That’s what I’m talking about! (AKA Aisling Bea Take a Bow)

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Ladies and Gentlemen Aisling Bea

I spend a lot of time talking about comedy panel shows. I’ll be giving a lecture on them in a few weeks time to my very lucky second year students. Part of my research has been to discuss this very topic (amongst other things) with stand-up comedians and comedy audiences to understand the role these programmes play in the wider U.K comedy industry.

There has been huge amount of media coverage about lack of diversity on panel shows in the wake of the BBC’s announcement in 2014 that it would include more women in its comedy programming (see here). This came about because the BBC Trust identified that the comedy output (especially panel shows) were overwhelmingly male. There are obvious failings on many levels of diversity in lots of aspects of public life, but in this instance the BBC were focused on lack of gender parity, and the (then) Director of Television Danny Cohen pledged publicly to put an end to all-male panel shows (in an interview with The Observer, see here). This announcement garnered a significant level of attention in the media with even Newsnight covering it (with Paxman patronisingly referring to the assembled panel of commentators on the subject as ‘testicle free’).

Often some of the sticking points in my conversations with interviewees is what exactly will be different if we include more women in these formats. Will the comedy change? (the idea that female comedians make jokes solely for women still casts its long shadow over any discussions of this nature) How will these formats accommodate women? Will any woman do, or does the fact they are a comedian make a difference? I feel very strongly about the latter as do many people I speak to – having female comics on the panel shows means that they have the SKILLS to be as funny as the male comedians who are team captains or recurring panellists – add in a female actor, newsreader, journalist etc. and it’s very unlikely they will be hilarious (because their talents are elsewhere), reinforcing the ‘men are funnier than women’ stereotype by default. This is also unnecessary as there are loads of female comics that would be awesome on panel shows (see the megalist of people I’ve seen recently).

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Insert Name Here line up

But now in 2016 and we might actually be starting to see the outcome of this new policy introduced back in 2014. Insert Name Here, a new BBC2 panel show, has a female host, Sue Perkins (sans Mel) and is clearly making a concerted effort to be more inclusive (although as always these things take time). The show that aired on Monday 25th Jan (at 10pm on BBC2) contained within it something that had me punching the air… Aisling Bea please take a bow!

When marriage was flippantly referred to as the best day of a woman’s life (in this case the life of J.K Rowling) Bea swooped in immediately to call ‘Bullshit!’. (18mins in to the episode which will be found here for a little bit whilst it’s still on iPlayer). Her take down of this was not only funny but made the point that this is exactly the kind of old school patriarchal stuff we don’t even spot any more. Her comment, delivered with an incredulous tone – ‘can I just pick bones with ‘the greatest day for a woman, the day you can legally give yourself over to a man?’ – exposed the way that a lot of comedy plays in to and reinforces traditional norms, especially gendered expectations of people.

She then stuck her tongue out at THE MAN. I actually whooped out loud.

So this is it guys, this is what I mean when I say a diversified outlook on life. No the formats don’t have to change, women are more than capable of being just as aggressive or forthcoming as men on panel shows, and no it doesn’t mean it’ll be less funny – what it means is that alternative viewpoints about life will be considered and broadcast. It will impact positively because the humour will be diversified and more reflective of the diversity of our population (ideally longer term in all aspects of diversity – ethnicity, sexuality, ability, age also). Outdated ideas will be challenged – challenged through comedy, rather than reinforced through comedy – which is so often the default setting for panel shows.

If you ever get chance to see Aisling live, do it.

 

 

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Blue Blue Electric Blue

 

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I’m not a crier as general rule. I’m pretty stoic and (I’d like to think) good in a crisis. So no one was more shocked than I to find myself crying hysterically at a bus stop the day Bowie died.

Post bus-meltdown I arrived at work and had to immediately go to the bathroom to pull myself together. Red eyed and emotionally exhausted before 9am. Happy Monday everyone. I spent the day avoiding eye contact, the topic, Facebook, Twitter and my phone as messages from my friends and family arrived… after work the mothership went straight in for the kill texting ‘the starman has become a star for real’ – Jesus!

