"Yeah well this is why any real men like me don't take women seriously, cause the all do stuff like this. That aren't funny either." @im_a_derek, on Riot Girls, 4th May 2018.
I can see why a man like Derek might think women have nothing to be funny about. In between being man-spreaded on the way to a job where our male counterparts are being paid more than us, in an office where there are fewer toilets for women than there are for men, even Derek might think it would be difficult to find the humour in it all. But not only can women be funny – we have to be.
Female comedy has always been key in opening up conversations in the gender debate. From Mae West’s brazen openness about her promiscuous sex life in the 1920s, to Joan Rivers slandering the institution of marriage in the '60s, to Lena Dunham and Issa Rae’s honest portrayals of what being a woman can mean today.
And while feminism and comedy have never been mutually exclusive, funny women have had to – and still are – putting in a lot of work in a world that has been male-dominated since its inception. These women had to be funny not just for themselves, but for their entire gender, always having to overcome the ridiculous notion that women weren’t funny.
Now it's obvious to most of the world that not only are many women hilarious, but that embracing female comedy is good for business, not worse, because, well, we’re half of the TV-consuming population.
If it hadn’t been for the women who have grafted to create this much-needed space for feminist comedy, the show that I’ve been working on this year, Riot Girls, would never have been made.
Riot Girls is a 'feminist prank show' – how often have you seen those three words in the same sentence in the TV schedules? Not long ago, the word 'feminist' would have ensured we’d never even make it to a commissioning editor, let alone get the green light.
In this one-off show, myself and three other incredibly funny young women – Jen Wakefield, Cam Spence and Sophie Duker – prank members of the public (mainly men but also some women) with fresh takes on the issues that we feel are particular to our wave of feminism. The pranks vary from the silly (taking on the man-spreaders of the London Underground, or peeing in public to highlight the woeful shortage of women’s toilets), to the absurd (charity-chugging to highlight our invented environmental crisis known as the Pubeberg), to the more serious (selling 'gappucinos', a coffee service which charges men more than women, to reflect the gender pay gap).
What the show hopefully does is take something that pisses women off and spin it on its head – to make people laugh, yes, but also to open up conversations about real and important issues. We are trying to bridge activism and comedy, two things which also don’t have to be mutually exclusive.
As an activist, I cofounded the Pink Protest with one of my best friends Scarlett Curtis. It's a collective and platform for female activism, creating video content and running campaigns like the #freeperiods movement, aimed at eradicating period poverty in the UK. We founded the Pink Protest because we felt that our generation, Gen Z, is way more politically active than the media and older generations give us credit for, amid the common misconception that all we’re doing is liking pictures of Anthony Joshua and cats on Instagram (although if anyone reading ever meets AJ, please put in a good word for me).
Young people are very politically active and yet we're not served by the kind of satire our parents and grandparents enjoyed: That Was the Week That Was, Brass Eye, Spitting Image, Bremner, Bird and Fortune. Britain has been home to some of the highest quality satire ever produced.
Here we are in 2018 with possibly the most lampoonable set of politicians we have ever had and the satire landscape is barren. Poking fun at the powerful and using humour to draw attention to the stuff that really matters has always been important in democratic debate and in shaping political change. We need more of it. Now.
In the US, comedians have been making people laugh while also holding the Trump administration to account. Trevor Noah, John Oliver, Saturday Night Live: they provide more than just entertainment – they inform, educate and provoke. Feminism has had a very dark period post #MeToo and #TimesUp. Trying to find some light and laughs in this somewhat ridiculous world is perhaps the best form of therapy.
I’m sure the trolls will be banging their keyboards when Riot Girls airs. Even the trailer going out seems to have riled up a few of the women-aren’t-funny brigade. The Telegraph previewer has called the show "as crude and funny as it is effective", so hopefully we have got the right balance between making viewers laugh, think and squirm. Maybe we'll even inspire some to make a difference.
Riot Girls airs Thursday 10th May at 10pm on Channel 4