Tiff Stevenson: Life in comedy still hard for women

Tiff Stevenson. Pic: Comp
Tiff Stevenson. Pic: Comp
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THERE are hundreds of stand-up comedians appearing at the Fringe this year. Most are male. Comedy, after all, is a mans world? Isn’t it? As Tiff Stevenson brings her new show, Mad Man, to The Stand 6, York Place, she reflects on the sexism in the industry she loves

RECENTLY Sandi Toksvig revealed she had been turned down for the Have I Got News For You? hosting job 20-odd years ago for being a woman.

Some disputed her claim saying, “Why cry sexism now?” and “’I don’t believe ANYONE would speak to Sandi that way,” forgetting that 25 years ago may as well be lifetimes ago when it comes to our attitude towards women in comedy.

Really, the tide has only started to turn in the last three or four years. I’ve been doing stand up nearly ten years and it has still not changed enough.

It was only five years ago at a well known festival the booker told me he would like to give me some ‘notes’ after my gig. A gig I had done well at, may I add.

Five minutes into my ‘notes session’ he told me I had ‘mistimed’ some of my jokes to which I replied, “No I bloody well didn’t, I wrote the bastards, I know exactly what the timing is.”

Then I asked if he had given any of my male contemporaries notes, Matt Kirshen, Glenn Wool or Nick Doody? He said, “Oh no... I just thought you’d be more open to it.”

I was fuming and said, “Well next year, let’s skip the notes session,” to which he said, “You’ll probably be pregnant next year’.

Which is pretty much the life cycle of the female comic - we constantly rotate Glastonbury and getting knocked up.

That was an actual exchange. You may be thinking, ‘why didn’t you speak up at the time?’

Because up until two years ago that same man still programmed the festival. Because sometimes you have to choose between your career and the cause.

Because I really wanted to continue doing the festival.

Because I felt publicly speaking out would prevent me and other women from playing the gig.

Because the Tiffany of five years ago didn’t have a TV profile, a tour under her belt and a gathering tail wind of people talking about sexism, everyday or structural.

Because Arcade Fire were playing and I really wanted to see them.

Because like a typical woman, I’m selfish.

Sometimes we do need our fellow women to speak up to inspire us. Maybe that’s why Sandi waited 25 years to speak, until she was untouchable.

There are many reasons why you might not have spoken up at the time. Sometimes the barrage of sexism is so constant it would be too exhausting to fight it all.

Also, Constant Barrage is another band I think were playing the festival.

Sometimes I just want to be funny and not always fight the fight. But if we all just take a small bit of the brawl on, together we will get there,

Tiff Stevenson: Mad Man, The Stand 6, York Place, until 29 August, 4.05pm, £10, 0131-226 0000