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Women in Comedy Are No Joke

Women in Comedy Are No Joke

“Women just aren’t that funny.” What is funny is the amount of times I’ve heard this uttered as some profound statement by men. Suddenly, they’re comedic experts who just so happen to think that there’s something un-funny about a suspicious number of female comedians. Sure, everyone is entitled to their own opinions, but it doesn’t take a degree in statistics to observe some correlation with gender and perceived level of hilarity.

In one of her articles, Kayla Riggs of The Women’s Network discussed female representation in athletics and how when she searched “famous athletes” on Google, the list that came up was almost entirely composed of men. I decided to test this same search out, except I replaced athletes with comedians. And, even though I figured the pattern would follow suit, I was still shocked that I had to scroll past almost 20 names on two pages to get to a female comedian.

Besides the fact that historically comedy has been viewed by society as a “thing that men do,” there are other factors that might explain why we see much fewer women in comedy than men.

The path to becoming a successful comedian goes something like this: you decide you think comedy could be more than making your friends and family laugh, so you start spending time coming up with bits or sketches. When you’ve got something, you start going to improv groups, doing stand-up at comedy clubs, or sending writing samples to editors and producers. This interim period of trying to catch your ‘big break’ could take months or years, but the odds of worldwide fame are low, and something may never happen. Say you do get noticed and are launched into stardom; by then, your demanding schedule in the constant eye of the public can propagate a fresh set of challenges.

Now, no two routes to success are the same, and I am no expert on all of the possibilities. But, there are some features of the scenario I laid out that point to why the field can be exclusionary for women. First, you need an abundance of extra time to work on material. Many working women, whether they have a family or not, do not have that time available. Second, there is the pure nature of the field of comedy. Working women face criticism for spending time on their careers as opposed to being at home; as comedy is not considered the most secure career, there comes another challenge of not being taken seriously. A woman from a low socioeconomic status would not consider pursuing comedy if a steady income was high priority.

When talking about women in comedy, it must be acknowledged that the women are primarily white. When I think of famous women comedians, my mind immediately goes to Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Chelsea Handler, Tiffany Haddish, Sarah Silverman, and Mindy Kaling. Yes, there are some women of color, but they are not proportionally represented in an already small group.

Mindy Kaling, writer, executive producer, and director of The Office, among other shining achievements, voices, “I never want to be called the funniest Indian female comedian that exists. I feel like I can go head-to-head with the best white, male comedy writers that are out there. Why would I want to self-categorize myself into a smaller group than I'm able to compete in?”

Women in comedy know they have what it takes. Once they take the stage, there is no doubt they will succeed.

The most important hurdle to overcome, then, is ensuring women have the tools they need to flourish. Having women at the table making decisions on who gets the spotlight is one way to make progress. Showing young girls how to build their passions into a career through education and organizations is another way.

The rise of the internet has also allowed for the democratization of comedy. Both users and producers can produce content using a smartphone, with the potential to go viral. Instagram, Twitter, or TikTok could be the mechanism to jumpstart a woman’s comedic career.

The problem is not, and has never been, that women are not funny. It’s that for generations, comedy has been reserved exclusively for men. That is changing. Women are making waves in comedy, and we can’t wait to laugh.