Who’s Got Two Thumbs and is a Humourless Feminist?

So, something weird happened last night.  For the first time, I felt my comedy career merge with my university studies.  And there were sparks.

I studied Political Science at the University of Ottawa and graduated in 2008.  In my year or two of studies, I discovered the academic field of Women’s Studies and suddenly began analysing each of my other courses from a feminist point of view.  In my fourth year Political Philosophy Honours seminar, I defended the fact that there is such a thing as a conservative feminist, even though such a descriptor seems fundamentally contradictory.  I took two courses in my last semester of university with the same professor, Kathryn Trevenen, who provided me with a fun-filled feminist fanfare before graduating from higher learning and on to, well… I’m still not there yet, so let’s move on.  Those two courses were: 4th year Feminist Political Thought and, because I had an elective left, 1st Year Introduction to Women’s Studies, which I completed with my highest grade in University of A+.  Though it’s been a while since I’ve had to think and write the way you’re trained to in university, something in me last night clicked.  And I’m glad it did.

Last night, organizers from SlutWalk Toronto, put on a night of comedy at The Garrison, in support of the Toronto Rape Crisis Centre & Multicultural Women Against Rape (TRCC/MWAR)  This is what the Facebook event promised:

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Because humour can exist without rape jokes and some of Toronto’s best comedic talent is going to prove it!

Hosted by Natalie Norman,

Starring:
Ben Beauchemin
Derek Forgie
Christina Walkinshaw
Steph Tolev
Bobby Knauf
Amanada Brooke Perrin
Darryl Orr
Brie Watson
Catherine McCormick

Thanks to the hard work of local Comedian Natalie Norman, who took initiative to organize a comedy show to support anti-sexual violence action and survivors in Toronto, we’re inviting you to a comedy night packed with Toronto talent.
We know many people involved in feminism and fighting oppression are told that we take things ‘too seriously’, and often have our perspectives minimized with stereotypes, like that of the ‘Humourless Feminist’. We also know the value of creating alternative, safer spaces where communities can connect by challenging labels and gathering together.  This will be like any other comedy night, but with proceeds going to the Toronto Rape Crisis Centre/Multicultural Women Against Rape, and with no rape jokes, or other cheap-shot oppressive humour.
And sometimes, we really just need to laugh.
So come and join us!
*Unfortunately, this venue is not fully accessible. We apologize and we hope to find a venue that is in the future if we host more shows.

(Sidenote: Comedy shows NEVER mention whether or not a venue is accessible.  This show apologizes for not being fully accessible!  How wonderful and amazing is that?! AND in spite of that, someone with a wheelchair showed up anyway.  So. freakin. AWESOME!)

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Sounds like a solid premise, right?  It was totally, 100% up my alley.  I didn’t blink twice when signing this following check-in form, which was created by the SlutWalk organizing team specifically for this night of comedy, to ensure the space remained safe for audience members:

Thank you to all who have agreed to take part in our upcoming Humourless Feminists Comedy Night- a night to showcase comedy that doesn’t rely on rape jokes and cheap-shot oppressive humour! The response we’ve received so far is wonderful and it seems like people really want more spaces like this. We’re really thankful to all of you for participating in this evening to raise money for TRCC/MWAR and show that alternatives are possible.  As indicated on our Facebook page, though we understand that sometimes jokes can be made about rape in a way that is not trivializing rape, or not reinforcing rape culture, for this show we are asking that no rape jokes of any kind be a part of the evening.
 
We also wanted to let you know in a bit more detail what kind of safer space we hope to create at this comedy show and offer up a chance for you to check-in in case you have questions or concerns. Many people have experienced pain and disappointment when going to see comedy they have expected to be approached more conscientiously, or have over time lost interest in seeing live comedy due to feeling excluded from these spaces or having them feel like hostile experiences at times when the content has mostly been shock-value jokes putting people down who are already facing many social barriers. We hope that this night will be fun, joyful and will be a space where the comedy doesn’t rely on belittling, degrading, silencing or taking a cheap shot at:
 