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I can’t really remember a time before liking Bowie. I can only imagine my route in was through the Labyrinth. My dad is a big music fan and I suspect he saw this as an opportunity to explain who Bowie was. Not just Jareth, the Goblin King, but a musical genius too. I distinctly remember at the age of about 13 or 14 Dad returning from Russia with a Bowie best of CD for me (with all the text in cyrillic) as a present…along with a book on Brecht (I was an odd child) and that was pretty much that. I was hooked.

Every important event of my teenaged and adult life has been set to the sound of his body of work. Every argument, every low moment, every setback made bearable by Bowie’s words, Bowie’s voice.

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Dressed up Bowie-style at Battersea Arts Centre 2008

Memories flutter about in my head when I think of certain songs…

*Freezing to death and avoiding the rain at a bus stop on the Wandsworth Road to the sound of Modern Love awaiting the interview for what would turn out to be my first graduate job. (I am always ridiculously early for things)

*Making a badly timed Bowie joke in a GCSE drama lesson (our teacher had a stutter and was showing us a film called Changes, thus without thinking I, in my best Bowie voice, belted out ‘CH CH CH CHANGES’ to the horror of my classmates who were confused by my uncharacteristic scathing and brazen piss take of our kindly tutor.)

*Listening to my Bowie ‘Pep talk’ playlist on repeat before being interviewed to get accepted as a PhD student. Nothing makes me ready for action like Sound and Vision.

*Crying with laughter when watching the Flight of the Conchords sing ‘Bowie’s in Space’.

 

I think his death effected me so much as his music was such a formative thing for me. It was ok to be different, he was different, and this gave me confidence to be myself when that wasn’t always the path of least resistance. I’m sure this is a factor in why so many people feel this loss so keenly.

Bowie’s in space – but his work is still here and that is going to live forever.

 

 

My year in lists

Last January I spotted a link to a list of everything director Steven Soderbergh had watched and read in 2014 (Click here). It intrigued me to see that a) he had bothered to keep a list (in fact he’d been doing this for some time) and that b) his viewing habits were pretty run of the mill (we both love Girls, House of Cards and Veep #Besties). So I thought I’d try the same… in this notebook with an elephant wearing a beret on it (it felt like the right choice).

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The elephant never forgets

 

I decided to keep track of just the films I watched for 2015 (I thought I’d start small and build up to a list of everything I culturally consume).

…..So here is a list of all the films I saw in 2015.

OVERVIEW:
1) I watched 84 films in total (a few instances of multiple viewings – mostly stuff I was teaching with)
2) I watched 38 films in a cinema – indicated with a (C)
3) I re-watched some that I’d seen before – Indicated with a (B4)

