Why I think Female Stand Up Comedians Are Funnier Than Men and Why I’m Jealous of Them All

Zahra Barri
6 min readDec 29, 2022

Ask me who my favourite comedians are, they are all women. Sarah Silverman. Joan Rivers. Nikki Glazer. Amy Schumer. Rachael Feinstein. Katharine Ryan. Sara Pascoe. Whilst I enjoy Jerry Seinfeld, Jim Jefferies, Bill Burr, Ricky Gervais, and Frankie Boyle I don’t seek out male comedy. When I meet a male stand-up comedian I find funny, I say things to him like, “I don’t normally find male comedians funny, but you were really good.” And this was only after he had said to me, surprised as hell, “Wow you were actually really funny.”

Women, to me are funnier. It makes sense. Any demographic that has been marginalised, traumatised or stigmatised over the years often have an innate sense of humour. That’s why if I had to create a comedian in a lab I would make a Black, Jewish, Disabled, Bisexual Female Comedian who is working class with a regional accent.

This is because Comedy is all about struggle. And us women have a lot of material to work with. For example, we can talk about how it is statistically likely that our husbands will kill us, how upset we are that we can’t fit into a size 8 dress even after an abortion, and how hard it is to find an excuse as to why we’ve got a huge red burn mark on our upper lip that doesn’t allude to us having the same testosterone levels as a 14 year old Greek boy. I’m not saying I’m hairy but if my puberty story was an episode on The Wonder Years it would be called The Un-Hirsute of Happiness.

In short comedy is pain. No one wants to see a comedian talk about how great their life is. Except if you’re into Kevin Hart and enjoy hearing him talk about how his house is so big he can’t find his family in it. (Actual material).

Women are funnier because we’ve been through a lot more adversity in 28 days then a man has in 28 years. Yes, I’m talking about Periods. You think im going to write an article about women in comedy and not mention menstruation than you are a FOOL. In fact one of the things I love about how women are finally getting the comedy recognition they deserve is that we are now talking about Periods.

A Brief History About Women Talking About Periods

1985 Monica From Friends becomes the first woman on TV to say the word ‘period’ in a Tampax advert

1998 Regina tells Sita and Cher that she has got her first period in Byker Grove and Jordanian Pandemonium ensues, gets more viewing figures than the infamous paintballing episode with Ant N Dec

2004 We see Sally Draper’s period blood on her knickers in season 4 of Mad Men, men are ironically mad

2019 I Will Destroy You scene where bloodied tampon is seen being removed from Michaela Coel’s vagina, men are quietly outraged. My boyfriend at the time found this ‘disgusting’ but on Twitter said it was ‘empowering’ for fear of cancellation.

2021 I finally have the courage to talk about how my mum thought I’d shat myself when I first got my period because it looked like ‘leaky diarrhoea’

2022 Periods are EVERYWHERE, have almost become as quintessential to a female comedian’s stand up set as talking about having HPV and Urinary Tract Infections

We’ve come a long way!

We’ve not only redefined what stand up comedians talk about on stage, but we’ve re-defined the genre…

When I’m scrolling around on Netflix for a new stand up special it’s the women I am drawn to. I just love them. I don’t understand why they get such a bad rep. Maybe its because men find it threatening that they are re-defining the genre. Before women were prominent in comedy, there was no whopping and cheering in stand-up specials. Now whooping and cheering is one of the defining traits of a Netflix special.

A male comedian might have invented the formula Tragedy Plus time = Comedy. But it was a woman who invented Laughter plus Clapping = Clapter

My Muslim feminist aunt is very partial to a bit of clapter. In fact, her favourite stand-up comedian is Hannah Gadsby. She hears my hack joke about being half Irish and half Arab and how I should be doing terrorism and not comedy and tells me to bin it, inspired by Hannah Gadsby. “But it gets a laugh, Auntie!” I say. She say, “Comedy isn’t just about laughing. Look at Hannah Gadsby. She says, “your joke is hack because it reinforces western perceived stereotypes that all Muslims are terrorists…. Be more like Hannah Gadsby.” She says. “Speak the truth, the truth will set you free.” And she’s right.

The truth does set you free, I mean unless your Bill Cosby.

Speaking the truth is often saying things that might get you cancelled…

I was recently in a stand-up comedy competition and asked by a male interviewer if I could get rid of three of my competitors who they would be. I said I’d get rid of the comedians I thought were the funniest, so I had more of a chance of winning. The male interviewer probed me for more. He wanted names. When I told him the names of three women who I thought were the strongest on the bill, the man questioned my feminism.

This got me thinking, can I be a good feminist and view women as my competition?

Ever since I started stand-up comedy ten years ago, I have gigged mostly with men. I am often the only woman on the bill and even though in recent years this tokenism has increased to slightly more than one woman on the bill, (sometimes there’s up to TWO of us now), it still means I’m surrounded, let’s face it by mostly a bunch of cocks.

A few years ago, I was on a rare bill which consisted of three women, including myself and two men. It later conspired that another female comic was also due to be on the bill but got emailed last minute to say the booker had “accidentally booked too many women” so she had to be taken off. Cue media storm for said comic.

The world was outraged. And rightly so. But it still feels like the ripples of this sexism still exist in our psyches. Female stand up comedians are made to feel like rare, exotic commodities. Therefore, when they see another female stand-up comedian on the bill they are both delighted (we can talk about shoes and organise a bottomless brunch) and threatened at the same time.

As a feminist I am really working on not feeling like female comedians are my competition but at the same time I am kind to myself. The system is against us feeling this way. You only have to look at how we react to cheating men…in that we don’t react to the cheating men we react to the woman being cheated on and the other woman who has tempted him away. Its Team Anniston Versus Team Jolie never Aniston Versus Pitt. And don’t get me started on what we did to poor Monica Lewinsky and Hilary Clinton, meanwhile Bill’s likeability soars when he admits to the world he has fulfilled every straight man’s dream- getting a blow job in the Oval Office by a twenty five year old.

This sort of rhetoric needs to stop. As a society we need to quit pitting women against each other and when I tell you the truth, that I find women the funniest and if I’m in a stand-up competition I view them as my competition, don’t tell me I’m a bad feminist. Change the messages we are giving women. Make us feel like we can all get a piece of the pie. But make sure the pie is fat free, please, because we want it all. To have our pie and not get fat from it.

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Zahra Barri

Egyptian/Irish Writer/Comic/PhD Student Unbound Firsts 2024 WINNER Pre-Order my novel,Daughters of the Nile https://unbound.com/books/daughters-of-the-nile/