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Andrew Lawrence’s comments about female comedians reflect a sad generalisation which is utterly wrong

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By James Gill

What comedian Andrew Lawrence was thinking when he posted his online tirade in defence of UKIP and against immigration and “moronic, liberal” fellow stand-ups, only he will know.

It’s a huge shame that such a gifted comedian is possibly having some sort of meltdown.

Speaking as someone who loves comedy passionately, a part of me genuinely feels for - and worries about the wellbeing of - the guy. Surely, as he read and re-read what he was about to post, a part of him must have thought, “No good can come of this.”

Yet he published it, referring to those who “sit congratulating themselves on how enlightened they are about the fact that UKIP are ridiculous and pathetic”. He attacked other UK parties for being “too spineless to tackle the issue of immigration” and said he understood why people supported UKIP. Like many people lucky enough to work in comedy, as I read his piece and my jaw hit the floor, all I could think was, “What was he thinking?”

Lawrence doesn’t need another person in comedy to give him a kicking over that. As much as I disagree with pretty much all of what he said, as someone who books live comedy, one thing in particular stuck in my craw: his attack on female comedians. Or, as he called them, “women-posing-as-comedians”.

He remained unrepentant when comedian Imogen Sebba challenged him on Twitter, saying: “That’s what they are. Open-spots who've taken easy breaks that have been gifted to them. Can't say I blame them, I'd do the same.”

This is unacceptable.

Yes, the BBC made it policy early in 2014 to ensure at least one woman appears on each panel show. Frankly, it was about time, given the move followed years of men dominating such programmes.

Andrew Lawrence

Comedian Andrew Lawrence referred to "women-posing-as-comedians"

I’m not defending female comedians because I’m part of the supposed “militant liberal bandwagon” which Lawrence rails against. I’m defending them because Andrew is wrong. He’s as wrong as it gets. He’s wrong squared.

Heck, I shouldn’t even be talking about “female comedians”; "female" isn’t a genre of comedy. Comedians are comedians, pure and simple. Audiences don’t rock with laughter at comedians because they’re women. They laugh because they’re funny.

And people certainly don’t clamour for tickets for the likes of Sara Pascoe and Katherine Ryan (both currently on national tours, thank you very much) because they’re “funny for women” (the standard line of any sexist trying to sound right-on), but because they are two of the best comedians of this – or indeed any – generation.

In using the phrase “women-posing-as-comedians”, Lawrence has surely made life very uncomfortable for himself the next time he’s booked on a mixed bill.

I don’t know first-hand whether it’s harder or easier for women to get booked because I’m not a woman. What I do know is that the likes of Pascoe and Ryan (pictured above), and Angela Barnes, Zoe Lyons, Rachel Parris, Jen Brister (I really could go on and on) continue to gig night in, night out, doing the hard yards. If all these acts (and many, many others like them) are “posing as comedians”, they’ve gone pretty darn, deep undercover, I can tell you.

Take Pascoe.

Sara gigs seven nights a week, often with multiple gigs a night, always trying to improve, writing and rewriting, constantly testing new bits, honing and honing, all with a view to getting better, better, better.

This is why it’s unacceptable to rant about women in comedy.

Pascoe isn’t just an inspiration to women, she’s an inspiration to every comedian clocking up the miles night after night. Pascoe is proof positive of what’s possible when you work hard and have a good attitude. To call Pascoe et al a woman posing as a comedian is an insult. Scratch that. It’s an outrage.

And, as much as I admire Andrew as a comedian, perhaps Pascoe has got the big breaks because she’s prepared to work that much harder, push herself that much further and is, ultimately, that much better.

Same goes for Romesh Ranganathan, one of the “ethnic” comedians Andrew also seemingly has a problem with.

The BBC, immigration, fellow comedians. It’s everyone’s fault but his own, it seems. Perhaps the next step for Andrew is accepting the painful truth: regardless of ethnicity or gender, there are better and more-beloved acts out there. The only surprise for the rest of us is that Andrew’s bitter persona isn’t just reserved for on-stage. And that’s a real shame.

At least there is something to smile at in all of this: a white, middle-class male seemingly taking umbrage over never having got the breaks. That’s the biggest joke of all.

Photos: Rex Features, andrewlawrence.co.uk

James Gill's comedy nights sees the best comics - of every gender - gathered in one place. Get tickets here

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