THE FILM MEGA LIST 2015

1/1/15 – Bambi (1942) Algar, Armstrong et. al.(B4)
2/1/15 – Birdman (2014) Alejandro G. Iñárritu (C)
3/1/15 – Run Lola Run (1998) Tom Tykwer (B4)
4/1/15 – Thelma and Louise (1991) Ridley Scott
5/1/15 – Orlando (1992) Sally Potter
6/1/15 – Lost Highway (1997) David Lynch
9/1/15 – Torn Curtain (1966) Alfred Hitchcock
10/1/15 – Enough Said (2013) Nicole Holofcener
11/1/15 – Foxcather (2014) Bennett Miller (C)
22/1/15- Educating Rita (1983) Lewis Gilbert (B4)
28/1/15 – Thelma and Louise (1991) Ridley Scott (C) (B4)
29/1/15 – Pleasantville (1998) Gary Ross
30/1/15 – Chef (2014) Jon Favreau
31/1/15 – Ex Machina (2015) Alex Garland (C)
3/2/15 – Our Idiot Brother (2011) Jesse Peretz
4/2/15 – Torn Curtain (1966) Alfred Hitchcock (C) (B4)
7/2/15- Letter From an Unknown Woman (1948) Max Ophüls (B4)
10/2/15 – Rashômon (1950) Akira Kurosawa (B4)
20/2/15 – Blood Simple (1984) Joel and Ethan Cohen
25/2/15 – Letter From an Unknown Woman (1948) Max Ophüls (C) (B4)
28/1/15 – When Harry Met Sally (1989) Rob Reiner
28/2/15 – It Follows (2014) David Robert Mitchell (C)
1/3/15 – 8 1/2 (1963) Federico Fellini (B4)
1/3/15 – Gravity (2013) Alfonso Cuarón
4/3/15 – 8 1/2 (1963) Federico Fellini (C) (B4)
7/3/15 – The Red and The White (1967) Miklós Jancsó
11/3/15 – The Red and the White (1967) Miklós Jancsó (C) (B4)
15/3/15 – Still Alice (2014) Richard Glatzer (C)
17/3/15 – Locke (2013) Steven Knight
18/3/15 – Pleasantville (1998) Gary Ross (C) (B4)
21/3/15 – Mulholland Drive (2001) David Lynch (B4)
23/3/15 – Psycho (1960) Alfred Hitchcock (B4)
25/3/15 – Mulholland  Drive (2001) David Lynch (C) (B4)
3/4/15 – While We’re Young (2014) Noah Baumbach (C)
4/4/15 – The King’s Speech (2010) Tom Hooper (B4)
5/4/15 – Cinderella (2015) Kenneth Branagh (C)
6/4/15 – A Long Way Down (2014) Pascal Chaumeil
10/4/15 – The Ninth Gate (1999) Roman Polanski
11/4/15 – Wreck it Ralph (2012) Rich Moore (B4)
11/4/15 – Atari: Game Over (2014) Zac Penn
12/4/15 – Carrie (1976) Brian De Palma
18/4/15 – The King’s Speech (2010) Tom Hooper (C) (B4)
22/4/15 – Orlando (1992) Sally Potter (C)
2/5/15 – Whip It (2009) Drew Barrymore
4/5/15 – Force Majeure (2014) Ruben Östlund (C)
10/5/15 – Girlhood (2014) Celine Sciamma (C)
16/5/15 – Clouds of Sils Maria (2014) Olivier Assayas (C)
17/5/15 – Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa (2013) Declan Lowney
19/5/15 – Begin Again (2013) John Carney
30/5/15 – Carnival of Souls (1962) Herk Harvey (C)
31/5/15 – Pitch Perfect 2 (2015) Elizabeth Banks (C)
13/6/15 – Jurassic World (2015) Colin Trevorrow (C)
14/6/15 – London Road (2015) Rufus Norris (C)
19/6/15 – The Two Faces of January (2014) Hossein Amini
19/6/15 – Mr Holmes (2015) Bill Condon (C)
25/6/15 – The Wicker Man (1973) Robin Hardy (C) (B4)
27/6/15 – Tracks (2013) John Curran
1/7/15 – The Heat (2013) Paul Feig
3/7/15 – Amy (2015) Asif Kapadia (C)
11/7/15 – Before I Go To Sleep (2014) Rowan Joffe
12/7/15 – Touch of Evil (1958) Orson Welles (B4)
15/7/15 – The Fog (1980) John Carpenter
16/7/15 – Enemy (2013) Denis Villeneuve
24/6/15 – Inside Out (2015) Pete Docter (C)
25/7/15 – Fatal Attraction (1987) Adrian Lyne
30/7/15 – Love is Strange (2014) Ira Sachs
31/7/15 – A Single Man (2009) Tom Ford
29/8/15 – Side Effects (2013) Steven Soderbergh (B4)
5/9/15 – Trainwreck (2015) Judd Apatow (C)
24/9/15 – The Babadook (2014) Jennifer Kent
26/9/15 – 99 Homes (2014) Ramin Bahrani (C)
30/10/15 – The Intern (2015) Nancy Meyers (C)
2/11/15 – Suffragette (2015) Sarah Gavron (C)
21/11/15 – The Lady in The Van (2015) Nicholas Hytner (C)
14/11/15 – Steve Jobs (2015) Danny Boyle (C)
5/12/15 – Carol (2015) Todd Haynes (C)
15/12/15 – Another Country (1984) Marek Kanievska
18/12/15 – Mean Girls (2004) Mark Waters (B4)
19/12/15 – Sisters (2015) Jason Moore (C)
20/12/15 – A Muppet Christmas Carol (1992) Brian Henson (B4)
21/12/15 – Gremlins (1984) Joe Dante (C) (B4)
22/12/15 – Senna (2010) Asif Kapadia
27/12/15 – Meet Me in St Louis (1944) Vincente Minnelli (C)
28/12/15 – Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015) J.J Abrams (C)

I was really lucky to be able to see so many up on the big screen – the film narrative module at SHU, on which I was delivering seminars, holds all lectures and screenings in a cinema to enable this (The Showroom).

