A Foreword: By Meredith Kachel
There’s an imbalance in stand-up comedy bookings. I know this because I’ve looked at data before, I know this because I’m a woman and I see it daily, I know it because of twitters like One Woman On The Lineup, I know this because of Zach Broussard’s excellent satire in his 2017 Top 1000 Comedians, I know this because of festivals like Houston’s 2015 Whatever Fest that booked 6% female comics on it’s comedy lineup, and countless other examples. I did this research because this is important to me, and it’s important to marginalized groups of people. I’m not seeking to control how or who people book, rather to show people what female and gender non-conforming (GNC) and many male performers have been saying for years: there is an imbalance.
Feminism is a red-hot subject today, with takedowns of men who have abused positions of power (especially prevalent in the entertainment industry), from Harvey Weinstein to Louis C.K to JFL’s founder Gilbert Rozon. With the #metoo movement, conversations about The New Yorker’s “Cat Person” and an ongoing battle on reproductive rights, 2017 was a year of revealing the injustices we deal with on a daily basis.
I have shown in this paper, through quantifiable evidence, that we aren’t doing the best we can in a society that is rapidly hurtling towards equality whether we like it or not. I’ve created a system that comedy communities can use to easily figure out what is working and what isn’t when it comes to gender inequality in their bookings. My motivation for this project stems from the old adage “Think Globally, Act Locally.” This is for you to use or not use in your own show or community — however you see fit.
My intentions with this project were to go beyond anecdotal and subjective evidence, and to remain as objective as possible. The takeaways were interesting, surprising, and not-surprising all at once.
What This Is:
In 2016, I examined gender dynamics within five local DIY showcases in Chicago. I chose two legacy shows that have been operating for well over ten years: The Lincoln Lodge and Chicago Underground Comedy (ChUC). I also included three which had been running for less than ten years: Two Hour Comedy Hour, Stand Up Stand Up, and Yeah Buddy Awesome Time. In the context of this paper, the definition of a DIY showcase is a show produced by comics as opposed to major clubs like Zanies or the Laugh Factory that operate like businesses.
In 2016 I collected five booking sheets (usually google sheets or other Excel-type programs) sent to me by producers, and whatever was available on a show’s website or Facebook page to gather data from events. I went through this list and marked “male” or “female” beside each comic, marked this information into my iMac’s Numbers program, and created a pie chart. The results were basic, and very interesting. If you’d like to read more about that, click here.
This year I collected 19 shows.
The information collected in 2017, and the conversations that it started, led me to brain some more thoughts:
Is there a gender disparity in the comics that get booked the most? What about less frequently?
Does using a female producer affect the number of women booked in non-producer spots on a particular show?
Are female and GNC producers being used in so called “Diversity Spots”?
First, a few comments on where the data comes from:
- Data collected is a combination of booking ledgers contributed directly by a show’s producers or pulled from the show’s website or event pages on social media from January 1st, 2017 to October 15th, 2017
Shows were selected because they were included in 2016, because producers expressed an interest in gender analysis in booking of their show, or because of downright curiosity. We created a “comic master list” that includes the gender (male, female or gender-non-conforming [people who identify as neither gender and use pronouns such as they/them]) of every comic that appears in the collected booking ledgers
We created a “producer master list” that includes any producer from each show appearing in the collected booking ledgers, allowing for easy sorting of how many producers were being booked on their own shows
The data excludes hosts, but does include everyone booked on a particular show; additionally duo, trio, or variety acts were omitted
So let’s get to the first question:
IS THERE A GENDER DISPARITY IN THE COMICS THAT GET BOOKED THE MOST? WHAT ABOUT LESS FREQUENTLY?
We started by taking all of the comedians that appeared on these shows and counted two specific things: how many times they were booked in total, and how many times they appeared independently of their own show (meaning any show they appeared on that they don’t produce). This is very important to discern if women producers are being consistently used as “Diversity Spots” on their own shows, giving less opportunities to other women, and if mostly male produced shows are booking themselves too often and creating an imbalance. We’ll come back to this at the end of this paper.
Great, now we have some numbers! In order to answer the question, we had to look at the frequency of “non-producer appearances” to truly understand just how many male, female, and gender non-conforming comics were getting booked in non-diversity spots, and just how often.
Not only does this chart scream “STAND UP COMEDY IS HARD” (notice the rapid decline in number of comics with repeat appearances), but right away we were able to answer the second part of the question: comics booked eight or less times in non-producer roles make up about 50% of all bookings in the data (well, really it’s 49% ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ ), so we drew a line here to make it simpler. We’ll now be referring to anything below this line as “Bottom 50” and anything above it as “Top 50.”
