You know what’s funny?
Though the claim itself is laughable, the truth is that comedy has long been a man’s domain. And centuries of reinforcement have kept that bias intact.
In medieval times, kings appointed a male “jester,” or “courtly fool,” who was the only person given legal permission to challenge or insult the royal court with the understanding that it was “all in good humor.” Furthermore, rulers used these entertainers to strengthen their image and prove that they, too, could “take a joke.” Ancient Greece was no different. Characters in “Old Comedy” plays like Aristophanes’ “The Wasps” were played exclusively by male actors.
“The Internet has disrupted many of the conventions of traditional television.” – Ted Sarandos, “Netflix” chief content officer
Fast-forward to today and you might notice a similarity. In several cases, only a select few entertainers are given the opportunity to poke fun on a widespread platform. The major television networks have continuously shown an inherent bias about who and what is funny—especially when it comes to late-night programming.
With an all-male line-up of late-night hosts on the major television broadcast networks, the gender gap is clear. But on a grander scale, when it comes to the Hollywood comedy industry, recognition, pay, and opportunity have also historically favored males, making it difficult for female comedians to reach the same positions of power and influence that men are afforded.
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“I dreamt about being a late-night host,” said Los Angeles-based comedian Rebecca Aranda. “But it’s like, you don’t even notice until you’re older that every single person on the front of that was, like, a white dude. And you end up automatically thinking of them as neutral because that’s what society presents to you as neutral.”
Late-night comedy programs on America’s major networks are one of the most influential media platforms in today’s comedy landscape, not only because of their entertainment value, but because of their impact on viewers’ political and cultural views.
But the gender gap is not only apparent in mainstream comedy and television, but also in smaller comedy venues, businesses, and institutions.
“There’s so many more men in comedy. I mean, I go to the Comedy Store and there’s probably like two female comics to every twenty male comics,” said Los Angeles-based stand-up comic Erica Rhodes.
“…every single person on the front of that was, like, a white dude.” – Rebecca Aranda, comedian
But for those who fancy a gal to make them giggle, hope is on the horizon.
Female comedians are making more inroads into the male-dominated Hollywood industry thanks to a rapid shift in viewing habits and an explosion of online venues such as Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime.
Most notably, the television set is no longer the center of American leisure time, as it had been for decades. Nearly 40 percent of American consumers today own the technological trifecta of tablets, laptops, and smartphones. That’s a 270 percent increase since 2010, according to a recent Deloitte Digital Democracy Survey.
“Television as we know it is changing at such a rapid rate, that the lines between your phone, your computer, your television screen, are so blurred already now,” James Corden, host of the “Late Late Show,” told me in an interview. “In ten or 15 years, I don’t know even know if channels will be what they are right now. I think they’ll just be apps.”
“The Internet has disrupted many of the conventions of traditional television,” Netflix chief content officer Ted Sarandos said in a statement. More than half of all American consumers and three-quarters of millennials watch movies and television shows via monthly subscription-based streaming services, said the Deloitte Survey. In fact, consumers aged 14-25 value their streaming video subscriptions more than paid TV subscriptions, the survey said.
“find out what is different, what is you, what is new.” – Eliza Skinner, comedian and writer
So what does this mean for female comics yearning to get their punchlines heard? For one, they no longer have to sit around and wait for their invitation to the “boys club” of comedy. Girls are starting their own clubs.
By taking advantage of emerging alternatives like social media, cable channel programs, and streaming services, fresh female perspectives are able to reach vast new audiences worldwide.
As Chelsea Handler, Samantha Bee, and several others are proving, these women are shaking things up and creating their own formats, saying “no thank you” to the formula that has worked for their counterparts in years past.
“We have to allow ‘female comedy’ to be totally different,” said stand-up comic Eliza Skinner, who is also an aspiring late-night host and writer on “The Late Late Show with James Corden.”
“Go to the ends of the earth,” she said, “Turn over every stone, find out what is different, what is you, what is new.”