The films that stood out for me this year were Carol, which I loved, 99 Homes and Amy, but also Force Majeure (which many did not enjoy… including the box office guy at HOME who, when selling me a ticket for another film, noticed on my records I’d seen it recently and gave me his pretty brutal appraisal of it). The central moment of the film really stayed with me. The film explores a close call with an avalanche and the repercussions of fight of flight behaviour – the abandonment in the moment as terrifying as the near natural disaster itself.

Interestingly for me Steven kept a list for 2015 too (Click here) although it seems he was really into Magic Mike XXL…. so maybe not besties after all.

The first film I saw this year was The Danish Girl, which I was a bit disappointed with. More importantly on the way in (AMC Manchester) I was given a survey by some idiotic cinema marketing company…. first question on the survey (no kidding)… bear in mind The Danish Girl is a film about the complexities of gender identity…..

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Q1) Are you? Male or Female 

So not even worded as ‘How would you describe your gender identity?’ and no 3rd box, really, in 2016?!! Gender is not a binary issue as explored IN THE FILM YOU ARE SURVEYING ME ABOUT.

Also question 18 on this form was ‘rate the following characters…’ with absolutely no indication of what you were supposed to rate them against. Height? Fashion sense? Believability?

The marketeers need to enrol on the Research Methods course I did as part of prep for my research…. then they’d learn not to ask so many stupid questions.

 

 

 

The harder sell

I hate shopping. People who know me well are aware of the lengths I will go in order to avoid it, especially clothes shopping. When pressed and I have no other options (there is only so many times you can sew something up aparently), I conduct myself with assassin-like efficiency – in and out in seconds with minimal bloodshed.

The cold strip lighting and oppressive body fascism of the high street is not my comfort zone, but having made as many xmas presents as I have time for (and can get away with using my solid B- craft skills) there are certain things that will require action.

My 14 year old sister’s present is yet to click into place and as a result on my way home I made the spur of the moment decision to walk through H&M. Whereupon I stumbled upon this jumper….

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No thanks H&M

I’m sorry what? Surely this should read ‘Feminism – a word now routinely used to sell things to women’. Thanks for reducing the radical fight for the emancipation of everyone from gender binary patriarchal control to a slogan on a jumper, that’s super helpful.

I’ve never read anything as accessible as Nina Power’s One Dimensional Woman (2009) on why this kind of thing is problematic, (specifically the chapter Feminism(TM): Two Sides of the Same Con). Power makes the point that ‘stripped of any internationalist and political quality, feminism becomes about as radical as a diamanté phone cover.’ (Power, 2009: 30).

I’m not adverse to putting the word feminism on things, go ahead, but (unfortunately) we can’t all be Kathleen Hanna. Watch The Punk Singer (2013) if you haven’t already – that woman is a genius.

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Kathleen Hanna in Le Tigre

So all my trip to H&M achieved was me contemplating the complexities of using both the word, and ideology, of feminism to get people to buy into a system that ultimately oppresses them. Selling/buying a T-shirt is the easy part, getting people to understand and identify as feminist AND live their feminism, that’s the harder sell.

 

…and onwards to plan B for Jenya’s Christmas present.

 

 

 

Take Note(s)

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In 2009 I managed to successfully apply for a Media Art and Design Scholarship at the University of Westminster to get on the part-time evening-only course for MA Film and TV: Theory, Culture and Industry. Without a scholarship that opportunity to have my horizons expanded and to find what I love would not have been an option for me. I completed a BA by taking out a (now comparatively small) student loan (which, like most of my generation, I am still paying off). I am reminded again of how lucky I was in the week Gideon ‘George’ Osbourne’s autumn statement reasserts the governments relentless attempts to disenfranchise and alienate our young people (see here).

A few weeks ago I participated Arts Emergency (AE) mentor training in the hope that interventions such as theirs can prevent talented young people missing out because of their economic limitations. By partnering young people up with mentors from arts and humanities areas, AE’s amazing initiative The Alternative Old Boys Network tries to redress the balance. The aim is to ensure the creative industries reflect the diversity of our society, and is not only populated by people who can afford to take a gamble on a creative career path.

