full of people being tasked with the responsibility of making them laugh sounds to me like one of the most terrifying things in the entire world. In fact, ‘comedian’ comes second only on my list of most feared jobs to being an air hostess. Thirty thousand feet above the Atlantic Sea in a tin can? No way mate, you can get your own damn sandwich.

But for loads of the more courageous souls of you than me out there (and let’s be honest, beating me in the bravery stakes isn’t exactly hard) comedy is on the rise among young women, with The Guardian reporting a 62% rise in female comedians at Edinburgh Festival this year.

So what is it that prompts someone to choose a career in comedy? For some, it’s been a recent decision. ‘I think my parents suggested it,’ Harriet Kemsley, a 27-year-old comic currently supporting Katherine Ryan on tour tells us. ‘They were watching Live at the Apollo and they were like, “Oh Harriet you should be a comedian!” It was terrifying at first though. That first year I was drunk every time!’

For Canadian Mae Martin however, it’s been something of a life-long pursuit. ‘My parents took me to a stand-up club when I was 11. I looked like a boy with a mushroom haircut and the headliner brought me on stage to pretend to be a ventriloquist’s dummy and got me to say filthy things about Pamela Anderson’s tits. At the end I said I was a girl, got a big laugh and then I was addicted.’

For character comedian and YouTuber Jenny Bede (whom you might remember from last season’s Mad On Chelsea – a gig she got from her very excellent MIC parody video below), the decision to enter the comedy world had something to do with the funny women she grew up watching. ‘I loved French and Saunders and Mel and Sue growing up so I was always aware women were funny, but I think I initially thought that comedy wasn’t something I could do. Maybe you didn’t see that many women doing it?’

READ MORE: Meet The Woman Who Can Do 17 British Accents In One Go

Despite the 62% rise in female comedians at Edinburgh, still only 17% of the overall performers were women. Perhaps this goes some way to explain why, in a world where comedians like Katherine Ryan and Bridget Christie are dominating otherwise all male line-ups on shows like Live At The Apollo or winning the grand prize at Edinburgh, some people still adhere to the outdated notion that ‘female’ comedy is something entirely different than just ‘comedy’.

‘I’ve got a lot of friends – some of them women – who say, “I just don’t find female stand-ups funny,”’ sighs Jenny. ‘And I say, “OK what are you basing this on?” And usually it’s one or two of the girls they’ve seen among all the other men on panel shows. It’s a percentage game.’

Earlier this year, the BBC announced a new policy that stated they would include at least one woman on all of their panel shows. Understandably – as with any ‘positive’ discrimination – there was some debate as to whether or not this was patronising.

Andrea Hubert, a comedian and writer told us, ‘I think the decision to openly tell us that’s what they were doing was incredibly embarrassing for them. They were saying, “We’re going to put one female on,” whereas if you substituted the word “female” for “Jew” or “black” or “gay”, you’d find yourself with a very embarrassing sentence that you wouldn’t dare to say out loud.’

‘People see gender as a genre,’ agrees Jenny. ‘They’ll be like “OK we need one musical act, one one-liner act, one woman… I think people are scared to put two women on a panel show like, “Guys what if they both talk about periods – ahhh!”’

READ MORE: Highly Important Life Lessons We've Learnt From Caitlin Moran's How To Build A Girl

‘I think the problem is that they specified women but not comedians. If you’re going to have a comedy show then you should naturally have female comedians.’ Says Harriet. Mae agrees, ‘My whole thing is no labels. I think that’s the way of the future.’

Unfortunately, though, as with anything, there’s always some real gems of humanity determined to keep things in the dark ages. ‘In Edinburgh this year,’ says Jenny, ‘The guy before me was quite an old sort: slightly misogynistic, slightly homophobic, borderline racist… He went down brilliantly. And he saw me walk into the room and I think I put him off because I was a bit early and he said, “Oh ladies and gentlemen, this is the next act. Yeah she’s a stripper.” And the whole room was just like “HAHAHAHA”. And you just think, “Fucking hell.”’

That’s not to say everyone thinks this way though. ‘I mean Bridget Christie won a prize for a show unapologetically about feminism, so there has been a shift,’ says Andrea. ‘Maybe it’s because now the men in charge are going, “Uh feminism is big now guys”, which is horrific but if that’s what it takes….’

So highlighting the need for further representation could work in the girls’ favour? ‘Yeah, it can actually help, I guess. They put you on because they want at least one woman.’ Agrees Harriet.

‘The only downside is people who go to see shows like Bridget Christie’s are already converted,” says Andrea. ‘It’s not like she’s taking your average, “Smile love, it might never happen” type and making them think differently. If she was, then THAT would be amazing.’

Andrea, Mae, Jenny and Harriet star in The Debrief's new show Thinking Out Loud, which airs tomorrow.

*Like this? Then you might also be interested in: ***

Meet The Woman Behind The Comedy Show About Rape

Joan Rivers Was A Trailblazer For Female Comics Everywhere

Here’s The Ladies From Edinburgh We’re Totally Into

Follow Jess on Twitter @Jess_Commons

This article originally appeared on The Debrief.

Just so you know, whilst we may receive a commission or other compensation from the links on this website, we never allow this to influence product selections - read why you should trust us