Despite 10 years of running Funny Women, it's not as easy to make other women laugh as it sounds! It's one thing to get women to perform; it's another whole exercise to convince other women that women are funny. We're caught up in a social vortex that insists men are the funny ones, so an audience full of women can potentially be the biggest nightmare for a female comic.
Essentially women are conditioned to laugh AT men and WITH other women. Hear me out before dismissing my theory. Comedy is bound up with power and sex, and an ugly man can laugh a woman into bed if all else fails. We go for a 'GSOH' kind of guy more often than pure good looks but a combination of the two is the ideal - we care less about appearance than men do.
Laughter and humour play a key role in human courtship. A lot of men gravitate towards attractive, submissive women who laugh at their jokes unconditionally. It makes them feel good and it's an important part of foreplay to relieve tension and relax the female partner. They don't want to compete with one-liners that are potentially funnier than theirs as that could result in a put down, in more ways than one.
So, breaking it down, the function of laughter amongst women can be competitive. Queen Bee women 'hold court' and their 'ladies in waiting' are given permission to laugh at them within their social groups. This type of woman is very unlikely to take to the real stage as her dominance within the group only serves to wipe out the competition in the search for the best male. This distinguishes her as a leader, but the same woman is unlikely to extend her 'joke telling' outside of the female group (not wanting to risk dying on stage) and will revert to feminine stereotype in a courtship situation.
The funniest women are often loners, quite shy in real life and reticent to perform within a social group. Or they are the maverick, joker in the pack, an alpha female type who's more at home holding her own with the boys than competing with the girls. This could explain why gay women are more confident with comedy.
So, we women really have to go some to make an audience full of women laugh. We give away something of ourselves every time we succumb to the humour of another woman. We're letting go of the social structures that we've been brought up with.
It's interesting that, up until recently, most female comics don't play 'sexy' preferring mumsy alter egos, cosy chatty styles, and crazy caricature versions of themselves rather than out and out sass. Other women are inherently suspicious of an attractive woman who, God forbid, happens to be funny too!
During my on-going 'research' my own 50 plus peer group seems to be the toughest nut to crack. Typical responses include: 'I don't like to laugh...' 'I don't find other women funny..' 'I like Ab Fab and Miranda on the telly...' True.
Perhaps the most disturbing discovery is that quite a few women of my age group are in some way frightened to laugh in public. Is it revealing too much of themselves maybe? It's fine on the telly as that's delivered in neatly packaged and censored episodes, so there's no hard edges to negotiate in front of the family. 'Mummy said a rude word, Daddy...' should be a thing of the past, but sadly still exists.
Live comedy is more honest, less sanitised and tells it like it is. Maybe that's what they're frightened of? There is a sense that they don't want to be that out of control in their lives and it's that same trait that kills ambition.
I believe that laughter keeps you feeling young and sexy. Having a downright good laugh at great comedy does breakdown your inhibitions and helps to confront the realities of life. For example, bodily functions are all quite ridiculous in their crudest form and, boy, we women get more than our fair share of them! Men have known this for years and, in their hands, all this is allowed to be funny. So, why not in ours?
As the world becomes more equal we get a say in this too - after all if we can't laugh at ourselves, will we ever really have equality?
Funny Women at the Fringe at Edinburgh seeks female audiences from 3 - 17 August at Assembly George Square Gardens Bosco. There will be free make-uppers and goodies courtesy of Benefit Cosmetics and the Benebus throughout.
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