“You can write ‘You're pretty funny, for a girl’ on my gravestone. I've never been sure why so many men feel the need to view funny girls differently from comedic guys.”
That’s what Claire Wilson, one of many talented comedians at Boston College, responded when asked about mainstream perceptions of female comedians. Although women have made major strides in the world of comedy, it’s still an undeniably male-dominated sphere. I mean, the fact that a bunch of men lost their minds two years ago when they rebooted Ghostbusters with female leads, while kind of hilarious, is telling. Women just don’t get the same innate welcomeness in comedy that men do, and many people (still!) can’t let go of the idea that they’re somehow less capable of being funny.
I wanted to know what female comedians here on campus think about women’s place in comedy and hear about their personal experiences. So, I spoke with The Gavel's former Sports Editor Ellen Gerst (writer for The New England Classic, BC’s student-run satirical publication), Krista Roze (also part of The Classic as well as Hello…Shovelhead!, BC’s premiere sketch comedy group), Claire Wilson and Maya Rao (members of the improv group My Mother’s Fleabag), and Alex Gardilcic (also in Shovelhead).
It probably goes without saying, but I want to point out that a) all of these women are insanely funny and b) comedy means a lot to them (everyone expressed this).
Ellen, MCAS ’20, said that writing for The Classic has made her more perceptive of the world around her and, particularly, of BC culture. “I never made a conscious decision to ‘get into comedy,’ but I've always preferred making jokes over being serious. I think it's made me a much more attentive and active member of the BC community—you have to be paying really close attention to be able to get at what's fucked up or hilarious about all the crazy things that happen here.”
For Claire, LSOE ’20, doing improv was instrumental in helping her gain self-confidence. “My experiences with comedy in college have been extremely liberating. I grew from a nervous freshman girl who couldn't perform a scene without apologizing or breaking the scene [to ask] if I was doing okay, to a possibly overconfident upperclassman who unabashedly yells at boys in Russian accents.”
And Krista, MCAS ’20, believes that comedy can be therapeutic in a way. “It's great to have a time set aside dedicated to making jokes and laughing. Even if I'm having a bad day, it forces me to be in a good mood.”
Because comedy is so important to these women, they all had valuable insights into where they think there’s room for improvement. A consistently raised issue was disparity in representation, which partially stems from women’s confidence—or lack thereof.
“It would be awesome to see more girls try out,” said Maya, MCAS ‘21. “It’s really hard to get them to audition, and it’s even harder to get women of color to audition. I think that boys will audition even if they think, 'Maybe I’ll be bad at this,’ but it’s harder for girls to give it a shot.”
Like Claire pointed out earlier, comedy can help women gain confidence and find their voice, but it’s difficult for many of them to actually get there. This is why representation is key. If a girl does give it a shot, when she walks into an audition room and doesn’t see anyone (or sees barely anyone) who looks like her, she’s going to feel out of place.
Another barrier is simply that the default for comedy is male; women are female comedians (or worse, “comediennes”), instead of just comedians.
Alex, MCAS ’21, described one of the negative effects of this. “When you’re a man, you don’t have to actively prove you’re funny, but when you’re a woman you do. It’s like prove me right and prove me wrong: for men it’s, ‘You’re funny, prove me right,’ but for women, it’s, ‘You’re not funny, prove me wrong.’”
Similarly, Ellen argued that this imbalance creates restrictions on what female comedians are expected to joke about. “Men aren't expected to talk about ‘male issues’—anything is fair game. For women in comedy, you're automatically in this niche of talking about sexism, feminism, beauty, whatever people think of as feminine. And I'm speaking as a privileged, white woman—it's ten times worse for people who aren't white, or straight, or don't look how a woman is expected to look.”
The last question I asked everyone was, “Why are women funny?” In other words, why is it important that women have a real place in comedy and why is their content valuable?
Krista put it this way. “Women are funny because we're half the world's population so if comedy doesn't cater to us then it's lost half its audience. Women comedians experience and perceive things differently just because of the different issues we face that men might not.”
Maya emphasized that it’s crucial to have a strong presence of female comedians so that they’re able to support and make each other better. “When we do scenes that have all girls, they’re funny in such a different way. The girls support each other so much, and it’s so important in improv to have confidence on stage. When you see another girl be confident, it inspires you to feel the same.”
Ellen’s response was so well-articulated that I couldn’t cut it down:
“Women are so hilarious. Most guys think that someone jumping off a roof into a pong table is the height of comedy. I think that since comedy points out things that are wrong or uncomfortable in the world, having funny women at the table to share their experience is critical, or else all comedy and satire would look like Barstool and Old Row. We need women in comedy for the same reason we need people of color, queer people, and people with disabilities in comedy—it's an easy way to share your experience in a way that's easily digestible and understandable…On the Classic, which is still totally male-dominated both in numbers and loudness, there are times when I or one of the other female writers will have to pipe up and say, ‘Hey, maybe we shouldn't joke about #MeToo,’ or shoot down a headline that's dripping in male privilege. You have to have those checks to make sure you're making fun of the right things, not piling onto something that's already disadvantaged.”
Comedy is necessary. It’s human connection, it’s therapeutic, it’s thinking outside the box and taking a closer look at ourselves; it makes us happy! And it functions at its best when it can speak to a diverse audience. But if female comedians aren’t given an equal seat at the table, that isn’t possible, and the great value of comedy is lost.
Funny women, I’ll leave you with this sage bit of advice from Ellen.
“The best thing you can do is be loud, stand up for yourself and your ideas, and lift other women and underrepresented voices up along with you.”