SOHO COMEDY: WOMEN, ‘IT’S LIKE THEY’RE REAL PEOPLE’

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by Carmina Masoliver

I could live at Soho Theatre at the moment. In the past two months I have seen three women in comedy: Shappi Khorsandi, Bridget Christie, and Josie Long. In a recent article on puns and women in comedy, it stated ‘women are funny. End of debate.’ Or, as Josie Long put it ‘it’s like they’re real people.’ To those that don’t think women can be funny, it’s very unfortunate that your partners, mothers, siblings, and all women in your life have no sense of humour. Life must be quite dull.

These women have all been on TV, but you’d be forgiven for not having heard of them, seeing as the TV seems to be telling us that Sarah Millican is the only female stand-up comedian.

Those who have seen Shappi Khorsandi before would know that she often explores themes such as relationships, family, and racism. In this appearance she weaves these topics together in a conversational show that looked at how the digital world combines with the fleshier one, and turns in on itself to look at humour itself, particularly in reference to the main thread that runs through the show – discrimination. When written down like that, it may seem as though it could be in danger of being preachy. Like being offended, these words can sound clinical in comparison to their meaning.

However, Khorsandi presented us with examples of her own failure, and we participated in it and learnt through her mistakes.

(© BBC)

She told us about gigs where she was criticised on Twitter by transgender individuals, only to result in a defensive gaff in addressing her apology ‘Dear Sir or Madam.’ There were laughs, and the audience members were made to squirm when Khorsandi explained that it had been pointed out to her that people were laughing at the expense of transgender people. As arguably one of the smallest minority groups and an easy target for jokes, it was refreshing to see this narrative play out as two different forms of discrimination were presented in a way that made the audience question humour, the myriad of the Twitter-sphere, and how we communicate with one another.

Bridget Christie‘s ‘An Ungrateful Woman’ was the first show of the New Year, thanks to an extension of dates. It was the second time I had seen Christie live and she was even better than before. One of my highlights came when she referenced journalists asking her: “So, you’ve done Feminism – what next?” Her reply being along the lines of stating that Feminism isn’t done and that she has actually managed to find a few more patriarchy-dismantling things to make jokes about.

It was inspiring to see a woman at the top of her game identifying as a Feminist, for more reasons than it simply being in vogue.

(© Times)

But then, will Bridget Christie go out of fashion? I think not. She twisted ‘ironic’ misogynistic sandwich gags on their head, picked apart societal myths, exposed rape culture, and broke out of the boundaries of comedy in moments to speak about serious issues such as FGM (female genital mutilation) — something Feminists have been trying to raise awareness about for a number of years now. She managed to effectively show how we must keep being ‘ungrateful’ — what happens in countries such as the UK is just as valid an issue to protest on, as what may happen elsewhere.

Central to the show was a Müller yoghurt advert in which a woman alone at home is thrilled to find a semi-naked man standing in her fridge with a half-open pot of yoghurt and which Christie ridicules as a rape fantasy; it ultimately commented about not only the media’s responsibility in contributing negatively to the liberation of women, but also our own responsibility to stand up for what we believe. And all done whilst almost losing her voice, powering on with emergency lozenges and tea.

Last of the bunch was Josie Long, who I really connected with in terms of being a Feminist and caring generally about political issues, as well as being a romantic and an idealist who ultimately wants to find true love. I could relate to the sentiment with regards to fears she felt after a succession of relationships ending. I’m only twenty-five, but sometimes I get worried that if my relationship ended, I’d never be able to get married and have children.

(© Independent)

(© Independent)

A tough goal to admit to as a forward-thinking woman, but I’ll repeat again, ‘it’s almost like they’re real people.’

Long’s work felt the most constructed, in a narrative sense, yet also so natural, in the way that a story becomes when you tell it to lots of different friends. I laughed throughout it, despite having seen some of the material before. Getting older may be more of a concern for women who want to have children than for men, but it is something arguably universal. Dealing with a break-up is also something most can relate to, and if you haven’t had the misfortune, Long’s reaction is ‘lucky you… Your parents probably bought you a house,’ in a caricature of a mocking, childlike tone. Long touches on political issues such as class, mental health, and gender throughout her story, and this also helps to give a strong sense of her personality — she’s a genuinely lovely person. By the end of the show, you may have been tricked in ways I won’t mention, but you will reflect Long’s beaming smile and leave the night feeling uplifted and ready to take on the world. And all on an apparently Blue Monday.

All in all, here are three comedians, each with a unique style. The only question I am left wondering is — where are the DVDs?

Searching in store and online, it’s hard to find many women among the mostly white men that fill the shelves. (Edit: after research, I found a Josie Long DVD; there’s five left and I’m buying one.) Funnily enough, these three comedians are more likely to be found on bookshelves. There’s no comparison to going to a live comedy gig — or a good book — but I would love to spend a night in re-living the laughter of these three nights.

Shappi Khorsandi, Because I’m Shappi… at Colchester Arts Centre, 5th March
An Ungrateful Woman is showing at Soho Theatre until 23rd May
Josie Long, Cara Josephine at Norwich Playhouse, 20th February

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