Misogyny in Comedy
AVNI MISHRA '23
We all enjoy funny stories and one-liners from our favorite comedians. However, when consuming content from the comedy industry, it’s important to recognize the deeply ingrained misogyny that exists in this form of entertainment.
If you’ve ever attended a comedy show, you may notice tactless comments made towards a marginalized group in exchange for a cheap laugh. In particular, misogyny is a common topic that comedians capitalize on. Deeply rooted within comedy, misogyny has created a toxic atmosphere that denies opportunities to women. Historically, comedy originated from men showing off their wit to women. Because women were never included in mainstream comedy, audiences perceive women’s comedy as different—and worse—than men’s.
Deep-rooted misogyny enables men to avoid accountability for their behavior. Oppressive jokes are excused with a “boys will be boys” mentality. Further, those who call out this misogyny are often labeled “overly sensitive.” For example, Jim Jeffries, an Australian comedian, complained about equal rights for women, referencing the wage gap and even wishing that he was gay so he could punch his partner. Receiving backlash, he went on tangents mid-show about how his critics “are the worst.” Women are expected to suppress their indignation and let male comedians make jokes at their expense. As defenders of these comics would say, they’re just jokes, right?
But when these “jokes” are taken seriously, this dismissive attitude greenlights misogyny. In a 2016 study by the University of Surrey, researchers found that sexist comedy influenced men to act sexist towards women. It is this tolerance of disparaging jokes that sustains sexism on a larger scale and makes it “acceptable” in non-comedic situations.
As a result of this disparity, the comedy industry constantly denies women opportunities because they are less respected. According to the Morning Consult, women hosted only 29.9% of episodes in Saturday Night Live, one of America’s most-watched comedy shows. About 50% of sketches have majority male casts as opposed to 25% of majority female casts. Local comedy bars do not fare any better. About 38% of comedians are female nationwide. The lack of representation means a handful of comedians must represent the entirety of female comedians. Finding a few female comedians unamusing reflects on women much more than finding a few male comedians unamusing.
However, not all hope is lost, as major comedy shows and stand-up bars are considering and implementing ways to support female comedians, including women-only nights in comedy bars. Gradually, more and more female comedians bring light to problems in the male-dominated industry: Hannah Gadbsy called out Louis CK, a comedian with multiple sexual misconduct allegations, for returning to shows with little to no consequence. Simply acknowledging these problems exist can do strides for women in comedy.