Death of the All-Female Comedy Show

It’s happened before and it will happen again: someone asks me, “You’re a comedian. Why do they even have ‘All-Girl’ comedy shows anyway?”. My knee-jerk response is, “why do you even care?”. But, I know better. My short answer is: because they enhance your experience of comedy, even if you never attend one. Since you asked, the longer answer is: the All-Female comedy show model is responsible for such things as the thriving Canadian music scene and could save television in this country. It’s not like there’s a lot of them happening in the first place, but they should be mandatory.

I rarely attend comedy shows in which I’m not performing. As a result, I don’t think I’ve ever seen an All-Female comedy show in its entirety myself. I’m confident, however, that I’d still get the jokes. I’ve seen all four of the feature acts on the all-funny-gal revue, “My Jokes Are Up Here”, and they’re all funny. Even if they perform material exclusive to this niche show that I wouldn’t otherwise hear, I’m pretty sure I’d still be laughing. There’s a much greater potential for me to be lost in references I don’t understand at a show featuring, for instance, all LGBT performers. So, if it’s true that niche shows are designed to offer unique material for a specific audience, “what’s up with ‘All-Female’ comedy shows”? Well, at least in the beginning, they also provide stage time for performers who may not otherwise be getting their hands on the microphone.

In the relatively short time I’ve been in the comedy business, (20 years), I’d say there’s been a significant increase in the number of women taking the stage to tell jokes. There were star female comedians long before I was even born, but until more recently, women made up what seemed to be a relatively small portion of the stand-up comic population. It makes sense to me that simply by seeing more women on-stage performing, other women have been inspired to give comedy a try. Eventually, with more women in the business as performers and producers, the result is additional hilarious perspectives and diversified content. Women in comedy are hardly an obvious minority today, compared to even 10 years ago.

So, along with other niche shows, the comedy business is better because of All-Female shows for the very same reason that it is bolstered by Amateur Nights, comedy festivals, and pay-what-you-can open mic performances. Whether it be Def Comedy Jam, “Gaylarious”, or “Va-Jam”, niche shows fuel the business, by increasing the likelihood that there are funny people out there to entertain you. I’m not saying every act that appears on a niche show is funny. The same can be said of ANY show. I’m also not saying that if you did a forensic audit on their pathways to success, Kevin Hart, Rick Mercer and Tina Fey all became funny only because of their stage-time in niche shows. They may never have performed on any such shows. My point is, you don’t enjoy driving a Mustang solely because Henry Ford himself built it.

If you’re in the automobile manufacturing business, you don’t stop creating more cars. You create more than just one type of vehicle. You strive to improve the vehicles you offer. And no one asks you, “why do they even have ‘All-Corvette’; ‘All-Corolla’, or ‘All-RAM 1500’ commercials, anyway?”. The comedy business couldn’t stop producing comedians if it tried. But the more robust and varied the population of comedians is, the more hilarious and entertaining our world becomes. Performers who get valuable stage time honing their craft in niche shows may also appear in non-niche shows, and are stronger acts because of their collective experience.

Just to be sure, I’m not suggesting that the only reason someone will aspire to be a great comedian is if they see someone just like them on-stage. In the same way that comedy is funny by being, uhmmm… funny; hilarity inspires hilarity. In fact, one of the comedy shows I will be attending in the very near future is an, “Evening of Laughter and Reflection”, from someone who is absolutely one of the reasons I became an entertainer, Carol Burnett. “The Carol Burnett Show” wasn’t an All-Female comedy show, but her All-Female characters drove the humour.

The Charwoman, Eunice and Mrs. Wiggins are not the reasons, however, why I believe the All-Female comedy show model should be mandatory. Just like regulations in the automobile industry are intended to increase safety, fuel efficiency, innovation and economic growth for communities they serve, regulations and guidelines contribute to the advancement of the entertainment industry. In fact, the absence of any such obligatory requirements could mean the death of the All-Female comedy show model. This would be bad. I call it: enforced creativity. As examples, consider the relationship between the CRTC and the music and television industries in Canada. One relationship is thriving, while the other is failing.

During Canadian Music Week, (May 2-8, 2016), I’ll be hosting The Crystals, “Celebrating the best in Canadian radio creative”. It reminds me of when I started my career as an on-air radio broadcaster and how the radio industry and the CRTC got it right when it comes to regulating Can Con for music. Don’t get me wrong: radio industry and the CRTC don’t necessarily always get along. Plus, some of the regulations for FM radio were, and are, sketchy. But, you’re going to have a very hard time convincing me that the Canadian music scene wouldn’t be the powerhouse that it is around the world today if it hadn’t been for Can Con rules.

Taken from the CRTC’s “Content Made By Canadians” subpage for Canadian content requirements for music on Canadian radio:

“English-language and French-language stations must ensure that at least 35% of the Popular Music they broadcast each week is Canadian content.

Commercial radio stations also have to ensure that at least 35% of the Popular Music broadcast between 6:00 a.m. and 6:00 p.m. Monday to Friday is Canadian content.”

