It’s no joke: After TV comedian Katherine Ryan reveals she confronted a ‘sexual predator’ she worked with, a fellow female comic says the male dominated ‘liberal’ comedy circuit is full of creeps and misogynists
As the only female comedian on an otherwise all-male TV panel show in the 1990s, I often felt as if my role was to be the butt of the joke.
But that was nothing compared with when I became the focus of unpleasant and entirely unwanted sexual objectification. When my teammate, a male comedian in — just as I was back then — his late 20s, turned to kiss me full on the lips.
My eyes blinked in horror. I couldn’t even tell you the context of the ‘joke’. But the fact is that being sexually assaulted on live TV, as I now have to see I was, is never funny.
At the time, of course, everyone laughed. I sat there feeling cheapened and grossed out — but I, too, had to pretend to laugh. What else could I do?
Back then, society demanded that a woman on TV had to be a ‘ladette’ — up for a laugh, and certainly not one to run to an HR department clutching her pearls.
I was a prop to a gag — comedy collateral.
No one asked me after the show if I was fine, nor did I expect them to. And although I’ve seen him since, I’ve never mentioned that kiss with the male comic again, either.
I daren’t name him now. I’m sure he’d be deeply embarrassed. But looking back, I wish I had said something.
So three cheers for Katherine Ryan. The Canadian-Irish performer has done female comedians an enormous service by speaking out this week about her experience of male predators in the industry.
Katherine Ryan (pictured at the National Comedy Awards for Stand Up To Cancer in March) has done female comedians an enormous service by speaking out about her experience of male predators in the industry
On his most recent Netflix show, Ricky Gervais trots out the most tired trope of all — that women aren’t funny — something I was being forced to listen to 30 years ago
Jackie Clune pictured at a benefit screening for Josie Rourke’s debut film ‘Mary Queen of Scots’ at The Mayfair Hotel in January 2019
Yesterday, it was reported that Ryan recently confronted a TV colleague of hers whom she accuses of being a sexual abuser. She called the man — who has so far not been named — a ‘predator to his face’ while working on a particular show.
Ryan is well-placed to call out this behaviour. A huge star, she was being interviewed as part of an Amazon Prime show called Backstage With Katherine Ryan.
She has the scars from wrestling in the blokey bearpits of Never Mind The Buzzcocks, 8 Out Of 10 Cats, Mock The Week and more: late-night comedy panel shows usually dominated by men.
Her story makes my skin crawl — but sadly it doesn’t surprise me that men like that exist, prowling a male-dominated environment that enables their sick behaviour.
‘I’ve done a show with a person who I and you believe is a sexual predator,’ she told interviewer and fellow comic Sara Pascoe. ‘What am I supposed to do . . . am I not supposed to feed my children because of someone else?’
Then she admitted: ‘I raised it. I called him a predator to his face and in front of everyone every day.’
Hollywood has been exposed as a handsy hellhole in recent years — and now it’s high time a light was shone on the world of comedy.
I believe Katherine’s story could be the MeToo moment that hauls these despicable characters from underneath their stones.
After 30 years as a cabaret performer and comedian, touring festivals and TV studios, I can tell you her words rang all too true.
Frankly, it has been going on for ever.
In comedy, women are outsiders. I’ve often been the only female act on a bill of a dozen men. I mentioned an HR department before, but it’s laughable to imagine one on the circuit.
Female comedians often find themselves in a bar after a gig, or on a touring bus, alone among male colleagues. All are puffed up from the show and downing booze.It’s a recipe for inappropriate behaviour — or worse.
And let me be clear: although there is a lot of Left-wing comedy out there — some of which I’ve delivered myself — this is not a question of political allegiance.
That said, even supposedly ‘enlightened’ and liberal men can be abusers. In my experience, socialists can be horribly sexist without realising it — as if they have a blind spot when it comes to their own behaviour. Sometimes the worst bullies of all are those waving placards that say everyone deserves to work in a ‘safe space’.
But misogyny doesn’t respect party lines. I’ve seen some comedians on the road act like rock stars surrounded by female groupies. And although I’ve befriended some wonderful male comics who wouldn’t dream of treating a woman badly, there is no doubt comedy attracts huge egos.
Katherine Ryan pictured at the ‘Backstage With Katherine Ryan’ launch event at BAFTA on Monday
And let’s face it: humour is attractive in men. It can make up for mediocre physical appeal and draw women into a man’s orbit.
In the wrong person, that power can go to his head.
I was once on a radio show in the late 1990s when I heard a vile sexual act being described. Before we went on air, the two male hosts, both of whom I knew socially, were frankly discussing what they would like to do to me.
I couldn’t believe my ears. I challenged them in the jokiest way I could and we laughed. But again I felt diminished and objectified.
They considered it harmless laddishness but to me it was a wounding take-down. I’d believed I was working on the same level as these men, that they were my friends and colleagues. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
Even the biggest stars can be blokey boors. On his most recent Netflix show, Ricky Gervais trots out the most tired trope of all — that women aren’t funny — something I was being forced to listen to 30 years ago.
Gervais often undercuts his material, explaining the irony of the joke, to the point where you’re unsure what you’re laughing at. That’s his great skill.
But the truth is that any offensive joke, be it by Frankie Boyle, Jimmy Carr or whoever, stretches the boundaries of morality. And that feeds into the myth of the edgy comedian: the one who will say what he’s not supposed to, who will stick two fingers up to cancel culture.
That’s why I feel for my eldest daughter, 18, who wants to be an actor. Performing for a living can be not only financially unstable but emotionally unstable, too.
As vice president of Equity, the union for people working in the creative industries, I have helped to promote its Safe Spaces statement. I believe every person working in this field deserves to be free from bullying, harassment and unwanted sexual advances. And we’ve had some success: managers and producers now come down hard on perpetrators when they are reported.
Yet for a whole sector of performers working in comedy clubs up and down the country, it still feels like business as usual.
I’m 56 now, so far too old and crotchety for any kind of unwanted sexual advance — and very much relieved about that.
Today, I do TV work mostly, including the BBC’s recent Bafta-winner Motherland.
My days touring festivals with the fellas are long gone — and while the vast majority of men I’ve worked with have been nothing but respectful, I don’t miss feeling piggy in the middle of their masculine world.
So thank you, Katherine Ryan, for speaking out.
The more of us who do, the less of this filth our daughters will have to put up with.
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