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Saturday, June 4

Can I Use The C-Word?

Sorry to people who don't like that word, but the word I mean is cunt. Cunt, cunt cunt cunt cunty cunty cunt. There. Got over your aversion to it? No? Well go and see The Vagina Monologues and get back to me later.

So, why bring up this word now? Is it the only C-word worth talking of? Well, there's another c-word in my life right now: competition. I'm currently in the process of organising a national comedy competition for women. Of course I am. It's the year in which I'm getting married, and I have an Edinburgh show to put on in a few weeks, with new material and previews to sort out - of course I should be running a national comedy competition for 12 weeks.

I've wondered whether this is a subconscious pre-marriage thing. Is it like a sort of last-ditch bit of batchelor-hood to lure 230 women into giving me their phone numbers? I'm going to go with no, but my psychologist may get back to you on that one.

What's any of this got to do with the cunt word? Well, I got an email from a participant. I won't name her. She wrote:
Can I use the c-word?
Print that out. It's a classic question. Put it on a monopoly-chance-card-like thing and have it in your back pocket. In any situation of massive irritation (and I've been through a few of those recently) you could just pull it out and show it to someone. If they agree, then you can vent your spleen with that oh-so-effective syllable.

Why would a female comedian ask me whether she's allowed to use this particular word? It has to do with precedent. Let's imagine that some women are adamantly against this word. Imagining it? No? Then you probably don't need to see The Vagina Monologues (or the Va-hoo-haa Monologues if you're a prudish American theatre who couldn't even bear a medical term on a poster). If you HATE that word, then it's sort of understandable; swears activate a certain part of the brain and maybe you don't like that feeling... it might be worth seeking some counselling though.

Shouldn't women comedians set a good example on stage? Well, if they want to, yes. And what is a good example? (Not starting a sentence with "And" would be one.) I think it depends on who you are and what you do. If any comedian wants to use any word that is, in itself, non-oppressive (actual racial slurs and homophobia don't deserve a platform in my view), then they should use it. If a comedian wants to be an example of something, then great. If a comedian wants to just tell their jokes their way, without the demands of a subtext, then that's kind of the definition of being a comedian.

The problem with making female comedy into an issue is that it kind of presumes that female comedy is in a different social bracket to male comedy. I'm proud to say that I co-run an organisation called Funny's Funny (www.funnysfunny.org.uk) which is defined by the belief that comedy is comedy, regardless of any demographic classification of the performer. This means it makes no difference whether the comedian on stage chooses to use a word or another - they're not representing anything and the rules for them are the same rules for any comedian.

Why would a female comedian feel some burden of expectation on them as to what they can and can't say? Is it society? Is it the comedy industry? I'm afraid to say that it isn't. There exists an organisation who claims to be in favour of female comedy and claims to be all about promoting female comedians. This organisation asserts that there are disadvantages imposed on female comedians by the rest of the comedy industry; they claim to redress the balance. Unfortunately, it's this organisation who has created a number of insecurities and discontentments in my fellow comedians - the ones who happen to be female.

Why would an organisation who claims to offer support do the exact opposite? Why would they try to cramp and stifle the very thing they're supposed to nurture?

Can I use the c-word!?

I've never been a female comedian and I have only the anecdotes of my colleagues to draw on. No personal experience. I have, however, received about 50 pieces of feedback about "the other competition" from female comedians within the event we're running. This feedback would anger me just as much if it were male comedians complaining about any competition.

From tomorrow, a series of events will be happening nationwide. Please try to go to them if you can. See some new and not-so-new acts giving their best under normal comedy club conditions. They happen to be women. They're funny. The best of them will go into a final where they'll compete for a prize and get excellent exposure in the comedy world.

I hope they never need to use the c-word... off stage, at least.

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