On the eve of International Women's Day, I was cancelled from a comedy show because they had "too many women" on the bill.
I was visiting my family in Wales when I received the following email: "Hi Jenny, I'm really sorry but the venue have decided they don't want too many women on the bill and unfortunately we need to take you out of this one. We hope that this doesn't cause any inconvenience."
Upon receiving this, I was completely dumbfounded, not only by the fact that I was cancelled for this reason but also by the blasé tone of the email containing such a bombshell.
My comedy background: I've been a finalist on So You Think You're Funny 2013. I was a semi-finalist on the "Amused Moose Laugh Off 2013." And I appeared on BBC Radio Wales panel show What's The Story? as Jo Brand's team mate. I've also performed stand-up at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival for the last two years.
This year I will be going up to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival with my own show: Love in the Time of Collier. I also gig several times a week in and around London and sometimes further afield in Manchester, Preston and Cardiff.
After rereading to check I wasn't seeing things, I posted a screenshot of the email on Twitter and Facebook, expecting a few of my friends and fellow comedians to say: "Flip, that's out of order" or words to that effect. But within minutes it had been retweeted by dozens of people. For the next 48 hours my phone buzzed non-stop with notifications of retweets, comments and "likes". I was meeting my new niece, so I wasn't in a position to reply to messages, but I could tell that it was getting big.
One of the most reassuring aspects of the whole incident was the overwhelming support that I received. Common responses were along the lines of: "Last time I checked it was 2014, this HAS to be a joke." Many people made funny remarks such as "TOO MANY WIMMENS," or "Horror of horrors, what if all their periods synchronise." That's one way of treating this sort of attitude: laugh at it. It's ridiculous. It IS fun to laugh at ridiculousness, e.g., Sarah Silverman tweeted "HAHAHAHA" about it.
Although it's comforting to know that there are thousands of people out there voicing their incredulity, the fact remains that someone thought that this was an OK email to send. Someone thought this was an acceptable reason to cancel a comedian who had already been booked for a gig. From my understanding there were five acts booked (three women, two men) of which I was the latest to be booked. There were still four spots not yet filled. If they had simply wanted more men than women on the bill, they could have booked all men for the following four spots, resulting in a line up of three women, six men. But apparently this would still have been "too many women".
There are still people who ask "Are women funny?" as if this is a legitimate question. The venue apparently said women had not gone down well in previous shows so they had requested less of them.
This insinuates that female comics are somehow a separate genre, the sort of act that you either like or don't like. If you imagine someone saying: "Male comics aren't funny" you can see how absurd this sounds, but you shouldn't have to. This sort of prehistoric attitude should be extinct. But it's not.
The pressure to perform is high anyway, but feeling that you are being judged as a representative of your sex: that would be enough to put some comics off performing altogether.
In order to progress, you need to gig as much as possible. When promoters remove opportunities to perform, purely because a comic is a woman, this is a big problem. As comics you are sometimes told that there is nothing available at a particular gig for the coming months or, occasionally, you are cancelled due to errors in booking. This happens to both male and female comics. I've checked. In these scenarios, I always respond with something along the lines of: "No problem, thanks for letting me know." However, since I received this email, I have begun to wonder whether bias against female comics could have been a reason in the past but never articulated so honestly.
I'm glad that this subject is being talked about. For people like me who were blissfully unaware of these types of attitudes, it's a massive wake-up call. To receive that email was "inconvenient" in the short term, but it's opened my eyes to sexism in the comedy industry.
Hopefully we will see more successful female comics on TV, in clubs and on the radio and hopefully one day they will just be called "comics".
A version of this article appeared on xoJane.com. To read the original, go to www.xojane.com/issues/jenny-collier-too-many-women-comedy-lineup