I’ve been asked a few times since attending this training why, when I am really busy, did I volunteer. The answer is simply because I think its important and if I can use the education that I have been given to help others, then great. I’m really looking forward to the opportunity to mentor for AE in future and it was great to meet so many others at training who felt the same. Our government is made up of people who accessed free university education and then used that education to take it away from future generations, it’s an absolute scandal.

I think the legend of Jessica Hynes (who, ever since I first saw Spaced as a teenager I have admired  – even before she proved herself an amazing human being by becoming an Arts Emergency patron and giving the best BAFTA speech I’ve ever heard) sums it up best…

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Without that scholarship to study a subject I felt passionate about there is no question: I wouldn’t be here now doing what I love and studying for my PhD.

This has been on my mind this week because I have been given the opportunity to teach a second year module in TV Comedy and Drama next year at SHU and I cannot wait. As the module has changed from a solely British focus to an international one, I have been allowed the licence to adapt the module content to include a wider range of examples … and also to give me a chance to apply some of my own research interests (Comedy, Feminism, Identity) to teaching. Excited!!

I’m making my way through the existing handbook, adding in new reading, changing up the lectures and planning what I’m going to screen.

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choices choices choices

I’ve also gone back through the notes I took when I was doing a TV Comedy module for my MA.

That module was such an eye opener, not just in the way it was taught in such an engaging way (by Ian Green, a person who, in my experience, anyone who has completed the MA Film and TV at Uni of Westminster over the last few decades will happily sing the praises of, myself now included), but also in the way it forced me to question everything I thought I knew about comedy. The three little words, incongruity, superiority and relief were brought to my attention and that as they say, was that. Game over everybody, I’ve found my thing now.

The notes I made during those lectures are absolute gold dust now for planning this module. Including this mega list of words…

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What words do we associate with humour and comedy?

I can remember this session really well: I see it written up on the whiteboard (in a room off Regent Street that was actually for people training to be translators and so had weird-looking microphones at every desk).

Like reading a childhood diary I can see in those notes exactly where ideas and concepts that I think about daily and now take for granted were introduced to me. As I watched Ian dash about with a whiteboard marker during that term I never thought I’d ever be up there teaching TV Comedy and Drama. Without that scholarship I wouldn’t be.

 

 

 

You cannot be serious?

This week I came across this advertisement on Twitter and I honestly thought it was a hoax. Having heard Jessica Milner-Davies discuss the difference between practical jokes and hoaxes at the 2014 International Humour Summer School, I was utterly convinced that someone would do the ‘big reveal’ at some point as it was such a textbook example.

I thought there was no way that this incredibly offensive caption could be real; someone’s photoshopped it in. This was one just of those traps that people set to enrage feminists online in order to laugh at their ire and then berate them for being so stupid to fall for it…..however this was not a drill.

This advert exists in print in the 2015 catalogue for American department store Bloomingdales. ‘SPIKE YOUR BEST FRIEND’S EGGNOG WHEN THEY’RE NOT LOOKING.’

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Image from Bloomingdales 2015 brochure

This story has subsequently been heavily covered in the media (see here for the Guardian’s recap) with may questioning how the hell this ever got signed off. How did an advert for ‘holiday season’ clothing enter such dark territory and how is it possible in 2015 that someone didn’t spot that this caption was a problem?? In my own opinion it looks like it should have some kind of warning message underneath it (‘This festive season remember to watch your drinks everybody’ or ‘ 90% of rapes are committed by people previously known to the victim’ etc.), so stark is the connotation of date rape.

Once I had gotten over my initial shock that this image existed in the world, what I found particularly interesting was that the key thing about this advert that tipped it from a completely average shot of fashion models to highly offensive pro-date rape image was the text.

Surely if you are going to do a fashion shoot inspired by, or even remotely visually similar to, the highly controversial music video for Robin Thicke and Pharrell William’s Blurred Lines (as this is in its choices of colours, black, cream, white, red lipstick… see the image below), then you think long and hard about the caption you add to ensure the image is not read as a continuation of the problematic consent-related discourse of the song itself. The song and video were heavily criticised in the media (see here) and so it is no surprise that this advert has attracted similar levels of critique along the same lines.