This was necessary to discern between people booked once, and people who are performing weekly. If you include everyone who has performed comedy once, you can skew the data because every Trevor, Dave, and Adam who does an Open Mic gets booked on one show their friends run at least once. So, of those Bottom 50, a significant 70% are men, 29% are women, and 1% GNC. Is there a gender disparity between those comics booked less frequently? A resounding yes.
One of the more interesting findings to come from this data is what happens when you cross over to the Top 50. This is where we’ll answer if there is a gender disparity in those comics booked more frequently. The convergence of the lines in the above suggest that the gender disparity evens out over more appearances, but we needed to look closer to really see.
The chart below is a zoomed in version of the previous chart so we can focus entirely on the Top 50. What’s important to understand is that the size of the area is representative of the number of comics appearing “X” number of times, not the overall height of the line. We’ve included the numbers to make that clear. As an example, five men appeared eleven times and seven women appeared eleven times, and eight women appeared 12 times, compared to two men.
When taken as an entire range, the Top 50 behaves quite differently from the Bottom 50. Here we see a makeup of 53.5% men, 43.5% women, and 3% GNC. This major shift from the Bottom 50 leads us to suggest two things: the first is that more men are comfortable trying comedy than women; the second is that it requires a certain level of talent to cross over to the Top 50 regardless of gender.
Now that we’ve spent some time looking at non-producer bookings, let’s turn the lens around on how producers book their shows, and see if we can’t answer the next question:
DOES USING A FEMALE PRODUCER AFFECT THE NUMBER OF WOMEN BOOKED IN NON-PRODUCER SPOTS ON A PARTICULAR SHOW?
Represented below is the gender makeup of each show’s producers. On the left, you’ll find shows that have only male producers. On the right are shows with only female producers, and in the middle, shows that utilize a blend.
This information is of importance when answering the question of whether or not the gender makeup of the producers influences the makeup of the comics being booked on that show. Let’s compare the above to the gender makeup of the non-producer bookings on each of the above shows.
The median male bookings of all the shows represented above is 62%. This becomes the guide for determining what shows are booking more men than average, and which are booking fewer. The five shows that have all male producers on average book men 67.3% of the time (or 5.3% more than the average). The 11 shows that have a majority of male producers (including the five all male shows) on average book men 64.4% of the time (2.4% more than average). The three shows made up of all female/GNC producers reverse course, and book men on average 57.5% of the time (4.5% below average), with CAMP being the lone standout, booking men 72% of the time (10% more than average). The five shows that have between 40-50% male producers book men similarly at 59.4% on average (2.6% below average).
So, can we answer our question? Does using a female producer affect the number of women booked in non-producer spots on a particular show? We don’t think so. The three shows above that don’t utilize a male producer only book women 2.8% more than the average (38.3% vs 35.5%). Looking at the extremes, shows with all male producers and shows with all female producers tend to book similarly.
Now, you can remove shows that stand out from the rest (CAMP) and that picture changes (female bookings increase to 44%), but we’re here to represent data, not manipulate it. What is clear however, is how a group of producers with diversified genders, books more evenly than shows that are less diversified (59.4% male, 38.4% female, 2.2% GNC). I dunno, I guess we’re giving this question a half-yes.
This ultimately led us to the next question:
ARE FEMALE AND GNC PRODUCERS BEING USED IN SO CALLED “DIVERSITY SPOTS”?
To this point, we’ve been looking at booking data when you strip out the spots producers give to themselves. However, to answer this question we needed to examine the difference in bookings with and without the producers to see what effect their spots had on the overall gender makeup. The below chart shows the overall change in a show’s gender makeup when you reintroduce the producers. A spike away from the centerline indicates that the producers are impacting that show’s overall gender makeup (positively or negatively). The further away from the center they get, the more their producers are influencing that gender’s overall representation on those shows.
So, for example, Hoo Ha (which has an all female cast of producers) sees a significant increase of +23.5% in female representation on their show because they give themselves time. The same is true for an all male show like Wet Cash that sees an increase of +8.9% male representation. Cupcake Cabaret doesn’t put themselves on their shows, so they remained at zero.
Now, reason would have it, that if your show is primarily made up of producers of one gender, that you’re going to see an increase in that gender’s representation in overall bookings. Hoo Ha and Wet Cash are great examples as those shows have similar non-producer male bookings (59% and 58% respectively), but when you add in the producers, they skew heavily towards their respective genders as expected. We wouldn’t go so far as to call these “Diversity Spots”, more like “Spots We Reserve For Our Own Producers, Which Also Tip The Scales Of Diversity On Our Shows Quite A Bit.”
