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An open letter to 'edgy' male stand-ups, from Kate Smurthwaite
Dear "edgy" male comics (with love from the sisterhood),
I generally avoid watching too many other shows during the Fringe, purely because I need to focus on my show. This year I decided to spend my day off however catching up with some of the acts who are considered edgy and political and generally not afraid to tell it like it is. Mainly because that's what I do, and it's always good to know your competition!
Now before I start, obviously I haven't seen every act. So maybe you're the exception, if so you're probably just as angry as me that acts are getting away with this sort of lazy sexism. Or maybe you know a female act who does one of these things (and she, equally, shouldn't). However I didn't see any female acts do any of these things and every single one of them was done by more than one male act I saw. I will not of course name names, because I'm not against you as an act, in fact I probably think you're very skilful and intelligent. But can we just have a little recap on avoiding accidental sexism in your act?
(1) More than half the world's population, and quite possibly your audience, is female. So if you're going to do the obligatory knob gags and you start with "you know when you get a semi in the supermarket?", no, we do not. Until they open up an estate agents next to the biscuit aisle we never will get a semi in a supermarket. Please talk to us too.
(2) Is David Cameron a cunt? Is he? Look, I love the c-word too but can we stop using it as the worst of all possible insults? Cunts are marvellous, trust me, I've got one. And despite my best efforts my cunt has never closed down the NHS.
(3) Can we please stop attacking women in the public eye for being unattractive? I'm sure you do think Margaret Thatcher was an ugly cow, but I don't think that's what the miners were so upset about in the eighties.
(4) On a related subject ... Would you? You would? You wouldn't? Not even give her one for taking the kiddies milk? That would be gripping satire if a woman's value were related solely to her sexual attractiveness to you, and if sex was something nasty that men did to women. Maybe it is the way you do it.
(5) It's so hard (pun intended) for you men because you're always horny right? Us women have this power over you ... If that's true could someone please show me who I need to flash the cleavage at to get a job in the cabinet? Because I'd like to put this super-power to work. The best my cleavage has ever got me is a drink and I generally didn't dare drink it in case it was spiked. Plus you think you're horny all the time? Speaking on behalf of a lot of women I know – we are also horny all the time but we don't dare mention it because people are disgusted, liable to call us slags and sluts and liable to use it as an excuse to rape us.
(6) History and herstory ... Comics love to imagine events from the past like, say, the guy who invented football, or the guy who first came up with turning bread into toast. Usually they were doing it to impress a woman. Can we please balance it up with some jokes about imagined historical events that happened when a woman was trying to impress a man or two women were trying to figure out the best way to get that spherical pigskin lunchbox into the cave without having to walk past the leopards?
(7) Were you being ironically sexist? Was it "obviously a joke"? Ok so write the same joke with some ironic racism in it and go onstage and tell that at an Amnesty International night. The truth is that there are acts like Al Murray or Sir Ian Bowler MP who can do those bad taste jokes because we're laughing at the stupid cringeworthy character getting it terribly wrong. When you do it, you are probably being the stupid cringeworthy character that merits spoofing and satirising.
(8) But it's comedy, so any subject is fair game for comedy. Yes any subject is, but any joke is not. Your hilarious routine about how the rape conviction rate is too low and the CPS needs to do better is great. Your hilarious joke about how rape victims have themselves to blame if they wear sexy clothes or get drunk isn't. It reinforces very very dangerous attitudes which are already prevalent in society. And if it was just/obviously a joke, see (7) above!
(9) This might not seem obviously related but it is. Did you nearly or actually have some sort of sexual encounter with a transgendered person? Did you nearly or actually "shag a bloke"? No doubt when you told your friends in the pub they laughed and laughed. Unfortunately they also seem to have all put it in their sets too. It's boring, it's hack, but more importantly it's transphobic, it's homophobic and it's stupid. If you fancy someone, you fancy someone, grow up.
(10) Whores is a marvellous insult for people willing to do anything for money, like banker or members of the coalition cabinet, isn't it? Unless you actually think about it. Women in prostitution are rarely there through genuine choice. If not victims of trafficking, violence, abuse or trapped on drugs, they're likely to be choosing the industry because the other options – not being able to feed their kids or sleeping on the streets, are unthinkable. Does that make them bad people? No of course not. Find a better insult.
And I know that's a lot to think about and in some cases might mean a lot of material needs reworking, but as I say you're not the only one doing it, so really I'm doing you a favour here in helping you ditch the hack stuff and offering you an opportunity to develop a more interesting set. No need to thank me. Just buy me beer, I might even flash you a bit of cleavage!
Before I sign off though, one more teeny tiny request. Stop and think for a second about the line-up on your "Fred Bloggs and friends" variable bill/panel show/group show. I'm sure you didn't mean to book all straight white able-bodied guys, probably it's just that you were busy and got behind with the bookings and then you were having a beer with your mates, who are a bit like you, and so you asked them to do it. But have a think. Is there a chance that women (and gay, black, asian, disabled, etc) comics will feel unwelcome to apply, and that it's only open to you and your mates? Reach out to people, let them know you want to book them, it will make your show more varied and interesting and audiences will enjoy it more!