Laugh for the Ladies
Parker, Lynne, The Independent (London, England)
Why don't women find women on TV funny? Lynne Parker, who runs the Funny Women Awards, explores the current state of comedy programmes and asks why women have a harder time than men
There is a common, and totally unreasonable, perception that women are not as funny as men. New "converts" to the all-female comedy format at my Funny Women shows often express a level of surprise about how funny they found the women performers, especially as some of them are really new acts.
Despite the huge range of television comedy programmes written by and featuring women, there is a continuous debate about television panel shows and how few female comics are booked to appear on them. More recently, there has been discussion about how the female guests are treated by the male panellists. Then, to add insult to injury, some of the harshest critics of the women who do actually appear on these shows are women themselves.
Confronted by incisive male wit, a woman is readily disposed to swoon with laughter, which is why comedy of the male variety is more attractive, depending on your sexual preferences. Younger women are in the market for being laughed into bed and the lure of a run of sexual conquests, as epitomised by the likes of Russell Brand, certainly makes the comedy profession attractive to young men.
At one level comedy is about youthful experimentation, both creatively and sexually, but there is a mature market that goes beyond the boundaries of attraction. It's sad that the elder statesmen are not as welcoming to their peer group of women as they are to the new young male blades cutting a potent dash on the comedy circuit.
This is all in complete contrast to the fact that women are very successful in the wider landscape of television comedy. Men in stand- up have given themselves unwritten licence to belittle women for the sake of a laugh and there has been a tendency for the female guests on television panel shows to reflect this - popular female comics, Jo Brand and Victoria Wood are even on record as saying they don't enjoy the experience of being on these shows, so why would we, as women enjoy, watching them?
As a woman performer in comedy, other women are potentially your best allies as well as your biggest critics. Both Brand and Wood have faced criticism as well as approbation during their long careers.
Fuelled by this bi-polar picture I have resorted to science for an explanation - or at least a stab at one. Sexuality plays a large part and comedy is confrontational and more in line with masculinity. An ugly funny man can laugh a woman into bed, but it rarely works in reverse. So when women step out of the normal sexual boundaries and are perceived as behaving like men, this naturally repels some women and explains why programmes such as Sex in the City and Ugly Betty have broader appeal. The women in these shows may be behaving like men, but the concept is presented in a humorous and yet feminine way.
In stand-up, women resort to other methods to get a laugh. In the UK, female comics have fought shy of appearing too feminine - even the hugely successful French and Saunders resort to caricatures and grotesque portrayals of people rather than always appearing as themselves.
At the extreme of this, women don't respond positively to female comedy. …