Comedy at the Edinburgh Fringe exhibiting some casual whorephobia and transphobia
Sex work is a hot issue in Scotland, with the recent police raids on the licensed Edinburgh saunas, and groups like Sex Workers Open University (SWOU) lobbying for Glasgow to adopt the ‘Edinburgh model’ and enable more sex workers to work in safer conditions such as licensed premises and not out in the streets. Organisations such as Scot-Pep exist to fight for the rights of sex workers, in the absence of official trade unions (although plans are afoot).
Meanwhile, in the reflection of society that is the Fringe festival, sex work is at best still a subject of casual jokes. A show called Nick Bowling Laughs In The Face Of Death For 45 Minutes And Then Asks Him Politely To Leave managed to find space for a reference to ‘prostitutes’ being a cause of death, listed alongside falling over and being hit by a car. Another show, Steve Bennett: In Bits, albeit concerned with sex, also casually dismissed ‘prostitution’ as the butt of an inconsequential joke. I was curious to notice that the theme continued throughout a few other random shows I saw at PBH’s Free Fringe.
The Two O’Clock Show at the Banshee Labyrinth, featuring stand up comedians David Hannant and Anna Freyberg probably gets off most lightly. Hannant only very slightly brushes past sex-related topics - one of the jokes is about circumcision and though balancing on the line, is actually quite funny, and not over-thought - like many good jokes, it’s so obvious in its hilariousness that you wonder how you haven’t thought of it before (I’d tell you, but I don’t want to spoil it for you if you have a chance to see him). The other is a bit more risqué and weird - Hannant recalls seeing an ad for ‘baby massage’ and wonders what that might involve. He still gets out of it without displaying a patronising attitude to sex work - he is charming and even with borderline jokes, he always manages to laugh at himself, rather than any particular individual or group of people, which is refreshing. Freyberg’s delivery is less charming in its self-deprecation - she’s got a wide-eyed, funny voiced manner, like a geeky Manic Pixie Dream Girl, but she’s funny and I don’t recall any jokes about sex workers, so she passed this reviewer’s test, so to speak.
The round-up of what was supposed to be the best comedy of the week happened at The Dram House Upstairs, presented by Dec Munro, featuring Sofie Hagen, Graham Whistler, Mark Dean Quinn, and Alex Edelman. A few sets here were more problematic. It’s not even that the compere regularly resorted to the ‘make fun of individual people, hard’ approach to audience interaction, rather than ‘take cues from the audience and turn into jokes, most likely about yourself, and actually be funny’. Both Hagen’s and Whistler’s sets referred to sex in ways that made me feel uncomfortable, and not in a funny way. Hagen talked about her experience with chubby chasers, and that’s an interesting and potentially funny subject, but she also described an encounter where she was pretending to be a sex worker, and pretty much just repeated the line “I’m a hooker, I’m a hooker” over and over, as if that was the funny part of it. Whistler has cerebral palsy and is visibly disabled, which still doesn’t really excuse the kind of jokes like pointing at female audience members, commenting on their appearance, asking if they like experimenting in the bedroom, and howling in laughter that if yes, he’s got some crutches in the car. Nor is it funny to be casually homophobic - at one point Whistler points farther into the audience and it’s not clear who he’s talking to, and a man turns his head, to which Whistler makes a face and a comment along the lines of ‘No, not you, obviously!’, which is supposed to elicit a laugh. Quinn’s set is advertised as ‘something different’, and it truly is - not that anyone besides a few people in the back row seem to get it - maybe they got the memo - but at least he gives out bags of candy to everyone. Edelman does a great joke about vending machines. Ask him to do it if you see him live.
The Tesco Chainstore Massacre, an otherwise rather brilliant sketch by Stan Skinny and his assistant (whose name, we can only assume, is actually Tina, like her character’s in the show - she is not mentioned *anywhere* in the promos or on the Internet, despite totally being an important part of the performance), still did not resist the temptation to refer to ‘prostitution’ in relation to mass consumption. ‘It doesn’t matter if you’re a lawyer’, he says pointing to one audience member, ‘or a prostitute’, pointing to another, and instantly addressing him again, ‘sorry, I did not mean to say you’re a prostitute. Or maybe you are? Well, we are all prostitutes to the blood sucking sell-out Tesco!’ And then in the finale, singing an otherwise funny ukelele ditty ‘Every Little Helps’, to encourage audience participation Stan calls all the men to sing - and he does so in a comically exaggerated low voice, then all the women to sing - and he does so in a comically exaggerated high voice, and then finds it necessary to punctuate those gender-binary-enforcing but still acceptable jokes and their funny delivery with ‘and now all the transgenders!’, which is first greeted with silence, which seems to be the effect he is going for (because what a funny idea that a group of people like ‘the transgenders’ would come to a comedy show! Lol!), and then when a friend of mine intones ‘Every little helps’ to break the uncomfortable silence, Stan leans into him, points, and says something along the lines of ‘Let’s give it up for the he/she!’, which is entirely unnecessary (and pretty unacceptable).
