Three weeks ago Caitlin Moran ordered me to stand on my chair and shout ‘I AM A FEMINIST!’
Gleefully, I climbed up alongside the rest of the 2000-strong audience. Grabbing each other for balance, we precariously boarded our theatre seats, everyone loving this chance to misbehave.
Why? Because it was funny. And if there’s one thing I’m bored of hearing when I ask to be treated equally to a man, it is ‘you take yourself too seriously’.
Since showing up in 2011 with a manual for modern feminism so funny it had women in stitches (and often pencil skirts) recounting their favourite chapters to each other in bars, Moran has become a household name.
With her trademark combination of wit and mischief, she decisively subverted the myth of the feminist as an apoplectic, serious-minded man-hater undergoing a massive sense of humour failure.
Suddenly, feminism was human again. And we all wanted in.
There’s nothing like comedy to get people taking something seriously. And it was this that inspired myself, Louise Rickwood and Crooked Pieces to create comedy podcast And Then She Said a Funny Thing….
We wanted to promote female comedy writing talent in an industry where women are notoriously under-represented, but in a more sociable way than getting a handful of women comics to write a script, record it in a studio and fling it out onto the web.
Instead, we’re running regular contributors’ workshops, open submissions callouts, and live audience recordings to build a community of women making brilliant comedy.
We hope this will help carry women’s voices in a field depressingly riddled with sexism. Because, let’s be honest – from the male compere who introduced a female act to an audience by claiming that she’d given him a ‘sexual favour’ backstage, to the misogynist abuse directed at Sarah Millican, to Jenny Collier’s all-too-familiar account of being dropped from the token ‘woman’s spot’ on a gig billing, if they gave BAFTAs for Services to Sexist Bullshit, the comedy industry would be a shoo-in.
But we also want Funny Thing to help tackle the everyday problem that’s allowed the industrial one to develop; the fact that our culture doesn’t consider being funny to be feminine.
Humour, we’re told, is a boys’ game. Men are taught that their friendships should be forged in pranks and banter, while women are instructed to take the serious stuff – problems, worries and secrets – to their female friends.
The ‘rules’ of (straight) romance say success depends on him complimenting her appearance, while she laughs at all his jokes… and so on.
The consequence is that some of us only find ourselves questioning this when we’re confronted with evidence that humour is – of course – a genderless trait. Like the guy who told me on our first (and final) date:
‘Girls don’t usually make me laugh, but you’re quite funny.’
Sounds pretty sexist, right? But in that moment, I didn’t even react. This idea was so pervasive in the world I knew that I didn’t even think it worth remarking on. Scary.
The fact is I’ve always considered myself funny, and frequently felt less ‘feminine’ because of it. But then, I’ve always valued wit above the nebulous quality of femininity. Making my friends laugh just seemed like a more useful skill than knowing how to plait their hair.
But as an adult, I started to realise how weird it was that I’d come to consider it an either-or choice.
If other women felt like me, there was a strong chance that here was another, bigger reason for their conspicuous absence in comedy line-ups. How many had never explored their talent publicly simply because it jarred with the self-image they’d been handed?
The more I thought about it, the more probable it seemed that, underneath all the industrial misogyny keeping women out of comedy, we have an even bigger problem: lots of women simply don’t instinctively feel they have a right to be there.
For Funny Thing, the challenge was to build something that included these women and supported them to explore their talent, as well as championing those who had already stormed the stage.
Like Moran advocating the ladies’ loo as the spiritual home of the feminist revolutionary, I’d observed that women-only settings enabled myself and female friends to lower our guard; to say and do things we wouldn’t in front of men. I also knew that to make good comedy – or any other creative product – you have to find a way to lose those inhibitions.
So we’ve set out to build an all-female community that’s open to any and all funny women – from the ones who make their friends laugh to those gigging on the circuit every night of the week – and connects them to create both fantastic comedy, and a culture in which being funny IS feminine (as much as it is masculine), together.
But this isn’t a comedy podcast about ‘being a woman’. Our brief is deliberately open, allowing writers to make use of their full observational range. And few have opted to send us tampon jokes or monologues about chocolate.
But what they do send us is so funny, I defy anyone not to take it seriously.
Crooked Pieces is currently accepting submissions of material for the #FunnyThing pilot, to be recorded on 12 Sep at Omnibus Clapham. The deadline is 4 Aug. Submit your writing.
This blog first appeared on The Huffington Post on 30 July 2014.