In 2013, whilst performing a comedy poem at an event in Bath, I had a pair of women’s knickers thrown at me. That was when I knew I’d been accepted into the rock ‘n’ roll of poetry, but that my way in had been slightly less than conventional. After performing for a total of five years it excites me to see how the poetry scene has changed. Not only are there more female poets in general, but the amount of funny women is increasing too, and the way they are using their platform is important because they’re taking risks with how they are being perceived.
When that underwear hit me in the face three years ago, I’d been performing a poem about the not so talked about parts of being a real grown up woman, and it was an honest poem, I can tell you.
This is why comedy poetry is so exciting at the moment. Women are talking about things that may make them seem unattractive to the opposite sex but, spoiler alert, that’s not why we perform. We’re performing because it’s liberating to make a room full of people laugh. If I don’t make at least one person squirm in their seat or have a coughing fit through laughter then I’m not satisfied.
It’s not just in poetry that the number of women being given opportunities in comedy are down. Comedy panel shows are a staple of UK comedy, but shows like Mock The Week, whose female panelists make up just under 29% of the shows comedians, seem to not be the place to find your female comedy role models.
This is why funny women on the ground are so important in subverting this ridiculous notion that women aren’t funny. Women like Bristol poet Melanie Branton show others what it means to be use femininity in comedy, proving most definitely that women are extremely funny. Branton isn’t afraid to talk about sex in a way that doesn’t conform with how a woman is expected to. She doesn’t fit into that category of what I would call ‘polite feminism’, showing empowerment as a woman only until it gets too uncomfortable for the men (and some women) in the room.
Thank goodness she, and other poets like her don’t fit into that category, because women need to know they have allies. When I perform, I often get women saying to me that they experience the same things I do but that they wouldn’t normally talk about it let alone get on a stage and announce it through poetry. I can understand that but, with only 7% of British people identifying themselves as a feminist in a 2016 survey conducted by the Telegraph, it is even more important to support our female comics.
Since the dawn of storytelling poetry has been a platform for people to talk about things that matter to them and to change the way people think. Why should women in comedy poetry be any different? You’re laughing with the woman on stage because you’re probably able to relate to her in some way. Sometimes, funny things happen which aren’t ‘ladylike’ to talk about, but we shouldn’t keep it to ourselves just because we think it might be controversial to share.
I’ve worked hard at becoming comfortable with who I am, and comedy poetry has helped me to do that. More importantly, other female poets have helped me by creating poetry that helps me to feel that I’m not out of the loop. I’ve learnt not to take myself too seriously, some functions of the female body are pretty funny, so why not share the joke?
Performance poetry isn’t the only platform women have to present themselves, but it’s the one I’ve chosen to immerse myself in. For those who have never seen performance poetry, I recommend you get yourself to an event, you may be surprised by what you find.
I’m not presenting you with hard hitting feminism. A poem about my various downfalls in the dating game isn’t going to bridge the pay gap, but maybe it’ll let other women know that they’re not alone. It’s okay to talk about sex in a way that might make men squirm, in fact, it’s more fun when it does.