The Difficult Second Post (Field Notes)

Birthday Girls pic

Birthday Girls Party Vibes show 2013 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?

Comedy research

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.