Vv Magazine’s Danielle Jobb sits down with comedian Christina Walkinshaw to chat comedy, sexism and dirty jokes.
The first thing that comes out Christina Walkinshaw’s mouth is an apology. “I am so sorry you’re meeting me like this,” she says, referring to her gym rat attire. She hasn’t actually been to the gym today, but she assures me she’ll get to it later. Probably. Maybe. We haven’t even sat down for coffee yet and I’m already giggling at her self-deprecating brand of humour. Walkinshaw, a stand-up comedian living in Toronto, makes a living off her ability to make people laugh. And she’s good.
Plonking herself down, she dives straight into the story of her career. “My push for getting into comedy is probably the dumbest reason of all time. I was at university and a cute fraternity boy told me I should try stand-up. I don’t even remember his name.” Regardless, she took his advice to heart. While working to complete her degree at Carleton University, she got her start telling jokes at open mic nights. She later moved to Toronto and began hustling to book her own shows.
“Some people think that all female comedians do is bash men and talk about their periods, but that’s not necessarily true. Although, my period jokes are some of my best jokes! If men had their periods they’d talk about them all the time onstage,” Walkinshaw explains. She’s certainly doing something right; her graphic jokes, which often reveal a greater truth about womanhood, have landed her contracts at Yuk Yuks, Comedy Now and Just For Laughs.
A writer as well, Walkinshaw has retold her Tinder adventures in blog posts for the Huffington Post. So it makes sense that we chat about our love lives really quickly. Too quickly. Walkinshaw is as loveable as they come, so I’m surprised when she mentions that men aren’t necessarily attracted to her comedic chops. “I want them to listen to me, not to look at me,” she says after explaining her typical stand-up uniform: blue jeans, sneakers and a hoodie. “I think it’s hard to be a pretty, sexy woman in comedy. I should be able to go out there wearing high heels and a dress but I don’t have the balls.”
Makes sense. Walkinshaw was involved in an incident at Yuk Yuk’s Niagara Falls Comedy Club, where she was a regular performer back in 2013. She opened her routine with a bit about bikini waxing. Within minutes, a group of rowdy, drunk men began chanting “Show us your tits!” and then escalating to “Show us your bush!” The casino had a strict policy for comedians not to engage with audience members during their set. “So basically I had two options: keep going or show them my tits. I decided to keep going,” Walkinshaw says. When she later mentioned to the backstage manager that the heckling had crossed the line and made her uncomfortable, her response was, “Oh, sorry, I thought you liked it.” For a future gig, Walkinshaw was notified that the casino had decided to pull her act “because of what happened last time.”
Walkinshaw retaliated the way any self-respecting writer would have. She published a story to her blog, and then another to xoJane detailing her experience. It went viral. In her interview with Dean Blundell of 102.1 The Edge, Blundell summed it up perfectly: “Christina, that wasn’t heckling. Heckling is ‘You suck get off the stage!’ What those guys did was sexual harassment. A bunch of drunk guys asking you to show off your genitalia while you were working.” Walkinshaw earned an onslaught of support after the incident, but she still feels the need to perform in ill-fitting clothing. “I sometimes think, maybe it was my material. I need to be careful, maybe I shouldn’t expect a bunch of drunk guys to have enough maturity to sit and listen to me talk about hairy vaginas.”
Walkinshaw is part of the self-deprecating school of comedy pioneered by Phyllis Diller, a comedian from the 1960s, who paved the way and inspired many female comedians today. Diller was known for her wild hair, cartoonish make-up and elaborate outfits that disguised her figure. Early on in her career, she did the unthinkable and proposed a photoshoot with Playboy Magazine. The editorial team was thrilled at the opportunity to print such a farce. Imagine the reader’s surprise when they opened their monthly copy only to find a clown seducing them from the centrefold. To the photographer’s shock and dismay, when Diller removed her make-up and ill-fitting costumes, she revealed a sexy figure and a beautiful face. Playboy deemed the images “too sexy for their comical purposes” according to The Atlantic. The photoshoot was scrapped.
“Humour is an act of power and aggression; audiences are known to be intimidated by comedians, especially at live venues. That’s why nobody sits in the front row,” wrote Gina Barreca, professor of English literature and feminist theory at University of Connecticut, in an article for The Atlantic. Diller’s career was built on poking fun at herself for being ugly and unable to cook, qualities that were, at the time, essential to womanhood. In fact, Diller was an accomplished artist, an excellent chef and a beautiful woman. “Already in a doubly threatening position as an uproariously funny woman as well as an attractive one, she stooped to conquer,” Barreca explained.
Women are still following Diller’s lead. Think of Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ performance as the big-haired, bad-dancing Elaine Benes in Seinfeld. The unfortunate love life of Tina Fey’s frumpy Liz Lemon made her the butt of every joke. And, most recently, Amy Schumer’s show parodies the expectations and realities of being a woman, particularly in her spoof of One Direction’s “You Don’t Know You’re Beautiful,” in which she takes off her make-up at the request of the young boy band. (They ask her to put it back on.) There is no shortage of female comedians hiding any hint of their sexuality to allow their work to stand on its own. But why should they have to? We should be able to control ourselves.
Unfortunately, this isn’t exclusive to comedy. Hillary Clinton and Amal Clooney have both faced sexist media coverage focusing on their wardrobe choices rather than their work. It seems that everyone feels entitled to an opinion about what women in the public eye wear.
“I was around for the era when Christopher Hitchens’ article came out, he came up with that whole idea that women can only be funny if they’re fat or ugly,” Walkinshaw reveals. But this is no longer the case. Luckily, as lady comedians are systematically taking over the big and small screens, they are slowly dialling up the sex appeal. Tina Fey and Amy Poehler looked like goddesses as they skewered Bill Cosby and George Clooney at the Golden Globes. And Amy Schumer sports heels and a form-fitting dress during her stand-up spot on Comedy Central. As Alessandra Stanley put it in her article for Vanity Fair, they’re “dishing out the jokes with a side of sexy.” They’re out to prove that you can make the same jokes in the highest of heels and they will be just as funny. If anything, it’s funnier.
“I’m so used to being approached by men after my shows, not to pick me up, just to make comments like ‘Wow, you’re really funny for a pretty girl,'” Walkinshaw says with a laugh. “I guess it’s a compliment, but comments like that set you back ten years.”
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