HERE ARE SOME FINAL THOUGHTS:
The most booked people at these DIY shows are almost equally split as male/female. Shows that are dipping below 30% booked women are in need of a reality check and I hope this is that for them
Shows with more diversity in producer genders tend to have more diverse shows. Any show under 30% women on their shows have no women as producers advocating for other women
We can all do better. Even me.
I’ve found that some men hide behind a false sense of “comedic integrity“ when defending all-or-mostly male lineups. They claim comics need X-amount of years behind a mic, or to have done X-number of different showcases before they’re “ready” for their show. There’s a 10% difference in the number of men and women being booked all the time/are ready. It renders this argument useless. Women are ready. What these are normally code for is “you need to have ‘earned it’”. It’s a familiar systematic way of not giving equal opportunities because of different paths, otherwise known as systematic oppression. Now this term may bum you out; it may even make you angry. If that’s the case: Sit Down, Sally. I don’t care. You’re going to hear it a lot more in the coming years, because women are very bored of being treated like we’re not 50% of the population, and deserving of every equal opportunity. We demand representation on stage, in congress, in the workplace, in your butt. Get used to it.
The point is: If you’re booking 19% women on your shows when 43% is the actual percentage of women in the Top 50% of the scene, you’re doing a BAD job of booking women and of booking people in the scene.
What is very common to find is that people tend to book what they find funny, and what we find funny are things we can connect and relate to personally. An all or mostly male producer team will tend to book all or mostly male lineups, and the same for female producers and their shows. This is anecdotal and subjective, but I’ve found that with my show, the more diverse my lineups are, the more diverse my audience is, and the more diverse my audiences are, the more audience members we see each week. If we acknowledge that our audiences are diverse and that they want and need all different types of people they can relate to, then I hope we’ll acknowledge that our production staffs and comedians should follow suit.
Typically, when it comes to diversity in comedy (and often in life), we (women, POC, LGBT folx) are thrown a bone in the form of “The Diversity Spot”, or worse “Ladies Night”/”Latinx Night”/“Gay Night”. It’s an outdated method from the archaic boom of the 80’s that has trickled down through the decades, and now lands squarely on our shoulders. These bookers gave these spots and nights to people who demanded stage time as a way to placate them and save their weekends for straight white male performers. Please see this article as support.
The thinking remains the same: placate those who are the minority and they’ll shut up long enough for us to keep making money, and allow us to continue booking our friends who look just like us. DIY rooms began because comics couldn’t get enough stage time at the clubs, and with the rejection of their two-drink-minimum, I believe we should get rid of the diversity spot, but more-so do away with shows that aren’t inclusionary of all members of society.
More men try comedy because they see so much of themselves represented back to them in the media. They’re so much more willing to try this art form because it’s dominated by people who look like them. It’s fair and reasonable to say that representation leads to lots of jackasses explaining the porn they watch to an open mic crowd, leading to a booking or two by people who run shows, and then feel that either they have been shafted, lose interest, or feel they have done a remarkable thing that should be praised. This explains away the Bottom 50 drop off. Of the remarkably small amount of women who start comedy, many go on to equal levels of success as their male and GNC peers.
Chicago is an incredible comedy city, one where people come to grow as performers and writers. We have some of the best comedians in the world coming out of Chicago, and the past five years have churned out some of comedy’s most successful up-and-coming performers: Beth Stelling, Cameron Esposito, Megan Gailey, Liza Treyger, Rhea Butcher, the list keeps going. These women and LGBT folx arguably benefited from the diversity spot, standing out among their peers on each show both because of their genders along with their prodigious talent and indomidable professional spirits. So are women benefiting from this system? Fuck no. You’ve heard the old adage that women work twice as hard to get half as much.
This year I only expanded on my gender data from last year, however, I understand that there’s a huge discrepancy for POC and LGBT folx bookings. While this issue is important to me, I am not sure if it’s my place, as a white woman to analyze that data and make suggestions.
Finally, a personal note. I was at first nervous bringing attention to this, but I realized if people get angry at me, it is for observing what they’re doing. The patriarchy often hates this, and so do people who are caught doing something uncool. Go ahead and google “thief fails” for some good YouTubes about it. Very funny stuff. My intention is nothing other than to bring this issue to light with data, and, admittedly, to get the ball rolling with the input of producers throughout the country. For this analysis and self-critique of the stand-up scene to take off in other cities, and for everyone to work together on this data going forward, we need you. The more people that help, the better this will ultimately be.
So with this information, I hope you can consider this a Call to Action. Use this system in your own comedy communities. Keep people accountable, keep track of your attendance, be the necessary change in the world. Data doesn’t lie, and I genuinely hope this is a wakeup call to some of these shows. If you’re not willing to move along with the times, you deserve to be left in the dust. See ya suckers! Beep beep.