I did actually stumble across an excellent Fringe feature in the street - it was called Sidewalk Smut: commissioned, personalised, instant erotica pieces written for any willing passers-by by performer/street pornographer/phone sex operator Cameryn Moore, who also brought and sold out her show Phone Whore to the Fringe. Her pieces aren’t exactly supposed to be funny, but they’re light-hearted, solid good quality, nicely typewritten, and hot. In her play, which she also toured across the UK, she tackles a lot of topics relating to sex work, some incredibly problematic, some very day-to-day, and some hilariously funny - and all incredibly powerful and insightful. Her performance is respectful to sex workers, not cheaply exploitative; and as she’s one herself, it’s a manifestation of voice, rather than another instance of speaking for a group in their alleged interest, or even at their expense. Find out more about Cameryn on her website. More sex worker performers in comedy, please!
PS. Not exactly comedy either, but there's an amazing event coming up in London that deals with the experiences of sex workers: The Second Ever London Sex Worker Film Festival (tagline: Because Sex workers STILL should not be dead to be on film), taking place at the Rio Cinema in Dalston this Sunday, 20th October from 1pm. Check out the Facebook event and buy tickets here. It will bring you sex worker's voices, struggles and experiences from Brazil to the UK, Thailand to France, as well as some live performances, and should be insightful, fun, and amazing. Hope to see you there.
Tuesday, 15 October 2013
Thursday, 22 December 2011
I haven't been posting on here for a while, but I cannot stress how immensely important this blog is to me. I recently contributed to a book of stories of why we became feminists, a British answer to Click: When We Knew We Were Feminists. This one is called The Lightbulb Moment and is edited and published by Sian Norris of Crooked Rib Publishing. Sian is also a prominent blogger and occasionally a DJ - check out her blog, Sian and Crooked Rib.
My contribution is an extremely personal story about my gradual discoveries of feminism, and this blog features in it prominently as a source of motivation and inspiration and action that I created for myself when in a particularly difficult moment in my life. But it also touches on other important experiences, and is painfully honest, to the extent I wasn't sure I wanted it published, but at the same time, I think, a great illustration of how the personal is political. So I hope a story about depression, promiscuity, traditional family, bisexuality, moving around the world and other stuff will actually mean something in this important context.
The book also contains loads of other contributions from more or less known feminists and is fantastically interesting. From the Crooked Rib Publishing website:
"Some of the names you may recognise. Laurie Penny writing about Germaine Greer. Finn Mackay telling the story of how she went to peace camp. Jo Swinson campaigning for girls to wear trousers in her school. And then there are the women and men whose names you might not recognise, but who are working every day in the fight for gender equality and a better world for all.
Many of these stories are funny. Some are moving. Some tell of pain and trauma. Some are about family members or friends. All of them are inspiring and exciting.
Editor of The Light Bulb Moment, Sian Norris says:
‘After reading ‘Click’ I felt very strongly that we needed this book for the UK. We have such a rich feminist scene here. I thought it would be fascinating to hear how the women and men involved in UK feminist activism ‘found’ feminism. And I was right! These stories are so diverse and unique – I hope that people will enjoy reading them as much as I have.’
By bringing together the stories from women and men from a range of communities and generations, The Light Bulb Moment hopes to offer a snapshot of feminist activism in the UK today, and share the stories of the women and men involved.
The eye-catching cover was designed by illustrator Susie Hogarth."
You can buy it over at Lulu for £7.99 (that's 20% off the original price): http://www.lulu.com/product/paperback/the-light-bulb-moment-the-stories-of-why-we-are-feminists/18726169
Now, I also feel obliged to explain why this blog has not been what I meant it to be lately. It was something that dragged me out of a black hole of despair and inactivity, but recently I reached another difficult point in life, and unlike previously, I have way more responsibilities than I can handle, and somehow the work that's the most personal and satisfying and therefore important requires so much effort and is only self-imposed, so a lot of the time, even though I think about posts all the time, I never sit down and write them out, because whenever I have time to sit down I instead lie down and do nothing. If I'm making any New Year's resolutions, if there's one thing I promise to myself I'll do more not less, it's to post on this blog, because always having it in the back of my mind but never quite managing to fulfill my own expectations for it is bad, for my own self-esteem and expression. So I hope you will be able to read more on it than there already is.