  1. Racialized people (including but not limited to: people who are black or brown, people who are Indigenous/Native, people who are Asian, etc.)
  2. Indigenous/Native peoples, specifically about colonization, their historical and ongoing genocide, oppression, fight for recognition/land/rights
  3. people living with disabilities or struggling with mental health (this can include jokes about people who are “crazy” and what that can mean in a larger context of their struggles)
  4. people who engage in sex work/prostitution
  5. people living with HIV/AIDS
  6. people living in poverty or who are deemed lesser than because of their socio-economic status, income level, class
  7. people who identify as women/female or as feminists
  8. people who are not straight (who are queer, gay, lesbian, bisexual, pansexual, Two-Spirited)
  9. people who are transgender, transsexual, intersex, genderqueer and people who don’t fit into traditional gender categories or roles (the use of the word “tranny” is understood by many communities as incredibly insulting and degrading to trans people, especially trans women)
  10. people who are fat or who have non-normative bodies (bodies that aren’t deemed beautiful or okay in mainstream culture whether based in their shape or what’s on a body, like body hair, tattoos, scars, etc.)
  11. people who have been arrested, jailed, and criminalized (rape jokes aren’t funny or ok as prison rape jokes, etc.)
This list is not an exhaustive one but we hope it helps you understand where we’re coming from and what kind of night we hope to have.
 
These identities, experiences and topics aren’t off limits, but we hope if you engage with any of them it can be from a place of not trivializing these people or putting them down by reinforcing ways that they are already marginalized. We also understand that sometimes people of these identities may use humour to challenge the way they have experienced oppression, or engage in various kinds of self-deprecating humour, and this is something we fully support.
 
 If you have questions about any of this language, or around how things could be discussed in more respectful ways please feel free to ask us. Our team continuously roots our efforts in an anti-oppression framework with commitments to continue to make our efforts better.
 
It takes work to UN-learn a lot of harmful ideas about other people and to learn how to be more aware and supportive, so we try to work together in communities to do so, and we’re really glad to have so much support in creating this evening. Thank you for donating your time and talent to this effort. We’re really, really excited about this night!!!!
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Did you read that? All of it?  Good.  Because it makes so much damn sense it both enrages and excites me.  To the comedians who might read this and think: “Sheesh!  Why don’t these people just relax and learn to take a joke!” I say: “Why don’t you wake up and write something that doesn’t shit on people who have already got it really fucking tough?  Why don’t you take a minute and think about what you have to say and why it’s so filled with hate and disregard, often for people you don’t know or haven’t taken the time to think for a second what it must be like to go through life in their shoes.”

“Freedom of speech man, I should be able to say what I want, when I want”

Ever heard of Hate Speech Laws?  Maybe look those up.

And, as Catherine McCormick so elegantly and powerfully put it last night, as she rocked the mic harder than I’ve ever seen it rocked, with both her brilliant comedy and her words of women’s advocacy within the comedy community, “You’re not being edgy, you’re being your dad.”

The success of last night’s show speaks to the need of events such as these in our comedy world and in society, in general.  I’m still quite new to all this, relatively speaking, but that was the most successful show I’ve seen in terms of turnout and not-being-corporately-funded. It filled with people who were so damn happy to be able to laugh out loud and have a great time, and not have to worry about whether or not somebody might say something that will shame them or make them feel lesser than who they are.

Also, we raised over $900 for TRCC/MWAR, so turnout, as you can imagine, was pretty good – imagine how it would have turned out if it hadn’t been snowing!  We were already at standing room only!

Last night was inspiring.  Though my act isn’t filled with demeaning humour as it is, show urged me to write more about what I’ve learned, in school, at work – out in the real world.  Next time I do a Humourless Feminist show, I will drop a Simone de Beauvoir joke and not be afraid to do so.  Among my peers at college, I was often dissuaded from writing from that part of my brain and every time I brought up an issue, a critique, a thought that was even remotely F-word related (Ohhhhh those evil scary feminists! How dare they use their brains and mouths to access any of the pie that I’ve been greedily holding onto for such a long time to the detriment of humankind!) I would be met with an eye roll and a “here we go again” – look that brought the movement back 50 years.

You wanna talk privilege?  Yeah, I’ve got a bunch of that.  But not as much as a lot of comics have, on account of my boobs.  But nevertheless, I use mine, my experience, and my stage time to share stories that will make people laugh and think (or at least that’s the goal) not that will make people regret supporting the industry in which so many of us so desperately want to work.

Colleen Westendorf, Communications Coordinator of SlutWalk and organizer of the Event last night, you are right – there certainly would not be a shortage of jokes if you take rape out of the context of stand-up comedy and last night, we proved that.

And we’ll prove it again and again.  And, in our little way, we will try to help cheer up people who can really use it.

That’s why I got into this.  Why did you?

***It takes work to UN-learn a lot of harmful ideas about other people and to learn how to be more aware…***
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6 thoughts on “Who’s Got Two Thumbs and is a Humourless Feminist?

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