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Here’s a gender breakdown of 19 local stand-up comedy lineups throughout 2017

Written by
Grace Perry

One thought slides all too frequently into the minds of many women in comedy: Is it just me, or are there SO many dudes in here? Whether it’s at open mics or showcases, that feeling of imbalance lingers. Chicago stand-up Meredith Kachel decided to put that recurring inkling to the test by documenting the gender breakdown of local comedy shows in 2017. She enlisted the help of Austin Sheaffer, who doesn’t do comedy, as an impartial check on the numbers.

The study accumulates data from 19 stand-up comedy showcases over nearly 10 months (January 2017 through October 15, 2017). Kachel and Sheaffer gathered lineup information either directly from show producers’ booking ledgers, or from social media promotional posts (Facebook events and promo posters). The 19 shows included are some of the most popular shows in the scene, including some of the longest-running ones.

Of what Kachel and Sheaffer identified as the “top 50 percent” of stand-up performers in Chicago—that is, people who performed eight times or more in the time frame—53.5 percent are men, 43.3 percent are women, and 3 percent are genderqueer. However, that breakdown is frequently not represented in stand-up show lineups, in Chicago and nationwide.

For the unfamiliar, here’s how local comedy show lineups work: Each comedy show has a group of producers (usually two to six people) whose job it is to create a lineup and promote the show. Producers are typically also stand-ups themselves; they curate the showcase, then perform on it themselves, too. So, for almost every show, there are spots on the lineup reserved for producers, and spots reserved for guest comics.

Only three of the documented shows have all non-male producers; five shows have all-male producers. Here’s the complete gender breakdown of who’s producing Chicago comedy shows:

Now, take a look at who those producers are booking on their shows:

Interestingly, of who’s being booked, there’s not a huge difference in gender breakdown from show-to-show; nearly all documented shows (except Strip Joker) give more than half their slots to men. On average, 62 percent of bookings on shows are men, 35.5 percent are women, and 2.5 percent are gender non-conforming.

However, when you factor in those producer spots on the show, the lineups don’t actually shake out to being equal. The data finds that Best Night Ever, BLT Comedy, and Yeah Buddy Awesome Time all have fully male producing teams, and all book 30 percent or fewer women on their showcases; when you factor in performing producers, the percentage of women falls even lower. (On the other end, CAMP books the most men out of any show at 72 percent, but their production team is 100 percent women.) Here’s how those numbers change:

“The issue lies in the production staff,” says Kachel, arguing that a gender balance in producers leads to a better gender balance in lineups. “The shows that have a split of men and women [producers] tend to book shows that are representative of both men and women.”

Another interesting takeaway is the number of men vs. women vs. GNC who performed stand-up just once over the timeframe. According to Kachel and Sheaffer’s data, men are three times more likely to try stand-up one time than women or genderqueer folks.

Kachel believes this reflects “who’s represented in the media. Is it Dave Chappelle? Louis C.K.? Every dude on Netflix?” In other words, men see more versions of themselves performing stand-up in the media, thus they feel more emboldened to give it a shot.

As Kachel concludes: “We can all do better. Even me.”

Check out the complete survey, as well as Kachel’s analysis and takeaways, here.

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