Erika Jackson investigates the gender gap in Australia’s comedy scene.
A small, intimate crowd begins to form inside Chippendale’s cosy Knox Street Bar the way it usually does on the last Thursday of every month. Tonight, the Knox street bar is hosting an event called Wolf Comedy, a monthly room dedicated to diversifying comedy and providing opportunities for young female comedians.
As the comics warm up, ice clinks loudly against drink glasses and audience members chatter softly among themselves.
A hush falls over the crowd as the first comedian takes the stage. In this moment, it is just her, a shiny black microphone and the crimson coloured curtains that hang in generous folds behind her.
Wolf comedy was founded to combat the issue of sexism in comedy; its main objective is to create a fun and accepting space for up and coming comedians who are not “solely twentysomething-white-dudes”.
From sexist comments to salary inequities, female comedians grapple with gender-based discrimination on a regular basis and oftentimes have to work twice as hard just to get half as far as their male counterparts. This is largely due to the fact that comedy, as a whole, is an industry where sexism and discrimination continue to thrive and women frequently go unnoticed. This notion was solidified in 2016 when Forbes released a list titled The World’s Highest Paid Comedians, this list featured ten comedians, only one of whom was a woman.
To learn what it’s like to be a woman in comedy, Hatch spoke with Wolf Comedy co-founder, Shubha Siva and up-and-coming female comedians Michele Lim and Jeanne Tian.
Jeanne Tian, believes female invisibility in comedy has a lot to do with confidence:
“It’s tough firstly because there aren’t that many women who try comedy in the first place, like you really have to believe in yourself to do comedy and, in a general sense, women aren’t really taught to believe in themselves as much as guys.
“Males are more confident and they have that confidence to go up on stage, whereas I feel like, as a woman, it’s quite easy to doubt yourself.”
She believes gender disparity is closely linked to an assumption that women aren’t funny, “There’s this societal expectation or societal assumption that woman aren’t as funny as men, which is quite a big barrier to break through as well.”
Stand-up Michele Lim believes the gender imbalance has a lot to do with people seeing all female comedians as being the same, “Firstly, there aren’t as many female comedians out there, so when you find a female comedian and they’re at a comedy night and they’re not that funny, people will then generalise all female comedians as not being funny. People will be like ‘Look at this one female she was not funny at all, therefore all females must not be funny’.”
She agrees that gender disparity is a result of negative stereotypes. For instance, “There’s this stereotype that female comedians all make jokes about their periods, I have never had a period joke in my life.”
Shubha Siva, co-founder of Wolf Comedy, herself a stand-up comic, believes comedy is harder for women because they have come to the genre later than men. “With stand up I think the reason women are not doing as well as they could is … we’re working through the arc of material for a sub-group at a different rate to men.
“In the beginning men would only ever talk about their penises and their nagging wives and about how hard it is to be a guy because everyone relies on you. It’s the premise of everybody loves Raymond right.”
She reckons men wrote about that so much, they ran out of things to say.
“To stay in a job they had to start [writing better material]. They can’t just talk about their bodies and their responsibilities; they have to start talking about observations, they have to start talking about real life, they have to start saying things that matter beyond just the corporeal.
“Women aren’t there yet.”
Jeanne and Shubha agree that women in comedy are treated differently than their male counterparts.
Jeanne told Hatch “As a woman I do have a lot of people that approach me and tell me that I should tell a joke or write material a certain way, whereas when I speak to a lot of male comedians they tell me that they don’t get given any advice.”
Shubha reckons “In terms of my personal experience, just the idea that if you walk into a room, guys either want to fuck you or they’re waiting for you to quit comedy so they can move on to get your spot.”
If Wolf Comedy has made one thing clear, it is that there is absolutely no shortage of talented female comedians out there, but rather a disturbing lack of opportunity for these women. – Words and photos by Erika Jackson
Video of Michele Lim performing at the Melbourne Comedy Festival, from Lim’s Youtube Channel, used with her permission.