In one of my first radio jobs as an evening on-air announcer at an Adult Contemporary FM music station, I had to adhere to a “mosaic” requirement that necessitated I provide a certain amount of “spoken word” each hour, in addition to the songs I was playing. I can assure you; you wouldn’t have been the only one wondering what I was blathering on about. It wasn’t long after the time I started the job in 1990 that this requirement was lifted. Can Con rules for music also forced us to listen to some crap. Furthermore, despite their unquestionable talent, the rules resulted in an annoyingly high rotation of songs from iconic Canadian artists like Anne Murray and Gordon Lightfoot. But, these imposed quotas also gave many other Canadian artists a chance to be heard when they otherwise might not have been. The enforced creativity fueled the entire industry, putting money in the pockets of the artists and the people producing Canadian music. Without having to plough through the manure, the seeds would not have been able to germinate, sprouting economic spinoff benefits for the country as a whole. I’m not saying being a music director at a Canadian radio station today is a breeze, but it’s got to be a whole lot easier meeting the 35% with the bevvy of talent that’s out there. Contemporary Canadian artists with monumental international success have to give a nod to the CRTC, the radio industry and the people who had to listen to my superfluous soliloquy’s on DC103.5FM, Orangeville.

In response to the digital media landscape, the CRTC has decided to go in the opposite direction with the television industry. In 2015, the national broadcast regulator lifted the obligation for television broadcasters to meet Canadian content quotas during non-prime time hours. Specifically, the ratio of required Canadian programs during the day went from 55% to zero. During weekday prime time, the requirement for 50% was maintained. The intent, as I understand it, is to eliminate broadcast behaviour, such as repeatedly airing the same show many times during a day, week, or even over years. It’s also to encourage the highest quality of Canadian content. In other words, they felt the long-standing rules were resulting in us having to watch a lot of Canadian crap on Canadian TV. The CRTC chairman Jean-Pierre Blais was quoted by CBC news as saying,

“Television quotas are an idea that is wholly anachronistic in the age of abundance and in a world of choice”

Similar to music on Canadian radio, when TV broadcasters had to fill all daytime hours with homegrown product, I agree, there was some manure to plough through. I also agree with the notion of aspiring to create the best possible Canadian product. But, without a platform that fuels expansive creativity with numerous production companies, various talent and all kinds of content creators, eventually, I think, there will be fewer and fewer stars shining here on home soil.

SIDEBAR: There are, I’m sure, many reasons Cash Cab Canada was not renewed by Discovery after 8 seasons. But, it was a hit in “early-prime” (7PM) which still falls within the time frame required by the CRTC for broadcasters to meet 50% Can Con. So, I’m just clarifying that I’m not arguing against CRTC changes to TV because I think they resulted in the show being cancelled. Bell still has to make Can Con for the time slot Cash Cab was filling, and Bell still wants to make exceptional Canadian content. Believe me, if I could find a way to blame the CRTC for the demise of my all time favourite show ever that I really miss making and having fun hosting, I would.


That doesn’t make me any less upset with their changes to TV. The whole argument that the government wants to support decisions that let consumers choose what they want to watch, when they want, and on the device they prefer, is naïve. There is absolutely merit in responding to the digital landscape that is enabling millions of Canadians to become “untethered”. Frankly, I don’t even mind “appointment” television. Neither do my teenage Gen Z children. There’s a sense of community when you know everyone is watching certain shows at the same time. But, more importantly, just because the rules are lifted allowing broadcasters, creators and other content providers to be unencumbered in what they produce and distribute for our consumption, doesn’t mean there won’t be any more manure through which we must trudge.

Sure, HBO, Crave, Shomi, and Netflix, for instance, are all creating some innovative new content for this “new” market and “new” audience experience. But, take a casual look at all that’s being offered on the “new” platforms and you’ll notice very quickly there’s still a whole bunch of crap. I’d be comfortable in suggesting that there’s just as much crap being offered as before; maybe even more. On Netflix, for example, unless a show has red in the fifth star, maybe fourth star, I don’t even bother. I’ve endured shows that were given a three + and have been prepared to make a deal with the Devil to get my 43 minutes back. I figure the reason people have become so forgiving with their ratings is because of how accustomed they are to watching such junk.

If the “untethered” digital media landscape is your primary source for entertainment, this is all the more reason why you should get off your ass and, if not attend an All-Female comedy show, endorse the model upon which it is based. If someone has decided to thrust a niche show in your face, embrace the enforced creativity, as it will improve your viewing options in the long run. Unlike the so-called “walls are coming down” environment which values volume over quality, mandatory quotas instill a thoughtful, constructive manner for content creation that increases the likelihood that we’ll come out with something entertaining on the other end. Somehow the CRTC has misunderstood that by lifting the ratio of required Canadian content on TV in Canada it would result in a higher ratio of content that is good. There are, and have been, many fantastic Canadian shows. The new rules from the CRTC have not set the stage for a legacy of increasing the ratio of such shows. Instead, fewer and fewer people will be making Can Con, which will diminish the potential quality and variety, as well as the cultural and economic spinoff benefit for the country as a whole.

Some people who ask the question, “Why do they even have ‘All-Girl’ comedy shows”, may not be thinking of the big picture, as I am. They may be concerned about the existence of an All-Female comedy show on a Wednesday night at a comedy club downtown that they’re not even planning to attend, because it offends their sensibilities that the stage is not, instead, left dark so that they can binge watch TV shows from 2005 that they’ve downloaded from the Internet at home on their couch in peace. These are the same people who are far too generous with their red stars on Netflix. So, while I’m first inclined to respond to them, “why do you even care?”, I know better, because they should care.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *