It's International Women's Day! And Women Can Be Funny!

I went to an International Women's Day event last night that debunked both the myth that women aren't funny, and the myth that every comedy night has to have at least one bad act.

Mar 8, 2013 at 5:30pm | Leave a comment

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Happy International Women's Day to all self-identifying women! Let's just start with the ugly, or uncomfortable side of today. Then it's out of the way and I don't have to deal with it.

Every year when wishing people a Happy International Women's Day I will be asked the question: What about an International Men's Day? People who ask that? I categorise you in my head alongside those people who, come Gay Pride, wonder why there isn't Straight Pride.

Ok: IMD is on the 19th of November and has been for the past 14 years, yet I've never seen you cracking out the phallic-shaped fireworks for that one. Straight Pride is every damn day. Unless I am present to tut at heterosexual couples smooching loudly on public transport. Then it's Straight Shame day. Phew, well I'm glad we got that sorted.

Kicking off the International Women's Day celebrations on IWD eve was Funny Women, who invited me to join them at Funny Women and Womankind Worldwide 10 Nation Comedy Gala. Womankind are a fantastic charity who support women's organisations in Africa, Asia and Latin America. They strive to end violence against women, build international support for women's rights and promote an equal say for women.

In Ethiopia they work with KMG and ICEDA to provide young women with knowledge of their rights with regard to FGM and school attendance. In Asia Womankind is partnered with HAWCA to run a legal aid centre that gives women counselling and legal advice and in Latin America they work with Demus to campaign for government funding to support survivors of violence in the poorest regions of Peru.

Because the very notion of funny women, as in funny ha-ha not funny peculiar is still vaguely unusual the night began with a panel discussing women and humour. It was chaired by broadcaster, writer and stand up comedian Viv Groskop and it's worth noting the diversity of the panel in both age (stand up comic Lynn Ruth Miller is 79) and nationality.

Making up the panel was Sylvie Aboa-Bradwell, founder and Executive Director of the think tank African People's Advocacy, writer and jewellery designer Amisha Ghidiali who founded Think Act Vote. The Huffington Post UK's Comedy Editor Andrea Mann, comedian Lynn Ruth Miller and Vanessa Vallely, Pearly Queen and founder of leading women's network, job board and website WeAreTheCity.

The panel were discussing whether women's lack of visibility in comedy was down to the possibility that women and men and inherently different senses of humour. The idea was presented that women are better at story-telling than men – who prefer a more quick-fire gag style of comedy, although Sylvie Aboa-Bradwell was quick to point out that 'banana skin comedy' or slapstick is universal, regardless of gender.

The idea of tailoring comedy to suit men or women seemed alien to the panel, with Lynn Ruth Miller saying “I don't wanna be on Broadway, I just wanna make you laugh." Andrea Mann added, "writing for the Huffington Post, the idea of whether women or men are going to find this funny doesn't occur to me."

But Vanessa said she felt there were some subjects she steered clear of with certain audiences, such as poo, because as a corporate woman she couldn't be seen to laugh at that (I would wager along with banana skin comedy poop jokes are universal too). I think is a good demonstration of the frustrating attitude that boys will be boys but women should be women.

Mann thinks it is not so much a question of what kind of comedy appeals to either or both genders but a lack of role models and a lack of care regarding comedy bills or deciding which image to use when covering The British Comedy Awards.

As a Comedy Editor Mann implied, it's a responsibility “to be able to put the spotlight on women when they're doing funny things” for instance using a photo of Miranda Hart rather than Jack Whitehall.

This is a big issue when it comes to difficulties for women in comedy. Speaking on how far women in comedy have come and how much further they have to go Lynn made an interesting and kind of horrifying point citing Joan Rivers and Phyllis Diller: “they set the pace for us and they couldn't have done it without plastic surgery.”

According to the 79-year-old, had Diller and Rivers not made a visible effort to improve their looks they would never have been accepted. In essence plastic surgery was a form of apology for not looking better.

The most unusual thing about this comedy event was not that it was so diverse, or that the stage was exclusively occupied by women. It was that every single act was good. If you go to a lot of comedy evenings you will know this is highly unusual, there's always a bum note, a dud, one the audience collectively clenches their buttocks in embarrassment for as they die on stage.

Last night was the first night in my comedy experience this didn't happen. So every stand up deserves a name check, Shazia Mirza, Alice Frick, Lynn Ruth Miller, Ria Lina, Tessa Waters, Sofie Hagen, Njambi McGrath, Gabby Best, Sindhu V  and Katerina Vrana. If you get the chance I highly recommend them all.

This was truly an International Women's Day event. It just goes to show these people aren't just out there, they aren't just good, they are available. So BBC, ITV, Channel 4, et al, there's no excuse, hire them!

Follow Kate on Twitter @squeamishbikini