Review: A hilarious comedy evening event featuring male and female comedians, organised by some of the loudest and most-relevant voices in feminism today ‒ plus, Sabrina Mahfouz and one of the most powerful anti-sexism poems I’ve ever been lucky enough to hear
Women in comedy. Three words always guaranteed to provoke at best defensive naming sessions of women that yes, actually, we do find funny; at worst a tired editorial on whether men are just better at laugh-making than women – and worse still, a general agreement from your immediate companions that women just don’t cut it compared to the men.
By way of example, allow me to wheel out that seemingly-ancient yet still-valid observation about the numbers of women on panel shows; as much as I love QI, Mock The Week et al, it has to be said, again and again, that female appearances, women-majority or, heaven, women-only line-ups seem as rare as a bag of purple Skittles (sigh).
But tonight, laughter rang to the rooftops of the beautiful Harold Pinter Theatre as woman after woman, mixed in with the odd brave bloke, prompted peals of amusement (as well as the odd overwhelmed tear) in the name of the online campaign feminist powerhouses that are Everyday Sexism and No More Page 3.
The Stand Up To Sexism event, which I found out about via social media (where else?!), was as hilarious as it promised ‒ presenting a solid line up of male and female comedians and poets, most of whom I’d never before heard of (save the wonderful compere Lucy Porter, whose repartee sparkled with biting yet reassuring joy), exploring everything from Page 3 models to the perils of Bikram yoga, via yummy mummies and how not to hate your body (yay).
Special mention must go to the absolutely glorious Tiffany Stevenson, who I’d never heard of before this evening but whose insights into body image, iPad apps for cats and aging was easily one of the comedic highlights of the night (basically guys, when you think flesh-coloured popsocks are a great idea and biscuits fall out of your bra when you take it off, which in no way stops you from eating them, it’s all over. Frankly though, I can think of worse ways to go, and when it comes to biscuits, I’m basically halfway there already).
John-Luke Roberts, another comedian I hadn’t heard of before (I know, sorry!), almost stole the show with his ‘burlesque’ act involving paper slogans taped to various layers of clothing, including such gems as ‘Stop asking if women are funny: Some are, some aren’t’ and ‘100% of rape cases are the fault of the rapist’ (since I have the memory of a distracted goldfish, these are paraphrased, but I hope you get the gist!). Kudos also go to the pleasingly dishevelled Joel Dommett, who should be applauded not only for being the first bloke on stage at a feminist gig, but also for his ability to hold a yoga position without dropping the microphone at the same time as talking enigmatically, inoffensively and bloody hilariously about the balancing power of an escaped cock (seriously). Genius.
The deadpan and sharp-mouthed Suzi Ruffell was also truly incomparable, while Kate Smurthwaite was both erudite and uncomfortably accurate in her side-splitting take-down of the Daily Mail’s consistently-disappointing, face-palmingly awful columnists, as well as one local newspaper’s charmingly barmy letters page on the subject of women and shoes.
Viv Groskop’s feminist-Wollstonecraft-Emily Davidson-referencing rap (along with her white-streaked hair and amazingly sparkly dress that said, in her own words, “Cruella De Vil from the neck up, Liza Minnelli, the Wilderness Years, from the neck down”) also gets a mention for sheer, bizarre, entertainment value.
Women and men alike whooped and clapped from a crowd that was as intelligent as it was friendly. Jokes about grammar, middle-class shopping and Muswell Hill revealed the audience’s predictably London, largely middle-class, lefty credentials, making my mind flit slightly wincingly over to the recent Twitter debate on intersectionality (for want of a better word, the discussion over the idea that feminism today appeals only to a certain class/kind of woman, and that feminism cannot/should not be considered in isolation to other forms of oppression) and yet I was in no doubt that here were my people – a set of fantastic individuals who share my sense of humour, my values, my notions that these issues and problems are still relevant and still not won. A quick scan of my Twitter afterwards revealed that loads of the feminists, journalists and bloggers who I admire were also in the audience, such as @VagendaMagazine and @WeekWoman. It really was like my inspiring Twitter timeline made life, and holy shit, I loved it.
One small caveat, which I almost hate myself for writing, and yet, feel I must admit in order to give a full picture of the night: I am always left unbelievably frustrated by the fact that, despite all these wonderful people standing up against sexism, proclaiming the need to break free of fucked-up societal norms about what is and isn’t beautiful or clever, and all these women and men, of all shapes and sizes, shining on-stage with confidence and wit, I still leave the theatre irked by the usual self-hating bollocks that my thighs are too fat, my skin is too blemished, my stomach is more barrel than beautiful and my style is more drab than diva.
