If you go to a comedy showcase, you will see a lot of dudes. Most of the people you see onstage, in fact, will be dudes. Some people may assume that this is because dudes are, in general, funnier. These people would be wrong.
Other people may assume that there are more dudes onstage because the system of comedy bookings is inherently flawed and favors straight white men, and that when people who are not of that demographic do land a spot, it’s the so-called “diversity spot.” But they have had no way of proving it.
Now Meredith Kachel, herself a stand-up comedian and producer, has run the numbers, and the numbers do not lie: There is, indeed, an imbalance in stand-up bookings that definitely favors men over women and gender-nonconforming people. Her conclusions are a result of a ten-month-long study of the performers in 19 comedy showcases around Chicago, which she has posted on her website.
“Numbers are so, so wonderful,” says Kachel. “It’s so fun to combat people who are trying to argue these dumb colloquialisms, like that it’s so hard to get booked as a straight white male. IS IT?”
Kachel had done a similar study of five showcases in 2016, but she wanted to expand her data set. So between January and October, Kachel tabulated the acts in 19 comedy shows—including one of her own, Hoo Ha Comedy—in a spreadsheet. Many of the shows sent her their booking ledgers; for those that didn’t, she researched the performers on social media and event flyers. Then she asked her friend Austin Scheaffer, a “numbers guy,” to crunch the data and put it into graphs.
They discovered that the gender disparity was greatest among comics who performed less frequently: 70 percent of that group are male, 29 percent are female, and the final 1 percent is gender nonconforming. Among comics who performed more frequently, the gender disparity was less severe, but Kachel and Scheaffer found that almost all shows, regardless of the gender of the producers, were majority male.
Many show producers tended to give themselves performing time too, which sometimes evened out the gender disparities. Still, Kachel writes in her report, “Shows with more diversity in producer genders tend to have more diverse shows. Any show under 30% women on their shows have no women as producers advocating for other women.”
The biggest lesson Kachel took away from the study is that all producers, regardless of gender, need to be more aware of who they’re booking.
“When producers have a 50/50 split of women and men or women and gender-nonconforming people,” she says, “you see more people represented who look like the producers: people of color, LGBT people, women. It’s important to surround yourself with people who aren’t like you. Everyone benefits from that. Even white men. They’ll stand out more. It’s a beneficial system for everyone.”
Kachel plans to continue the study in 2018. This year, she wants to look at audiences and see if a more diverse lineup will bring in a more diverse audience. She also wants to create a template so the study can be duplicated in other communities besides Chicago’s stand-up scene. She’s already gotten a lot of feedback, not only from women who are grateful someone has proved that the problem exists, but from producers and showrunners who tell her they knew they needed to do better but didn’t know how much.
“It’s been a hard year,” she says. “It’s nice to have a little positivity for women. Now we have quantifiable data. Women are pissed, and we’re bored and sick of it. We’ve seen it so much, some guy waxing poetic about pornography. It’s like, ‘Great. Thank you. That’s so interesting.’ We need to see new stuff. We need new voices.”
Correction: One of the charts in this story shows that Best Night Ever had no female producers during the period of Kachel’s study. This is inaccurate; according to Best Night Ever’s Dave Losso, of the four producers, one was female.