This is my son Josh, in his first appearance as a stand-up comic. I don’t know if there will be a second: I didn’t even know he liked the idea of stand-up, but when I showed him the list of school holiday workshops running at our local theatre, this was the one he chose.
The kids headed off at 10am, lunch boxes under arm, and we parents rocked up at 3.30pm to watch 13 youngsters performing on stage, microphone and all. Aged between 8 and 14 they did a phenomenal job, cheered on by a brilliantly supportive audience.
Would you have the confidence to tell jokes in front of 30 strangers? I’m not sure I would.
What struck me wasn’t just their age, or their bravery at giving it a shot. (It wasn’t even the varied answers to the question ‘what’s black and white and red all over?’) It was the fact that every single child was a boy.
Where were the girls?
This wasn’t a workshop aimed at boys (the Theatre successfully programmes some fantastic sessions targeted at engaging boys, but this wasn’t one of them) yet not a single girl had signed up.
In many ways it was great to see a boys only event – girls often outnumber boys in young theatre groups – but it did make me think about the wider issue of women in comedy. Last year the BBC decreed all their panel shows would henceforth include a woman. The sentiment was laudable, but Jason Manford echoed the thoughts of many of us when he suggested the BBC should have simply done it, not talked about it. Who wants to think they’re the token woman on a show?
It’s easy to lay the blame at the feet of producers and programmers, and argue that it’s their responsibility to schedule a diverse range of comedians, but that choice, that talent, has to be there for them to choose from. There are some brilliant female comics, but undoubtedly fewer than their male counterparts. Why is that so? I refuse to even entertain the ‘women aren’t funny’ debate, so what is it that puts them off? Does it start far earlier than the comedy clubs, the pub circuits, the lucky breaks? Does it start at 14? At 11? At 8? What made 13 boys sign up for the brilliant workshop my son did today, but not a single girl?
If you have a young daughter, I’d love to know what they think. Show them this workshop description. Do they like the sound of it? Would they have taken part?
If there’s a gender divide in comedy, perhaps the place to start addressing it is at the very beginning.