Sam Freeman

Storytelling | Theatre | Arts Marketing

Who’s the funniest?

I keep getting to the station late at night and, having found I’ve missed the last bus by seconds (seriously why do they always pull away when I’m running towards them?), being forced to get a taxi home.

Generally I find taxi drivers fall into three distinct categories. There’s the nice ones who have balanced well-rounded opinions and hilarious stories who invariably make the journey quite pleasant – maybe 70% of the taxi drivers near where I live.

Then there are the silent types, who drive with an accuracy and dead eyed murderous look more associated with the film “Drive” (the elevator scene is probably the most brilliantly horrifying yet beautiful scene in the history of film). The type who might suggest running over a student may equate to the attribution of undefined points. They make up maybe 15%, and to give them their dues, it’s always an efficient if slightly nervous journey.

Finally however we hit upon what I like to describe as the UKIPpy drivers, those who hate women, equality, immigrants, Poles (the nationality or those used for flags), the EU, anything that could be considered Liberal and, of course, joy. They’re the ones who invariably start a sentence with “Let me tell you about my ex-wife…” and ends it with “…to death with a baseball bat.” Horrifying people in short but thankfully near me the minority.

I always get asked what I do in taxis and, upon saying comedy and theatre, the UKIPpy drivers engage in a tirade about “shit alternative comedy”, how much he (it’s usually a he) loves Chubby and Jim Davidson and how “women don’t make me laugh.”

The first two points there are okay, people are entitled to have subjective taste when it comes to comedy – although I hate that sort of comedy and I wonder how much alternative comedy they’ve seen – but the final one – essentially that women aren’t funny invariably leaves me baffled. I wonder how many women they’ve seen perform to form a balanced view. It’s been a theme in the media recently about how few women are mainstream in comedy and I wanted, in this this blog format, to share my thoughts.

Firstly, as a punter and occasional booker, the acts who I love watching are different, artistically rewarding and comedically world class and are balanced in terms of gender (and gender has no baring on it). If I had to assemble my top 5 comedians I’d like to watch women would take up 40% (which increases to 50% if it’s my top 6) – For reference: Daniel Kitson, Bridget Christie, Josie Long, Markus Birdman & Stewart Lee (the top six adds Nina Gilligan – watch out for her).

As an open act if i had to rank my top ten (which I’m not going to do on here as I don’t want to destroy my friendships) the male-female balance is precisely 50/50. I fundamentally believe that gender has no effect on a persons ability to be funny.

I think we’re going through a shift at the moment, a shift that is happening far too slowly and which is largely related to the speed with which the older generations die off. Comedy has changed, evolved in the past 30 years, as it has constantly, and the changes run alongside social changes too, changes including gender roles in society, in the way that women and men are perceived and perceive themselves – everything from proactivity and sexuality to leadership and comedy.

We, the masses are constructs of our history and consequently our culture and this is reflected in comedy. I think many of these cultural norms (which are losing their value and hold) are wrong, but they have a hold over us to an extent. Comedy and art, and the people who create and make it, is and are a reflection of society on the whole.

However that doesn’t mean we should be happy to accept that and not motivate change. We are artists, creators, innovators, liberals and idealists. Our role in society (and maybe one day this will change) is to enact and encourage change. Our role is to speed the slowly moving glacier, so that opinions adjust and correct over time. Redefining perceptions takes time, but we should be angry it doesn’t happen quicker and define our values in our actions as much as possible to make sure we are the early adopters.

Maybe part of the problem is that I want these UKIPpy types to have balanced views and opinions. Maybe this isn’t possible. Maybe some people are more than happy to let badly formed opinion overrule fact, logic and reason. Or maybe society isn’t quite where we want it and we need to shove it along a bit.

(I’m aware this is a shit blog post that’s not fully formed or written, but I wrote while tired so it’s a bit ranty…)