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Even Up the Odds to Beat Everyday Sexism in Comedy

28/04/2014 13:48 | Updated 27 June 2014

I am still reeling from a story that we were discussing in the Funny Women office last week. A 19 year old novice stand-up comic of our acquaintance was recounting the experience of her first ever gig. She told us that she had been announced on stage by a comedian who said that she had just performed a 'sexual favour' on him backstage.

She didn't perform the sexual favour of course, but all credit to her, she did go on stage and perform stand-up comedy. A good host will ensure that a virgin comic gets a laugh when she goes on stage, not virtually rape her and steal a joke for himself at the expense of her sexuality and dignity.

While he presumably thought this was hilarious, in reality this is sexual harassment. Any man who announces this sort of thing before chairing a business meeting would surely face instant dismissal. Thank God for Laura Bates who founded Everyday Sexism to bring this sort of behaviour to the world's attention.

This truly made my blood boil and illustrates why the comedy circuit is still a hard place for women. Are some men still so terrified that female comics might be funnier, cleverer, and more entertaining that they have to behave in this unacceptable way? Surely if the odds were more even, there would be far less to make a fuss about and we would all be judged equally on merit.

It is one thing to be sexually abused on stage, however virtual, but even being booked can sometimes take sexism to a another level.

Not long ago the experience of Jenny Collier went viral - she was the stand-up comedian who was inundated with support when she revealed on Twitter how a promoter had told her that her services (as a stand-up - I am trusting there were no 'favours' implied on this occasion) were no longer required because three of the five acts already confirmed to perform at a comedy gig were women and they did not want another one!

She went on to Tweet the contents of the email from the booker, Mirth Control, which said: "The venue has decided that they don't want too many women on the bill, and unfortunately we need to take you out of this one. We hope that this doesn't cause any inconvenience."

A torrent of social media support then ensued from across the circuit, including comments from comics of both sexes, demonstrating to those outside the pearly gates of comedy heaven, just what a misogynistic hell it can be! I am never quite sure whether we are in heaven or hell here at Funny Women - limbo maybe?

Mirth Control went on to apologise to Jenny Collier "for any offence caused" and stated that she would be offered gig opportunities at other venues. Given its claim as the largest independent comedy booker in the UK which "prides itself on championing women in comedy," I can honestly say that I have never knowingly met anybody from the booking team at Mirth Control at one of our gigs in the whole 12 years I have been running Funny Women.

In terms of 'championing women in comedy', Funny Women can lay claim to seeing at least 500 new female comedy performers and writers each year through the Funny Women Awards, our workshops and showcases - there is not a week that goes by without some sustained interaction with women who want to be involved with comedy, either via our live events or the website. I cannot subscribe to the ridiculous lip service paid by certain people on the comedy circuit to 'support female comedy' when it still is not fully realised.

To add fuel to the fire, I was a judge at this year's Musical Comedy Awards last week, an event I have been proudly supporting for the last four years to encourage more women to enter. I have not had so much time personally this year to attend heats and semi-finals and monitor the progress of female entrants, so the complete lack of women in the final may be coincidental or down to lack of attentiveness. Either way, it was a shame.

Guest headliner, Loretta Maine, did not let the organisers off lightly either! She publicly chastised them and went on to prove a point by being, beyond a doubt, the best thing about the whole evening.

So, (deep breath...) where do we go from here? For starters, the 2014 Funny Women Awards are up and running with the first few heats already full with eager new talent. We have workshops taking place every month in London and in other parts of the UK to nurture and encourage women on to the stage for the first time and we welcome a virtual exchange of opinion about female comedy via our website and social media channels.

On a more personal and reassuring level, I was proud to be invited to deliver a presentation at the recent Doing Women in Film & Television History Conference at the University of East Anglia about 'The Role of Women in British Comedy'. Preparing for this made me realise just how great women are at being funny - from Gracie Fields to Miranda Hart.

I am still fighting fires and get reminded daily of all my 'mistakes' made in the quest to get great female comedy on the map. Plus, I am not a comedian, so there's no glory in all this.

So why do it do it? Please go back to the beginning of this article because until certain men stop demeaning women so publicly, and we have evened out those odds on the comedy circuit, I have to carry on.

To enter this year's Funny Women Awards check all the details HERE.

If you want to go along to support new female comedy talent details of all upcoming Funny Women Awards heats are HERE.

To sign up for a confidence boosting, creative and fun 'Stand Up to Stand Out' Workshop or a Comedy Writing Workshop, visit HERE.