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Female Comedians are here and Outperforming the Men by NextUp Comedy's Co-Founder, Sarah Henley

Sarah Henley is co-founder of NextUp, a worldwide subscription video-on-demand platform specialising in stand-up specials. NextUp, described as ‘The Netflix of UK Stand-Up’ (engadget), showcases the full spectrum of the live comedy circuit from sketch, character and storytellers, to gag merchants, observationalists and surrealists. As well as familiar household names, there are also acclaimed rising stars and circuit legends for you to discover.

Now, as the title suggests, there is another statistic that Sarah will be addressing - and it's an exciting one: The rise of the female comedian. Although, comedy is a World still dominated by men, Sarah is here to put this right, and help eliminate the bias towards male comics. So let's get to it!

Unless you’ve had your head in a bucket of sand for many years you will know that asking questions about being a woman in comedy is not cool and certainly not funny!

Despite journalists, comedy bookers and promoters questioning whether women are funny, we now have data that should put an end to this silliness. Looking at the stats we found that on NextUp – a video on-demand service specialising in stand-up comedy – 6 of the top 10 performing shows are from female comics. That’s despite just a quarter of the shows being performed by women.

Increase numbers of women in comedy
Between 1995 and 2014, the number of women appearing at the Edinburgh Fringe has increased by a whopping 650% – from just 28 to over 180. Of the nine comedians up for the prestigious Edinburgh Comedy Award last year – the main award at the Fringe – a record four were women. The award was jointly-won by the brilliant Hannah Gatsby and John Robins.

The gender issue
Surely labelling comedians based on their gender is counterproductive - if someone is funny, does it matter what gender they are? In an ideal world we’d ditch gender labels altogether and de-politicise the simple act of being funny and having a vagina.

Yet, the industry is still undeniably dominated by men, and in order to address this issue, we need to talk about it. After a recent survey of the books of all major agents in the UK, we discovered that, in total, only 25% of acts were female. That’s roughly the gender split on platforms like NextUp, which makes it even more impressive that women are dominating the top 10!

Why are there fewer female comics?

I think one of the reasons that fewer women get into comedy is simply because they notice (consciously or otherwise) the gender bias in terms of opportunity.
You only need to look at UK panel shows to see that less than a quarter of guests are female. And it’s still rare to find more than one female comedian on the same night at a comedy club. We cheer at the huge increase of women at the Edinburgh Fringe, yet they still only represent around 20% of the total number of comedians at the festival.

There is anecdotal evidence of a drop off when it comes to female comics coming up through the ranks. From the female comics we’ve spoken to it seems that at the open mic level, there are a fair few women giving comedy a go, but as soon as they get up to the level of paid slots, there’s a sharp drop off. It needs more investigation, but clearly something is happening at this level to put women off continuing.

Back in 1979, Johnny Carson, who helped launch a lot of comedians’ careers, said of female comics: “I mean, if a woman comes out and starts firing one-liners, those little abrasive things, you can take that from a man. I think it’s much tougher for women. You don’t see many of them around. And the ones that try are sometimes a little aggressive for my taste.”
And, arguably, whilst attitudes are changing, some people still feel uncomfortable hearing jokes from women unless it is self-deprecating or exudes sex appeal. Instead, women are still valued for their looks over their talent.

As Fern Brady, breakout Glasgow comedian (and ex-stripper), featured on NextUp, recently remarked: “When you walk on stage at a strip club, everyone thinks ‘this is how it should be, this makes sense’. Whereas if you're a woman and walk on stage in a comedy club, lots of people can't contain their disappointment."

What’s next?
The data showing that women are outperforming men might help to eliminate the bias towards male comics.

One way of inspiring more women to enter the profession is to increase representation. For example, the team at NextUp are committing to increasing the share of female comics on our platform to 30% by the end of 2018 and to achieve an equal split in two years’ time.

The goal is to reflect the change we want to see – creating more demand for female comics by showing off their incredible talent.

We need more women in comedy; it’s not about quota filling or positive discrimination, it’s about fostering greater understanding around the issues people face, telling more truths from different perspectives and catering to a more diverse audience who want to see women on stage.

We all not only want but need to laugh.  Between us we have different senses of humour and we have different life experiences to draw from.  Diversity of voices is a positive.  We should promote and celebrate it in comedy as well as in other areas of life.

About NextUp
NextUp is dubbed ‘The Netflix of UK stand-up comedy’ and is available on web, iOS, Android, Apple TV, web, Amazon Channels and Amazon Fire Stick, and features over 90 full length comedy specials. Female comedians on the platform include Rachel Parris, Bec Hill, Danielle Ward, Eleanor Morton, Fern Brady, Kiri Pritchard McLean, Morgan Murphy, Ria Lina, Lou Sanders, Gina Yashere, Tiff Stevenson, Anne Edmonds, Alice Fraser, Grainne Maguire, Annie McGrath and Njambi McGrath, with Kat Bond, Laura Lexx, Jess Fostekew,  Holly Burn, Lauren Pattison soon to be released. Male comedians include: Ed Byrne, Richard Herring, Simon Munnery, Tony Law, Jordan Brookes and Andrew Maxwell.

The NextUp App has been featured as Apple’s ‘App of the Day’ and has a five star rating in both app stores. A NextUp subscription is just £3.50 a month with a 30 day free trial and Nextup also supports comedians in numerous ways including a Spotify-style revenue share and supporting community projects including the Care Home Tour.

NextUp members also have access to recording tickets and exclusive discounts whilst comedians are supported through a 50/50 revenue share model. So, if you’re a comedian interested in being on NextUp, please get in touch.