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Image from Robin Thicke’s video for Blurred Lines (2013)

 

We are invited by this advert, irrespective of the text, to position ourselves as the man, as we are in the overwhelming majority of images, film, media etc. See, as always, Laura Mulvey’s Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema (1975) for her seminal articulation of this idea. His gaze is the one we follow and the woman, head thrown back and smiling is the subject of his (and therefore our) stare. This means that whatever caption was written in this space was more likely to be attributed to the male rather than the female model as he is the active protagonist of this scene. Again the fact that none of the designers or copy editors picked up on this is astonishing.

Today is conveniently International Men’s Day and, sidestepping the obvious discussion about why this day exists in the first place (See comedian Richard Herring’s work on this here), I think this advert provides an example of how patriarchy limits both men and women in its perpetuation of patriarchal gender roles.  This advert invites us to think that this man is about to, or maybe already has, spiked a woman’s drink. It normalises the idea that this is just something that men do, for a laugh. It reinforces the idea that men only think about sex and will stop at nothing to get it irrespective of the consent of their partner as so beautifully articulated in Blurred Lines‘ chorus ‘I know you want it’. Does knowing I want it mean you don’t have to ask me? This is patronising, constraining and offensive to men as much as it is women.

So how does this link to your work on humour and comedy studies then? Good question. Well, I’m particularly interested in this as my research sits within the wider realm of cultural studies. I’ll be looking at how Angela McRobbie’s work on the complexification of anti-feminist backlash often takes the form of irony in advertising, which is also explored in the work of Rosalind Gill (I’ll be looking at this in terms of the U.K comedy industry and advertising for comedy). An interview where McRobbie briefly talks about her work can be found here.

The Bloomingdales advert uses a tone that makes the suggestion of spiking someone’s drink seem a cheeky joke, in a ‘wink wink nudge nudge’ kind of way. The advert knows that what it is saying is not acceptable, invoking feminist scorn, but then diffuses the problematic content of the statement by falling back on the ‘this is a joke’ ironic tone. I’m sure they didn’t anticipate this level of backlash but they knew this statement was tongue in cheek at the very least. The issue here for me is that women’s everyday experiences and the jokey suggestion of this advert are not sufficiently different to be fertile territory for irony or humour.

I am also reminded of an excellent animation about sexual consent that uses humour to get the message across in a clear way. (click link below image).

I love this because I feel it demonstrates how comedy can be used to critique society and throw light on to issues by highlighting their faulty logic. There is something ridiculous about a stick figure pouring tea down someone’s throat, justifying it by saying ‘well you wanted tea last week’.

Most of the press around comedy and consent focuses on rape jokes but I think this provides just one example of how comedy can also be used to highlight inequalities and violence against marginalised groups too. Comedy is another weapon with which to smash patriarchal norms and this is a call to arms.

 

Space – The Final Frontier

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Zine produced for Suffragette Legacy book launch

This weekend I went along to the launch of the book Suffragette Legacy: How Does the History of Feminism Inspire Current Thinking in Manchester (Mørk-Røstvik and Sutherland 2015) at The People’s History Museum. It was an opportunity to see some of the contributors to this wide ranging consideration of Manchester’s feminist credentials, which included academics, artists and activists, talk about their work.

I was particularly interested to hear about the work of Helen Davies and Jenny White of Warp and Weft who made use of their craft skills to highlight the lack of female statues in Manchester City Centre with their project Stature. These inspiring craftivists crocheted a series of masks of women from Manchester’s history (including the author Elizabeth Gaskell pictured), which they placed over several of the male bronzes and statues in Manchester’s town hall.

Crochet mask of Elizabeth Gaskell from Warp and Weft

Crochet mask of Elizabeth Gaskell from Warp and Weft

The project drew attention to the lack of representation of the achievements of women in the city and has successfully provoked a response (a step in the right direction) from local councillors, who have committed to creating a statue capturing Manchester women’s achievements ready for International Women’s Day 2019.

This approach reminded me of the way on opening night The Women in Comedy Festival team had stuck a variety of images of female comedians to the walls of The Frog and Bucket. The venue was supportive of this move, and the festival in general. However, these walls are usually adorned with portraits of comedians who have earned their stripes on the stage at the venue – not one woman amongst them, even though The Frog and Bucket has been home to regular women-only line-ups, Laughing Cows, for a significant period of time.

