There's been a lot of talk lately about how badly women are treated in comedy. All of that talk - the rife misogyny, the sexual harassment, the reliance on whisper networks to keep ourselves safe - is absolutely accurate. But because that stuff (rightly) has been getting so much attention, it's easy to forget that, despite all the bollocks, there are loads of women thriving in comedy and getting joy from what they do. So if you're a woman thinking about trying your hand at stand-up, or a female comic on the edge of packing it in, let me tell you why I think being a woman in comedy is bloody brilliant...
When I turned up, sweaty-palmed and loose-bowelled, to my first open mic, I was looking for an adventure, a challenge and a way to scratch a creative itch. What I wasn't looking for, were new friends, especially not new female friends: I've been terrified of other women ever since I was bullied in year 8 for incorrectly plucking my eyebrows. But women in comedy are different. It takes a particular brand of brave and brilliant madness to enter the male-dominated world of grassroots comedy, and it turns out that the type of women who do that are my tribe.
The wonderful thing about the brave, mad women I just talked about, is that, in my experience, when they see a new female act at a gig, they will make a beeline for her and let her know two things...
One: How excited they are that she's there (where I am in the northwest, male acts outnumber women on the open mic circuit by about 10 to 1).
Two: All about the resources that can help her on her journey. From online forums like The Owl Network, to organisations like Get Off, and private chat groups where we discuss such things as safely getting to gigs, childcare, and when we will next gather under a full moon to place a hex on a promoter who has wronged us, together we are powerful.
Audiences love us
I was terrified of my first heckle, but I needn't have been. As I was walking onto the stage, a tipsy and very excitable lady screamed 'YES, A WOMAN!!' Other similar heckles I've witnessed as an audience member recently include 'less dick jokes, more vagina jokes!' and (I promise this is true, and I also promise I wasn't the heckler) 'your comedy does not represent my worldview as a woman!'
Men on the front row who fold their arms as soon as the MC utters a female act's name are still out there, but they're a dying breed. Comedy audiences are becoming increasingly vocal about wanting line-ups that represent them, and it feels very cool to be a comic who can help deliver that.
As women, audiences want us, promoters know audiences want us, and we're in the minority at entry-level comedy. This means we can often progress quite quickly, which is fun and exciting, and often makes things more viable financially. Winner!
All female/non-binary nights
There's something beautiful about performing on an all-female/NB line-up, knowing you are completely safe and amongst friends, with an audience who you can be sure are all 100% on board with the idea of watching you perform. At least five of these nights have sprung up in Manchester and Liverpool over the past couple of years, and we're so lucky in Manchester to also have the incredibly female-supportive Frog and Bucket who host an entire annual festival of Women in Comedy in the city, which has completed it tenth year now.
There are brilliant men in the comedy community - some of them are even my friends - but for me there's something extra magical about the women who do this, and there's no amount of sexist fuckwittery that can take that magic away.