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Female comedians discuss how to encourage more women to perform stand-up

D.J. Mausner, the first woman to win the Just for Laughs Homegrown Comics title, is seen in Montreal, on Aug. 1, 2017.

Paul Chiasson/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Comedy clubs are still male-dominated and if more women are to take their place in the industry, booking agents, audiences and fellow artists need to do more to encourage them to perform stand-up, comedian D.J. Mausner said Tuesday.

Mausner, 22, and fellow comedian Courtney Gilmour became the first women to win the Just For Laughs Homegrown Comics title at the festival's recently concluded 35th edition.

One of the reasons it's taken almost 20 years for a woman to win the event is partly due, she said, to the lack of female comic role models.

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"I think there are more men who can look at men who came before them, and emulate them and say: 'That's the guy I want to be like,' and they fit easier into a system," said the Toronto native who has been studying in Montreal for several years.

"Whereas women have different experiences and they share (jokes) in different ways."

She added that booking agents need to hire more women comics, while comedians should support one another by doing things such as talking openly about how much they are being paid in order to ensure women aren't undercut.

Martha O'Neill, founder of SheDot, a Toronto all-women comedy festival, says she's elated to see Mausner and Gilmour win the title as they have both performed in her shows.

She said it's sad, though, for it to have taken 19 years for a female comic to win the competition of best Canadian homegrown talent at arguably the biggest international comedy festival in the world.

Women have an extra challenge when they get on stage, compared to men, O'Neill said.

"A man steps on stage and the audience waits to laugh," she said. "For women there is another layer. The audience says, 'Prove to me you're funny.' "People still come up to me after shows and say, 'Normally I don't find women funny but I think you're hilarious' – and I would argue it's more women than men who say that."

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If women have an extra hurdle to leap, trans women have it even harder, said stand-up comedian Tranna Wintour.

The Montreal-based trans woman said the election of Donald Trump as U.S. president has led to a resurgence in "misogyny, in terms of its visibility and its power," in comedy shows.

"I see it in the audience and I see it to a lesser extent from fellow comedians," she said.

A few months ago she performed at an all-queer and all-female comedy show in Montreal and said the audience taunted the performers with homophobic and transphobic remarks and "derailed the show."

"Sometimes it's not even verbal," Wintour said. "It's an energy and it's just as hateful."

Mausner, who is moving back to Toronto to join The Second City comedy club, said it isn't just booking agents and audience members who should be cognizant of their behaviour vis-a-vis women and other marginalized groups.

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Comedians need to recognize they are hired to entertain people and their jokes shouldn't alienate audience members, Mausner said.

"I'm not saying I believe in censorship and people not being allowed to tell certain jokes," she said. "But I think your responsibility when you say those jokes is to know how they are going to affect the audience."

Society, she said, is already homophobic, racist and transphobic.

"So if you can make jokes about anything, why are you touching on tired stereotypes? By making jokes in that way you are just another drop in the bucket. It's boring."

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