The walls of the Frog and Bucket Manchester ready for opening night of Women in Comedy Festival 2015

The walls of the Frog and Bucket Manchester ready for opening night of Women in Comedy Festival 2015

This is of interest to me as part of my research will touch on the way that the physical performance space for live comedy has shifted from a male specific space (working men’s clubs) to dedicated spaces which are allegedly accessible to all (although are often not accessible in terms of access for disabled performers or audience members as explored in the recent work of Dr Sharon Lockyer). Even though women may now be in the audience and also perform on the stage, the images we see of achievement in comedy remain predominantly male and this normalises the idea of comedy as a male arena.

Additionally this week a public discussion of sexism broke out on an academic mailing list I subscribe to. A female user had put forward the idea that women were being responded to more negatively than their male counterparts when making similar requests (help finding examples, locating references etc.). The word sexism was not used at this initial stage but the argument was made that female users were responded to in a patronising and dismissive tone, whereas males asking almost identical questions would be responded to more considerately. Immediately this suggestion was responded to in a patronising and belittling way (ironically and unwittingly proving the initial point). In and amongst the 50 or so emails that ensued were several comments along the lines of ‘don’t we all have better things to do than argue about this’.

This mailing list is subscribed to by 2,500 people and although the key protagonists were limited to a core group everyone could see their arguments. How many women observing this in their inboxes (as I was) were put off ever posting in this space for fear of similar criticism??

It was incredibly depressing to witness established male academics dismiss this point or fail to take the comment in the way it was meant – as a reminder that we should be cautious when responding by email to anyone and that as women working in a patriarchal environment (which overwhelmingly academia continues to be see here) we are sensitive to this in a way male colleagues may not fully appreciate. In the U.K women are still paid less than men in academia and there are significantly fewer female professors. This virtual space is supposed to be an inclusive one but it does not exist a vacuum we all bring our previous experiences to the way we read and respond to others.

Tweet from the European Research Council 6/11/15

Tweet from the European Research Council 6/11/15

After a while the argument died down with apologies from those who fell into the trap of responding in the heat of the moment with dismissive or rude statements, and the proposal to get together as a collective and discuss these issues was put forward. So progress possibly??… But I found the comments that fell into the ‘we all have other more important things to do with our time’ particularly infuriating. These issues should be discussed and considered publicly. It is important because it feeds into and feeds off the way women are treated in the real world (see Everyday Sexism for a myriad of examples). The face of success, especially in academia, is still that of the (white) male. If spaces are not inclusive to women or reinforce notions of gender difference then it will take longer to create a more equal image of what it means to be successful.

So overall this week provided an excellent reminder as to what the spaces we inhabit, both physically and virtually, say to us about what we, as women, can achieve.

The Difficult Second Post (Field Notes)

Birthday Girls Party Vibes show 2013 with Women in Comedy Festival crew.

Birthday Girls Party Vibes show 2014 with Women in Comedy Festival crew.

This Friday I am off to see the marvellous Casio keyboard-wielding comedian David O’Doherty. I see a lot of comedy and I’m excited to be seeing his new show, having used my Edinburgh Festival trip strategically to see people I was unfamiliar with.

When I proposed my research area in August 2013 I was already seeing a lot of comedy. This has shifted up a notch over the last few years….since I can now without any qualms call it research. I’m also lucky enough to live in Manchester where the U.K’s Women in Comedy Festival takes place (more on this to come as it deserves more than a passing mention) so my opportunities to see hilarious women have never been greater.

I’m focusing on the live circuit in the U.K and so it’s important for me to see people at different stages of their career, in different venues and on both mixed-gender and women-only line-ups. Context is a vital (and sometimes neglected) factor when discussing comedy and much research falls into the trap of ‘content-only’ – boiling down comedy to words on a page devoid of the context of performance. I’ve been keeping track of all the comics I’ve seen in this time as this helps me form a better understanding of who is working in the context I am discussing.

My plan is to try and keep track of who I am seeing as part of this blog but I thought it might be useful to flag up who I’ve already seen in action. Some of these people I have seen multiple times, in multiple contexts too (from back rooms and basements and work-in-progress shows to arenas).

Note: Records began October 2013 and the following is in alphabetical order because I’ve put this info in a spreadsheet (of course I have)…….. I’ve been busy that’s all I’m saying.

