In the Serengeti that is the comedy circuit, I’m probably an antelope. I’m just there, in the background. Foraging a green room and galloping across the M6 in my Nissan Micra. I graze social networking sites and rarely look up from my grassy knoll to post in forums or comment on a facebook rant. Preferring to merely observe the other animals fighting it out and I try never to make eye contact with carnivores or as some cultures call them, trolls. David Attenborough is never going to dedicate an entire telly program to me but I’m here, plodding along, doing my best, trying to be nice to other species and occasionally joining in on a chorus of Hakanu Matata.
I try not to get involved. If something really gets on my horns I tend to stay mute. Well, I’m only an antelope. What difference is my small opinion going to matter and is it worth the grief and potential limb ripping I may get in return. With the threat to our natural habitat (the contraction of the circuit and the shrinking of audience sizes), there is a fear, which I’m sure other comics must feel. A fear that if I make a stand, that if I voice an objection that I will lose money, I will lose work and gigs. The fear that there will always be another comedian ready to eat me up and take my place. There is. Of course there is but that shouldn’t prevent us from roaring loudly and clearly (but politely) across the desert plain “No, actually. Not on my watch!”
That is exactly what I did last Friday. A company called DSM promotions posted on the Chortle forum offering paid work. I, being a comedian who heck, I’ll say it! Likes paid work! Went on their website to see what they were about as I was unfamiliar with them. At the top of said website has the banner ‘DSM PROMOTIONS STANDING UP FOR COMEDY’. So far so good! Hey, what’s on? I would like to see what you have on, thanks! Live comedy AND…exotic dancers.
What? What the fuck? Sorry? In the infamous words of Wayne Campbell, EXCUSE ME?
I saw red. Standing up for comedy? How is a gig in a strip club bookended by naked women standing up for comedy?
How is that progressing or celebrating the art form that I adore?
So I did it, I raised my voice to the sky and said “No, actually. Not on my watch!” Alright, it was the Twitter clouded sky but I made an objection. I pointed out to DSM Promotions that what I thought they were doing was wrong. What followed was a tweet conversation that made me want to constantly vaginapalm myself. If you want to see the discussion in full go on my timeline but here is a taster.
It’s all about the money? Yes, clearly they are standing up for comedy. I asked what female comedians they had managed to book for the gig, they said zero. They said they weren’t allowed to book women comedians. All male line up only. Hold up…so they only women allowed on the stage are the ones taking their clothes off? They said all this and then asked me what MY problem was.
Mmmm what is my problem?
My problem is that being a female comedian means I have to fight against gender stereotypes on an almost daily basis.
My problem is that the dominant image of women in our society is a submissive and sexualized one.
My problem is I’ve just spent a weekend gigging where I had to smack down various and constant “Show us your arse”, “get your tits out” and “get em off” heckles.
My problem is that the men that shouted these heckles thought it was completely fine to do so because hey, I’m a woman on stage which means I’m just like a stripper!
My problem is that this gig with it’s all male line up and all male audience promotes the bullshit ideology that comedy is a man’s job. That it’s a boys club. Here, this is what the men do. They share their thoughts and ideas. This is what the women do. They share their tits and their asses.
My problem is that these male comedians will make jokes about the environment they are gigging in. They will joke about the strip club and invariably joke about the strippers.
My problem is half the shit I have to put up with a male comedian doesn’t.
My problem is that calling people on this shit makes me another *yawns* shouty tiresome feminist.
My biggest problem is that I’m waiting for these male comedians to turn down this gig. To say no to the fee. To say no to the gig. To stand beside me and say “No. Not on my watch!”
It is a naïve notion, perhaps but if we all, all comedians regardless of gender, colour and sexual orientation stopped doing these kinds of gigs, any gig that ultimately does damage to comedy, then the circuit would be better place. It would be like the beginning of the Lion King. Remember the beginning of the Lion King? All the animals look so happy and pleased with each other!
If we all pulled our necks out of the sand and instead of just bitching in corridors or car shares actually said no out loud. Coz if we all said no then they couldn’t do it.
If a competition asks for pay to play then say no. If Jongleurs isn’t paying people for the job they do then say no. If you are asked to do a gig that excludes anyone based on their colour, sexual orientation, gender or guitar playing then say no. If you are asked to do a gig in a strip club then say no.
Some things are more important than stage time, or money or progression.
Some things are worth saying “No. Not on my fucking watch” to.