A piece published on the website of Justice for Men & Boys (and the women who love them), the political party of which I’m the chairman, in August 2019:
Sunday Times caption: Sara Barron says her goal is a stand-up show where there is no need for the word ‘feminist’
A piece by Stephen Armstrong in today’s Sunday Times:
Did you hear the one about the stand-up comedian’s mother-in-law? She’s a hard-working lawyer who was really supportive when the kids were born and he’s extremely grateful actually. [J4MB: We prefer the legendary Les Dawson’s mother-in-law jokes e.g. “I wouldn’t say my mother-in-law is large, but she kick-starts jumbo jets for a living.”]
When the world of comedy is changing, the Edinburgh Festival Fringe is usually leading the way — and this year, everything from mother-in-law jokes to the battle of the sexes is as fluid as a millennial’s gender.
It’s the male stand-ups who have turned feminist and “woke”, leaving female comedians to be “new lads” delivering the bluest jokes about sex, cigarettes and alcohol.
“There’s been a significant change in comedy since #MeToo put the whole gender issue of power on the table,” explains Nica Burns, director of the Edinburgh Comedy Awards.
“The younger generations have really embraced that. With women it has given them confidence to say what they think about everything and anything. Men are now saying — is that our legacy? Abuse and bullying?”
Young male stand-ups such as Darren Harriott, Phil Wang, Ed Night, Elliot Steel, Guy Montgomery, Jacob Hawley, Travis Jay and Robin Morgan are all talking about feminism, toxic masculinity and calling out bad male behaviour.
It’s the likes of Alice Snedden and Sara Barron who are delivering filthy routines on sex and drinking.
“It’s not a choice,” explains Barron. “Women are always going to want to hear about tampons or how their husbands have sex, but I think my goal is a show where there’s no need to say the word feminist. I never love a stand-up show that says: here’s what it’s about.”
It’s partly generational, says Fern Brady, a Scottish stand-up whose show deals with politeness versus rage.
“Often, older people in the audience don’t go for the new material, but it’s changing. Even Frankie Boyle has feminist material these days. I was on tour with him in Scotland and he was telling his laddish crowds that feminism is going to be the only thing that will save them. It was crazy to watch.”
It may be #MeToo, it may be that it’s more acceptable for men to say they’re not OK, but Elliot Steel believes this is adding to, not destroying comedy.
“I’m a lad — I’m part of lad culture,” the south London comedian explains. “I want to be able to talk about mental health or body issues for men as well as going to the football, drinking beer and playing Call of Duty.”
Morgan — whose jokes include, “I went to a gender reveal party. You invite all your friends over to find out the gender of your child and release pink balloons if it’s a girl or blue balloons if it’s going to earn more” — agrees.
“People are still doing rape jokes in comedy clubs, but younger audiences aren’t going for that anymore,” he explains. “They’re avoiding clubs with that sort of comedy.”
Travis Jay’s show deals with the pain he felt when he lost his grandfather — and how he’d refused to cry since a teacher humiliated him at school.
“There are lots of stereotypes around black men looking cool even when they shed a tear in movies,” Jay explains.
“But when my grandad died, the type of crying I had on the way wouldn’t look cool. I’m a father of two and I realised I can’t maintain this macho presence around my kids.
“I like jokes about the ludicrous expectations based on black men as we grow up, how we play up to them when it’s useful, but how they’re really not accurate.”
It’s not all about division at the Fringe this year — one topic is uniting pretty much every comic at the festival . . . Boris Johnson.
“Ugh, he is simultaneously an argument for and against sending your kid to private school,” Brady sighs.
Clowning street: best Boris jokes
“Boris is like a toddler. He’s unpredictable, he’s emotional and you have to keep him away from China.”
“Boris’s mobile must have been going crazy the day he became PM. Imagine how many texts he got that day saying, ‘Good luck today, Dad’.”
“You can recreate the coherence of a Boris Johnson speech by getting a chimp to pour porridge into a Dyson Airblade.”
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