Adrienne TruscottAisling BeaAllyson June SmithAmy VreekeAnnette FagonBarbara NiceBeth VyseBethany BlackBirthday Girls (sketch), Bridget ChristieCaz ‘n’ BritneyChella QuintComedy Sportz Manchester (improv), Dana AlexanderDanielle WardDaphna BarhamDebra Jane ApplebyDotty WintersEleanor ConwayEllie WhiteFelicity Ward, Flick and Julie (sketch), Grainne MaguireHannah BrackenburyHarriet DyerHawkeye and WindyHayley EllisHayley-Jane StandingJana KennedyJaney GodleyJen CarssJess FostekewJessie CaveJo CaulfieldJo CoffeyJo EnrightJo NearyJosie LongKate FoxKate McCabeKate SmurthwauteKatherine RyanKerry LeighKiri Pritchard-McLeanLara A KingLesley KershawLou ConranLou SandersLouise ReayLucy BeaumontLuisa OmielanMae Martin, Maureen YoungerMiranda HartO’Shea and O’GaukrogerPenella MellorRose JohnsonSara PascoeSarah FrankenSarah MillicanShappi KhorsandiShort and Girlie Show (Improv),  Sophie HagenSophie WillanSoula NotosSusan CalmanSuzi RuffelTanya Lee DavisTiff StevensonTory GillespieZoe Lyons……**

There are 71 people in that list – all funny in a myriad of different ways. No wonder it’s so hard to find women to go on all those panel shows. (rolls eyes)

**I’ve tried to add links either to a site or twitter feed if anyone wants to find out more.

So what’s your research area?

The comic and political sit side by side

The comic and political sit side       by side

On average I get asked this question about once a week and every time I struggle to find the words to briefly outline what it is I am doing. I’m now two years in as part-time student and so now’s the time to really pin this stuff down.

Comedy/Feminism/Post-feminism/Gender/Marginalisation all pop up time and time again and often I can see I’ve lost the enquirer completely or they panic and tell me they ‘really like Sarah Millican’.

I went to an excellent Feminist Research Methodologies conference yesterday at Sheffield Hallam University (my home institution), which talked through some of the challenges facing feminist researchers. I  spent a lot of the day meeting new researchers and discussing the basics of my research area, and Jessica Ringrose’s emoji-embracing keynote inspired me to finally start blogging about my work.

As you have to start somewhere with a blog I thought I’d challenge myself to articulate what I am researching…..

(NOTE: But first what I’m not doing. This is NOT a research project investigating the ‘are women funny’ debate. My research takes this as a given, women are evidently funny.)

  • My research seeks to analyse the current state of the British stand-up comedy industry in relation to the increasing inclusion of female and feminist comedians. My argument is that in all aspects of our current society the voices and experiences of women are marginalised and I am researching how this is reflected within the U.K comedy circuit.
  • I am interviewing female (and those who identify as female) comedians and promoters currently working on the live circuit  to better understand their experiences. Do the individuals I am speaking to have experiences in common and how, when their identity is intertwined with ethnicity, sexuality, age (and other points of difference from the most powerful members of society – white, educated, males), do their experiences differ?
  • I am using a mixed-methods research approach, to gather information about the motivations and attitudes of audiences for women-only comedy nights/ festivals. Why do audiences go to women-only comedy line-ups? Do they think they are getting something there that they wouldn’t get from a mixed-gendered comedy line-up? This is to attempt to understand the impact of women-specific comedy organisations on the circuit.
  • I’ll also be looking at the work of specific female comedians in order to make arguments about the existence of both feminist and post-feminist comedy being evident on the current live circuit. The reason for including this is to look at the content of performances that are situated within the context I am researching (the current U.K live circuit).

Feminist research is inherently political, it seeks to forward the cause of equality. Comedy is an area that has been under-explored in terms of research into female experience and this is something I’d like to address through my work. To sum up then people still regularly say ‘women aren’t funny’ and for me that is only one dangerous step away from more problematic concepts about what women are capable of. We can do and be anything, we are equal.

It may seem crazy to focus on comedy when there are many overwhelming barriers facing the fight for equality in the U.K (appalling rape conviction statistics, lack or equal pay for equal work, the tampon tax). However, as comedy helps to maintain the status quo, by propping up what is considered ‘the norm’ and making other alternative structures or approaches seem laughable, for me its as good a place as any to start.