The Winnipeg comedy scene has always been dominated by men. White men, to be exact.
We are starting to see more comedians of diverse backgrounds in the spotlight, but the numbers still don’t add up.
We might choose to think this is simply a coincidence, or we can ask the question: Why isn’t there more diversity in comedy?
“It can be lonely,” former Winnipeg comedian Aisha Alfa says. “I think men tend to handle it better.”
For women who want a career in comedy, but also want to have families, it can be difficult due to the traveling involved, Alfa says.
It also may be tougher for women to break into the scene.
“It’s run by men,” Alfa says. “They want women to laugh at their jokes, not have better jokes than them.”
Winnipeg actor turned comedian, Melanie Dahling, believes we can look at this shortage of witty women on stage in a positive way.
“You stand out automatically,” Dahling says. This can create more opportunities for women in the comedy scene. Even with these opportunities, it can still be hard for women to make it in this man’s world.
“The main barrier is getting started,” Dahling says.
Racial diversity is also lacking in Winnipeg’s comedy scene.
The Winnipeg Comedy Showcase, a quarterly event at The Park Theatre, is a great display of talent, but this fall’s lineup was almost entirely white men (with the exception of Chad Anderson, a First Nations comic). Last minute, Amber Daniels and Aisha Alfa were added.
Kevin Mozdzen, who is in charge of booking acts for the Park Theatre, acknowledged this in an interview.
“Unfortunately, it’s a numbers game, and the bulk of people doing comedy in this city just happen to be white men,” Mozdzen says.
He says they do love booking women comedians, not only because they’re funny. Mozdzen says women tend to draw bigger crowds.
“Aisha Alfa, Chantel Marostica and Amber Daniels have all come up through shows here and have moved on to bigger things in Toronto,” Mozdzen says.
The Park Theatre is looking forward to showcasing up-and-comers and diversifying the comedy scene in any way they can, Mozdzen says.
Rumor’s Comedy Club also has a predominantly white lineup for the next few months.
It does, however, have a few women on the list, including Last Comic Standing winner Iliza Shlesinger.
So, what can we do? In regard to gender diversity, acceptance may be crucial, Dahling says.
“Men are socially conditioned to be funny and goofy,” Dahling says.
When it comes to girls, especially at a young age, that same behaviour tends to be labeled as strange or improper, Dahling says.
Looking at racial diversity, we just might need to look past what we know, Alfa adds.
“As a woman of diverse background, it’s important for us to create as much content as possible to share our perspective with the world,” Alfa says.
The more content there is to find, the more likely we’ll find it. Perhaps we just need to educate the world, Alfa says.
Published in Volume 70, Number 7 of The Uniter (October 22, 2015)