Ending Victimisation & Blame

challenging institutional disbelief around domestic & sexual violence and abuse

The Subtle Oppression of Women by Comedy

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The Subtle Oppression of Women by Comedy

by Bobbie Oliver

 Bio:

Bobbie Oliver is a 25-year veteran comedian, producer, and comedy coach living in Los Angeles, California. She is the owner of Tao Comedy Studio and the author of The Tao of Comedy: Embrace The Pause. www.bobbieoliver.net

“If you don’t want your daughters to get raped, don’t let them shop at American Apparel,” quipped the radio host interviewing me, then he quickly moved on to another topic.

“Um,” I said. “Can we back up a second? Rape has nothing to do with what the woman is wearing. Women in burkas get raped.”

“Well, that’s how it is in that part of the world.”

“You mean Stubenville?”

*Crickets*

I added, “Rape predates miniskirts and rape culture exists all over the world. Sorry, but you aren’t going to get away with victim-blaming on my watch.”

Then there was the look on the faces of the interviewer and the other comedians on the panel. A look I see a lot. That look that says, “God Bobbie, it’s just comedy. Don’t be such a drag.”

A few months earlier, I had hosted a Women in Comedy Roundtable, excited to pair female comics with female agents, managers and club owners. I couldn’t wait to discuss all the issues that women in the industry face on the road and off. During the discussion, I brought up that I have been put up in comedy condos (a condominium owned by a comedy club that houses that week’s comics: usually shared by three people, at least two of them are men) in which the front and/or bedroom door had no lock on it and there was no porch light out front for when we returned back after midnight each night after the shows. I found myself in total shock to hear (female) comedy managers say that women should not complain about these things or we will be seen as “high maintenance” and not be rebooked by the club.

A piece just released in Jezebel tells the story of comic Christina Walkinshaw who, while on stage at Yuk Yuk’s at Casino Niagara, a heckler yelled, “Show us your tits! Show us your bush!” The club had a policy that comedians can not engage with the audience. The comic was not allowed to defend herself and the club did not remove the heckler. Christina complained to the club about it after her set and the next time she tried to get booked was told that her complaint resulted in not being hired again. It was, of course, her fault.

I think back to last year (2012) at the Laugh Factory in Los Angeles when comic Daniel Tosh had the incident with the female heckler who asked that he not make rape jokes. His response, “Wouldn’t it be funny if that girl got raped by like 5 guys right now? Like right now? What if a bunch of guys just raped her…” The woman’s friend wrote a blog about it and was inundated with attacks from Tosh fans, including rape threats and death threats. [God Bobbie, it’s just comedy]. ”The first amendment!! They are taking away our right to make rape jokes!! We can say whatever we want!!” [Unless, of course, you are a female audience member who decides to blog about her experience at a comedy club. Then you need to shut the hell up woman or you will get what’s coming to you.]

Comedian Bill Burr asks on the stage the question, “What did Rihanna say right before Chris Brown hit her?” And then discusses with comic Joe Rogan on Rogan’s podcast if a woman has a responsibility in her own safety not to push a man’s buttons.  “At what point are you guilty of provoking the next level?” he poses. He also says on stage that we should stop talking about domestic violence so much. [I know. I know. It’s just comedy.]

After all of that, I remember a friend of mine, a brilliant female comic, confessing to me late one night that she had been raped on the road by a staff member of a comedy club. He held her captive in her room all night. She cried as she revealed the horrible details of her secret. I could not even imagine what she must have gone through. “What happed to the guy?” I asked. “Did he go to jail?” She looked up at me and said, “Nothing happened to him. I didn’t report it. I knew if I did I would never work in this business again.”

I didn’t have the heart to tell her that it’s just comedy.

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5 thoughts on “The Subtle Oppression of Women by Comedy

  • Maria says:

    Thanks for this article Bobbie, much appreciated.

  • Denise says:

    Excellent article! I just don’t understand why men even find those “jokes” funny in the first place. Don’t they have mothers, sisters, wives? Why aren’t the women in their lives speaking out? More women need to stand up and say no to this sort of “comedy”. It just isn’t funny.

  • Christina Walkinshaw is a terrific comic. Too bad that club was not treated to letting her handle a heckler. It’s even worse that hecklers live amongst us. Thank you for the women in comedy roundtable and trying as best as you could to get female agents, women and managers to look out for women on the road more. You do a lot for women in comedy, Bobbie, not just for me. I wanna buy you a drink.

  • Lady, I stand behind you 200%…I am sick and tired of this BS and you hit that nail on the head…I am a 21 year veteran, 15 of it spent on the road..and I’ve always said, put a hidden camera at an open mic in any comedy club in the US and people would be STUNNED as to what we hear, and watch we are asked to do for stage time. What I have found that 95% of these male comics, including veterans are nothing more than scared little boys with a terrible “mommy complex”…they use the bully tactic to intimadate and control the new females in this industry. For some like me who caught onto this, and started push back, well choice names are given to us. Just this week I had another female comic contact me because a certain male comic told her that if she wanted to do a show in this certain town in Texas, she had to put him on the show, because “he had the keys to comedy in said town”, man barely has keys to a car and he has used this BS before. I am sure there are many stories like your friend, and as we well know they are afraid to say anything. There was road comic ummmm about 15 years ago, that is still in jail because he was coming into one nighters, doing his show, and then going out and finding women to rape. It took them awhile to get him, yet they did when the police and FBI saw the pattern, and one of his victims saw his face. I can’t remember his name, but I am sure if you google this, you will find him. I thank you for this article and every woman in this business needs to read it, and stop this type of bad behavior..