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From behind the mic

Mandy Nolan on starting out as a women in stand-up comedy ahead of International Women's Day

'..33 years on I stand proud in that I have claimed my place. I have held my voice above the crowd. I can command a room, a fee, and some fucking respect.'

Starting Out

I was just 17 when I started out as a stand-up comedian. Thirty three years ago women didn’t do stand-up. At least not very many. Why would you? Stand up was perceived the domain of men and ugly girls who couldn’t get a root. I fell into the latter category and I failed on both criteria.

At that time I could name about six women around the country doing comedy. Most of them were on TV. You had to be bloody good if you were a woman because there was no room for you to grow your talent like the boys did. And you had to be bullet proof. In the back rooms of the clubs where we sat and sipped our pre-show white wine and read the cock-and-ball oriented graffiti of previous wannabee, have-to-be and has-been male comedians, we didn’t see our stories or our names.

This is no glamorous back stage at the theatre. This was the dirty back streets of the comedy beat. Broken chairs. A toilet with no door. A drunk dick joke with no punchline. If you liked it clean on stage or off then you were in the wrong place. Women belonged behind the bar. Or backstage waiting to blow their comedian boyfriends.

Not on stage.

Women to the front

No one wanted to book women on their comedy night. Promoters and venue owners alike all agreed that women were bad for business. I often walked on stage and heard a collective sigh of ‘Oh fuck, not a woman’ before I even opened my mouth. I don’t know why I persisted. I didn’t even really want to be a comedian. I was a feminist and I was more tuned in to the challenge of conquering a male domain than I was actually being a stand-up comic.

I have had people yell all sorts of things at me. The usual show us ya tits. Shut up ya ugly dog. I’ve been hit in the head with a beer, had mild concussion and a cut requiring stitches. I’ve had 500 blokes chant ‘show us ya cunt’. I have cried in the car on the way home with the same self loathing as leaving a stain on my sheets that could take weeks to go. But I’m still here and 33 years on I stand proud in that I have claimed my place. I have held my voice above the crowd. I can command a room, a fee, and some fucking respect. And in the end, it’s not the jokes that keep me going, it’s that I have made the passage easier for the many wonderful women who have come after me. Our stories are heard. The universality of our experience, as this marginalised 50% of the population, is finally celebrated. For that I am proud. It’s why I still stand up.


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