So not as an excuse, but more an explanation, without being dramatic and also additionally promoting an amazing, amazing artist, I wanna quote Hyperbole and a Half, from her post Adventures in Depression. It's very recent and it resonated with me a fucking lot. Here are a few pictures, but read the whole story here. Hyperbole and a Half is Allie, who describes herself as "heroic, caring, alert and flammable," makes these incredibly expressive drawings in Paint, and is currently writing (drawing?) a book, scheduled for release by Touchstone, a division of Simon and Schuster, for the fall of 2012, "just in time for the apocalypse!" Definitely something to look forward to.
"Some people have a legitimate reason to feel depressed, but not me. I just woke up one day feeling sad and helpless for absolutely no reason."
But my sadness didn't have a purpose. Listening to sad music and imagining that my life was a movie just made me feel kind of weird because I couldn't really get behind the idea of a movie where the character is sad for no reason."
"Essentially, I was being robbed of my right to feel self pity, which is the only redeeming part of sadness.
And for a little bit, that was a good enough reason to pity myself."
"Standing around feeling sorry for myself was momentarily exhilarating, but I grew tired of it quickly. "That will do," I thought. "I've had my fun, let's move on to something else now." But the sadness didn't go away.
I tried to force myself to not be sad."
"When I couldn't will myself to not be sad, I became frustrated and angry. In a final, desperate attempt to regain power over myself, I turned to shame as a sort of motivational tool."
"Which made me more sad."
"Which then made me more frustrated and abusive."
The story continues - I won't repost it all here, but go over to Hyperbole and a Half for the rest of it. It's sad and depressing, but also captures sadness and depression and some other things extremely well, and is still a cartoon done in Paint. Pretty amazing.
My best friend Nadine, with whom I set up this blog, says that the most feminist act is self-care, and I agree - and there isn't enough talk about that. Hyperbole and a Half posts about other things, too, of course (such as cake or spiders or alot or adulthood/the internet) but I feel like this one is particularly important because even in this slightly comical lens, mental illness is still seen as essentially a weakness, laziness, feeling sorry for yourself, and essentially your fault. Especially for women, who to keep up are expected to be pretty, well-dressed, fit, but also to have good jobs (if you're liberated now, at least take the fucking advantage), stable partners with views for a family, and on the side loads of great hobbies and additional activities just to you know, seem interesting enough.. And that's just the top of the iceberg, with all the contradictory underlying expectations of sexy but unavailable, smart but not imposing, liberated but not too independent, caring about body and looks but not vapid, interesting but not intimidating, etc. I feel like you don't have to be mad to crack down under all of this shit, so it's even more important to talk about it.
Nishma Doshi is another blogger who talks mainly about politics over at Topsoil, but also about extremely personal things and experiences of depression on her personal blog AcaciaThorns. I admire her greatly for never being ashamed to talk about how shitty she is feeling, and about how mental illness is still hugely stigmatized, and feels like a vicious circle with no breaking point even to so-called privileged young people, including people who are so involved in changing the world and fighting for ideals - and that for nobody is it just whining, or being lazy, and the last comment you ever need is "cheer up." But I also admire how the personal, again, coincides with the political, and on Topsoil she would still post entries about mental illness, such as this one about Time To Change:
"In the past, when I have spoken about my mental health conditions, I have either been called “brave”, or patted on the back and told to “sort myself out”. I don’t know which is worse. Is it brave to talk about something that burdens me every day? Can I really sort out an illness that changes the way that I think? In all of these points, I’ve sought for someone else to not only bring up some statistic and then tell me I’m not alone, but to share with me a story of how they cope. But I don’t hear those tales. Stigma does not only harm us in that society ignores our existence – it prevents recovery. The last thing anyone wants when they are ill is to be alone. And so many of us are."
This blog was set up to not be lonely. I will be doing my clumsy best in the next year to actually post about all the things I've been planning to post about, but also new things, exciting things, ALL things (this is a reference to an internet meme that originated from this Hyperbole and a Half drawing:
A good explanation of the phenomenon can be found here, and Google Images will give you 60,600,000 results for it, too.)
But this was also set up as collaboration, so is open to everyone and anyone, as long as the contributions are related to feminism/promoting female activity. In the very first post this is what I said was our main objective, and that's also quoted in my contribution to The Light Bulb Moment - that it is "important to promote and inspire female activity, expand the scopes of femininity, dispel stereotypes and cushioned conceptions of perfect equality, and protest against discrimination and stereotypes that fuck with female and human dignity.”
If this means something to you, you are always welcome - as a supporter, reader, commenter, guest, contributor, sister. I'd like to make this place meaningful, inclusive, and alive. Be good to yourselves and see you in the New Year. xoox