Numbers of female comedians rising, but only slowly

Comedians require the sole qualification of being able to make people laugh. That should allow an equal number of men and women to preform stand-up comedy, but in Calgary this appears to be a male dominated industry. But comedy club organizers say the situation is improving – even as they struggle to simply get people to perform.

According to an exclusive analysis by the Calgary Journal, only five of the 35 professional comedians who performed at Calgary’s Yuk Yuks Comedy Club from January to March were women. Performers Lori Gibbs, Allyson Smith, and Nikki Glaser are included in that number.

 Many professional comedians know how dependent stand-up is on communal support, but many females in the industry don’t have this support available to them.

Comedian Jennifer Grant – who currently lives and preforms comedy all around Toronto – says audiences can often be biased against female comedians.

“We [women] start off in a hole for many people, because of the mass misconception that there is about women in comedy,” says Grant. “Some people assume that women will get up on stage and talk about their periods or something, whereas that doesn’t really happen with males.”Sara has been performing her unique style of stand-up comedy on stages all across the United States for the last decade.

Photo courtesy of Maryanna Ventrice, Creative Commons Licensed

Grant and fellow comedian Sara Benincasa recall the alarming frequency in which audience members will approach them after a show and say, “I don’t like female comics, but I liked you.”

As a comedy booking agent who spent decades working as a stand-up comedian, Kelly D’Amour first-hand explains this struggle of lack of support.

“We [women] don’t get supported by our partners and our family in the same way that guys do,” says D’Amour. “It’s very rare to find spouses who will say ‘I’ll support you while you do your dream!’ It’s the same thing with parents; nobody wants their sweet little girl going up on stage telling dick jokes, they think it’s embarrassing.”

Other struggles, according to Calgary Yuk Yuk’s owner Mark Breslin, is the lifestyle that the occupation comes with.

“The lifestyle of a stand-up comedian means going on the road and spending lonely nights in unknown towns, which is not the way women are socialized,” he says.

Grant adds to this point and says, “To be good at comedy you have to stay in it for a long time. While not all women will have kids, those that do probably won’t want to leave their kids while they go on the road for weeks at a time.”

“It’s almost impossible to make a good living in the arts,” says Breslin. “And women are just more practical and don’t like those odds.”

Comedy club organizers like James Moore, organizer for stand-up comedy open mic night, Comedy Monday Night, aren’t worried about the sex of it’s performers, as there is not a massive rush of people wanting to try stand-up. Instead they are focused on getting any people to even try their hand at the craft.

“It’s like crack-cocaine,” says Moore. “You want to make it easy for them to do it the first time, and then they get there and find out that’s it a lot more involved than they thought.”

In any case, the gender inequality between men and women in stand-up comedy is slowly improving.Lori Gibbs is one of the several female comedians in Calgary who have performed stand-up routines at Comedy Monday Night.

Photo courtesy of Elron Steele, Creative Commons Licensed

“When I started in comedy back in 1974, probably two percent of the comics were women, and now it’s closer to 20 or 22 percent,” says Breslin.

Benincasa believes that the responsibility to fix this inequality falls on the shoulders of both comedians and non-comedians.

“People shouldn’t’t just like women strictly based on their gender, and should just like anyone who they think is funny,” she says. “If that happens to be a women then that’s great, and they need to make sure to tell their friends about her.”

But to bridge this gender gap even further, D’Amour says women also have to stop being ‘women haters.’

“Sometimes we’re our own worst enemy, because we have this internalized misogyny,” D’Amour says. “We need to start saying ‘you go girl, you’re funny, and you can do this.’”

btucker@cjournal.ca