The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference.
Some comedians gathered in a pub in South Melbourne, as a community. The gig that was meant to go ahead that night was cancelled as were many across Melbourne. The room is run by women, it was good to have somewhere to go, we hugged each other, looked at each other as people, instead of competitors in the space where so few crumbs that represent success can be found; the crumbs of financial recognition, the crumbs of commercial success, the crumbs that amount to more than the ethereal fleeting tremor that is laughter. We stayed a while, we raised our glasses, shared stories about what a brilliant comedian Eurydice was. But we didn’t feel defiant, or able to peel back the dreadfulness and find the essence of how to change or challenge what had happened. We spoke instead about offering lifts to each other at future gigs, of offering to walk each other to tram stops, to each other’s homes, of offering nothing more than friendship and support to each other.
I started doing comedy over a decade ago, I took to it like some take to drink. I wanted to devour it, to be immersed in it, to understand it, to make sense of the world and spit it back out with pithy punchlines that would leave audiences breathless with laughter.
The only place I could find to learn how to learn how to do stand-up comedy was in comedy rooms. Unlike other art forms, like dance or acting there aren’t any folk laws, or methodologies and techniques passed down from one comedian to another. In short there is no rubric of humour to guide the aspiring stand-up comic. Instead you just have to stand up in front of a live audience and give it a go, fail a lot, get up and do it again.
It took me some time to understand what was happening in comedy rooms and come to terms that often it was the antithesis of fun or funny. I mis understood the advice that it would take up to two years to get a gig in certain rooms. I misread the stream of no’s that I couldn’t MC or aspire to headline. I misread it all as ‘just not funny enough.’ It took me a while to separate the need to get stage time to work out material in spaces where I often felt undermined, invisible, insulted and many time felt unsafe because of the endless diatribe of misogyny, of racism and of terse anti-Semitic remarks. I would feel a flush of anger, the fury of disdain, but so often sit in silence because I wanted another gig in the room, or I didn’t want to be seen as someone who ‘just didn’t get the joke’.
After five years I gave up trying to get stage time in comedy rooms. It became tedious being patronised too and frustrating that there appeared little likelihood of getting more than five minutes on the bill. Instead I found other ways to carve out my comedic aspirations; through writing and researching, performing comedy at events, conferences and festivals and as an ultimate act of immersion I created the Melbourne Jewish Comedy Festival.
Much has been said in mainstream media about women lacking the ability to be funny, frankly it’s a nonsensical claim. When I started doing comedy there were no all-female rooms. Now there are, and in those spaces, there are frequent and open discussions about gate keeping, about unequal representation of women on line ups, repeated comments around men simply refusing to book women. There is often talk of how we should counter this. There are often suggestions of how room runners and commercially successful comedians can and should counter this, by stepping down to ensure that women are on the bill.
When you have amassed more than five minutes of stand-up comedy the progression is often to stage a solo show at Melbourne International Comedy Festival (MICF.) The ratio of men to women in comedy rooms is usually two women to eight men, at this years festival shows by women came in at 22%. Not many women do comedy, it’s a tough gig.
The festival is the highest grossing festival in Australia, it has huge economic clout, it could also have enormous social clout. At the Jeez Louis, women in comedy forum, in 2017 there were questions posed to MICF director Susan Provan around lack of gender equity on MICF televised shows. Provan’s response was that the televised shows represented the festivals demographic. ‘But,’ an audience member countered, ‘MICF could be a world leader, a game changer and always categorically televise shows that with a gender balance, right?’ Wrong, the same messages will continue to be sent out, some of them subtle, some of them pervasive, ‘the revolution will not be televised.’
When I first became a mother I was staggered by the isolation I felt, the ebb of autonomy, I worked less paid hours to become the primary caregiver, I stayed at home and baked. It was, as I saw it, my function to do so. My daughters are teenagers now – take up space I tell them, know your power, make some noise I tell them.
Today I add a caveat though, take care I say, be careful I say, the homicide detective in charge of the murder of Eurydice Dixon has said that women should have ‘situational awareness.’ The detective did not pledge to call out sexism when he saw it, in the ranks, online or on television, nor did he say that he would do everything he could to counter violence against women by insisting that it is men that must change their behaviour, neither did the Premier and neither has the Prime Minister.
I saw Eurydice gig many times, her comedy was out of the box, her manner her comedic skill, her sense of style made you sit up and listen.
She told this joke, I am paraphrasing: ‘Women need to up their game and start suiciding more, we want equality with men and they are outstripping us on suicide rates.’
So funny, so clever. I gigged with Eurydice and have gigged with so many other women over the years, to my shame I have never offered a lift or asked if they are ok to get home.
A comedian’s job is to interrogate their world, distil it, and through the alchemy of chutzpah and carefully chosen words create an exquisite moment of surprise which generates laughter. And you should be able to just get up and do it all again and again and again and again and again and again.
Eurydice Dixon – you were incredible – our comedy world is bereft.