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Where are our female comedians?

Conrad explores the gender gap in stand up comedy.

Photograph: Unsplash

Text: Conrad Molden

The year is 2001 - I'm 11 years old and in love with stand up comedy. Deeply in love. My Mum took me to see a live stand-up comedy show, and it was the funniest thing I had ever experienced. A bombastic night; absolutely hilarious. I distinctly remember a moment of the comedian mocking the ridiculous nature of insurance adverts. Such a simple concept, and I actually fell off my chair onto the floor. Holding my ribs like something from a cartoon. It was raw, uncensored and outside of every boundary I knew. Just a guy, on a stage, with a microphone, talking to the minds of an intently listening audience. So, through cassette tapes, VHS and tickets I started to watch and listen to more of these guys on stage.

Almost entirely guys

And that's actually how it has mostly stayed. Whether on a phone or backstage at a comedy club, it's a lot of guys. Nearly always men. In a country 50% female, in a world 50% female.

The fewer female comedians, the less comedy they make, the less to listen to. And it repeats.

From 11, I was enthralled by stand up, but so rarely did I see female comedians. They are odd rarities in an industry dominated by men. Worse still, this issue is multidimensional.

The comedy industry is just brains, mouths and microphones. As a result, women are under-represented in an industry with nothing to do with physicality. But it isn't just that.

“The fewer female comedians, the less comedy they make, the less to listen to. And it repeats.”

Let me take a step back

I believe comedy to be essential. Stand-up comedians are contemporary anthropologists modern-day philosophers and have a critical role in challenging some of the day's most pressing issues. Comedians bring knowledge to the conscious awareness of their audience, expose human nature and produce insightful commentaries on the human condition. Comics act as proto-sociologists whose performances are essential for producing and maintaining society's cultural atmosphere.

I truly believe nothing is off-limits when it comes to humour. In fact, quite the opposite. Laughter is a release of tension. We often only see our true feelings when they are put into the absurd. Not to sound too bold, but comedy is almost therapy.

Personally, I love all types of stand up, but relatable, insightful, philosophical and satirical comedy is what really tickles my funny bones. And that is why I find it especially painful when prominent female comedians feel compelled to talk exclusively about sex, menstruation and faking orgasms. Tragically, so many women have been confined to such a banal set of clichés - a tragedy that we are all accountable for. Female comedians can be as insightful and analytical as any male. Some rock-solid inspirational women defy platitude. But not enough. This problem is global, not just in the Danish comedy scene, or amongst internationals.

There is a cold-hearted pressure on performing women to be funny. An unknown male on stage acts as a neutral - a woman is made to prove something. Then on stage, there can be pressure to go for the insensitive and gross. These always get a reaction in an industry where reaction is everything. Groans are better than silence. It is my belief that all comedians can fall into that trap.

Stand up can transcend identity and societal roles. So as audiences, we should nurture and cherish the profound comedians who tap into that magic. If we understood comedy as a place of human exploration, we could phase out male domination and have a platform for everyone and anyone to muse on life's oddities. Because there are plenty of them, it would be a start to have every available head picking them apart.

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