It’s pretty appalling that I simultaneously and sincerely believe these things about myself at the same time as knowing that there’s SO MUCH MORE TO LIFE. I guess old habits die hard, and when your culture has been pumping harmful images and messages at you as long as you can remember, it takes more than one night of feminist comedy to exorcise that panoply of body-image demons. But the fact that these people exist, that they are trying, and that they are symbolic of a wave of others, gives me hope and strength that I’m not alone. And that in itself is empowering.
To see people throwing such brilliant and funny lampoons into the issues that are so often shunned, attacked or marginalised as ‘wimmin complaining’ by utter, useless twatmonkeys who refuse to acknowledge that despite feminism having achieved lots already, there’s still more to do, was absolutely fantastic, and frankly one of the best ways I’ve found to spend a Sunday night (well, until the next series of Downton comes on, in any case).
But it wasn’t all fun. While I must acknowledge the comedians who entertained for hours on end, and the fantastic women who organised the whole thing (Lucy-Anne Holmes from No More Page 3 and the impassioned Laura Bates from Everyday Sexism, who have done so much to bring these discussions into the mainstream where they so dearly belong), the most powerful and poignant bit of the night has to be the poem by Sabrina Mahfouz (and here on Twitter), who nearly caused a riot with her incredible beat poem on why Page 3 exists.
I truly hope she won’t mind that I recorded it for future reference, and have transcribed the whole thing here (unbeknownst to me at the time, it can also be found here, on her website, which also reveals her to be a seriously big deal – I love how true it is that you really do learn something new every day). It was powerful, meaningful, and bloody well written, and, as I replayed it over and over, caused me to walk a little taller on my trip back home (which for me, standing all of five foot tall, is a pretty significant achievement).
Good on you Sabrina, and good on you all the comedians and behind-the-scenes wranglers. I hope you succeed. Here’s to No More Page 3, and all it represents. Gloriously, fabulously, hilariously good on you.
Video and transcription – entirely, 100% copyright of the absolutely fantastic Sabrina Mahfouz, website here.
No More Page 3 Campaign Poem
It’s like walking home late from raving
Hearing the drunks shuffle, scuffing the paving
Behind you, like just to remind you, that by the way,
You’re a girl
And that means danger towards your world,
And so shouldn’t you be curled up safe in bed with crumbly biscuits and a magazine
Filling your pretty head with thoughts of who you’d rather be
Instead? Cos I read
That 92% of girls under 22 hate their bodies, and yet,
63% of them want to be
Not Hilary, not JK, not MP, not Professor, Doctor, Lawyer, not mother, or even Beyoncé,
But a glamour model. A model of glamour. G-g-g-g-glamour.
I stammer over the word, ‘cause when I first heard it back in the day, I was like
Yeah, I’ll take some of that
You can breathe your hot breath on to my neck
As between my breasts beaded with sweat in preparation
For being an Internet sensation
But I had a mad moment of realisation
At the meaning of forever and I didn’t do it
The modelling thing
The how deep can you sink in thing
The pink, brown, black, flesh, flash for cash thing
I didn’t – but I nearly did
Cos I was so caught up in the hype of papers, magazines, film, TV,
That even though I’d gone to grammar school not glamour school
And I was at university
It seemed to me that the only way that I could see to the top
Was through desirability
‘Cause that’s what I saw in the papers, magazines, films and on TV
Now fast-forward ten years later
And I hear of this thing
No More Page 3
And it makes me so happy
Eight-four years after winning the right to vote through protest and death, yes
Papers might actually
Start to fill pages
With the sagest
Words of powerful women, everyday women, whose faces don’t need to be pleasing
And stomachs don’t need to be thin and boobs don’t need to be bared
So a four-year-old son can see the family paper when painting at the dinner table
And he doesn’t grow up to think
All girls are fair game
And little daughters grow up to know that they will be valued for their brain
So the training is worth it
There’s no more excuses
We’ve got to stop it, the lot of it
On top of this, I’d just like to add
That I am all for free speech and keeping liberties
But these pictures are taking liberties
And they’re not speaking, except the word ‘pornography’
So do what you wanna do on your type-the-pincode-TV, but
NEWSpapers are made of paper that’s supposed to print the news
And boobs are not news so excuse me if I do more than just
Not buy it
I’ll scream it’s not right as it shines an airbrushed light
On the fact that this society sees women as bodies
That are commodities
But only at their peak of conceivability
After which please go away and don’t say anything
Not that you ever had anything to say anyway
Strange, you may say, that I’m a woman saying that
Given a mic and a stage from which to say it
But trust me
For every girl behind a mic
There’s ten thousand behind a phone screen
Keen to take pictures to send to men who’ve told them that
They can live the dream of Page 3
And maybe that is really their dream they want to fulfill
But if so then that’s a crying shame
‘Cause they’ll never get to know who they really could have been
So, to help let that 65% of under 22s find a different dream
Please sign the petition
No More Page 3