Black comedy matters

We’ve all been horrified by the murder of George Floyd. And not just because of the brutal way in which George Floyd was killed, but for the fact that this keeps happening to black people. In the United States and in our own country.

But given this is a blog about comedy – and that none of us writing it are people of colour – is this something we should even comment on? Does Black Lives Matter need more white people and white-led organisations making a statement about this?

As a friend of this blog and a person of colour pointed out:

I’m sick of seeing companies and publications posting black squares. Look at who makes up their board, their senior management team… This rings hollow to me.

So, instead, we have some questions for our readers who work in the Australian comedy industry: why are there so few comedy shows by or about people of colour that people like us can review? Why is almost everything about the white experience? And why does there seem to be no effective pathway for comics of colour?

Many comedians start their careers doing stand-up, so it’s in the world of stand-up that you’d expect to see plenty of up-and-coming comedians of colour. Except, often, you don’t:

Of the 10 stand-up shows released on Amazon Prime recently, only one was by a person of colour.

Amongst the 25 performers who were part of Stan’s Lockdown Comedy Festival, just five were people of colour (six if you count Randy Feltface).

Of the 16 episodes of the audio series ABC’s Comedy Presents… just three feature either an immigrant or a person of colour.

These statistics aren’t awful, you might think, but they’re also not great. Amazon could only find one Australian-based comedian of colour to film? Really?

And it’s not like there haven’t been plenty of shows from indigenous and non-white comedians on the live scene in recent years. So why are so few of these performers making it onto TV, radio, streaming…?

And this is even weirder when you consider the great strides made in Australian comedy in recent decades to embrace comedians who are female, LGBTQI+, disabled or neuro-diverse. And the way in which indigenous artists have been the creators and stars of acclaimed drama series like Pine Gap, Mystery Road and Total Control.

So, what’s the problem in the comedy world? Sure, there’s been Black Comedy, the final episode of Get Krack!n, Steph Tisdell’s appearance in Drunk History Australia and Briggs’ occasional segments The Weekly… but is that good enough?

And in the week of George Floyd’s death, why did it seem as if the episode of Miriam Margolyse Almost Australian about ‘Mateship’ was only entertainment program which had anything to say about the problems faced by indigenous Australians?

Yes, we have a long way to go.

P.S. If you’ve got access to Stan, Steph Tisdell’s set on Lockdown Comedy Festival is worth a look. Punchy, pointed and funny, she’s one to look out for.

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  • Tony Coca-Cola says:

    I’ll bite.

    I’d argue the main reason for the disparity is simply statistical – there’s more white people in the country, therefore, taken as a random sample, there’s more white people in comedy than POC.
    Is the balance the same? My hunch is comedy would likely be whiter than the country itself. (Which is saying something.)

    So why is it happening? Culture likely has something to do with it. Immigrant families (of colour or otherwise) fight and struggle to bring their family over here for a new life, for opportunity – and you wanna be a comedian? I don’t think so buster. Get back in the books and finish your second Masters already.

    But a key factor is probably money. White people tend to be financially better off than POC the world over, so they can afford (or their children can afford) to indulge in artistic pursuits more safely. POC traditionally wouldn’t have that luxury.

    But it’s certainly changing, though perhaps not as fast as people would like. Over the past 5 years, it’s been far better to be a content creator of colour (or female, or any other non-male) than a male. Opportunities have definitely improved in the film/TV world, through specific quotas and targeted initiatives.

    Are quotas and the like the answer, to achieve a more equitable balance between demographics? I’ve had my foot in my mouth enough today – I’ll save that sermon for another day. (Accidental rhyme!)

  • Already dead says:

    “But given this is a blog about comedy – and that none of us writing it are people of colour”

    It does make sense that the Weeds are just as diverse as their opinions.

  • sven says:

    We’re stagnating baby ! Learn to love stagnation. Because it is here to stay. That means systemic racism too. Be resilient. Jobs. More of the same.
    No big social changes/reforms look likely, no shifts, no threats (especially from the infantilised Arts sector). What have the Arts done apart from ask for more money ?
    Too many ‘it happened to me so I will make a show about it’ efforts… but then that is hardly the worst crime.
    I believe/suspect comedy, and the cultural sector, have done well in trying circumstances to provide opportunities for people of colour. It is just a general trend that people struggle to develop a stable career in the industry.
    Slowly reduce funding to the cultural sector and watch them become more conservative and business focussed. Pretty sad formula, really. But why stop when it works so well ?

  • Evil says:

    No it’s even simpler, the ABC and professional media industry are more incestuous than European royal families, it’s not about how good you are, it’s about who you’re family friends with. A surname of H**** springs to mind…