Daphna Baram Comedian
Have you found your experiences as a female comedian to be different to those of a male comedian?
It definitely brands you as a minority comedian. There is a lot of talk about women in comedy which thankfully is beginning to change a little bit. When I started in comedy, which was only five years ago, there was very much a sense that women were a minority. The course I took had sixteen people in it and only three of them were girls - I was the only one who carried on doing comedy of the three. In my first few years, you would come to an open mic night and there would be anything between twelve and twenty comedians on the lineup, I would be the only woman, and if there actually was another woman they would put one of us in the first half and one of us in the second half to “not confuse the audience”. The fact that all the comedians were white, male and 27-years-old did not seem to confuse the audience at all; But, oh my god, the fact there were two women, one 40-years-old and white and the other 23 from Ghana – oh, now that would REALLY throw the room into havoc, wouldn’t it? I would look at a Facebook thread and there would be comedians, new comedians, male comedians saying, ‘Look, you just have to face the fact that women are not funny, that’s just it, that’s just a fact’. They would bring out some sort of biological excuse for it like, ‘Well, it’s always just been like this, traditionally men would go hunting and they had to be funny,’ and it was just bollocks. Christopher Hitchens’s infamous article on who women are not funny caused a lot of damage and is still dug out of oblivion at times. It is true that women socially were not encouraged to be funny, they were not encouraged to be out in public at all. I think our male counterparts welcome us and appreciate us more nowadays. Of course there are good female comedians, terrible female comedians and mediocre female comedians, but I think the more comedians that are going to be there, the easier it will be for some of us to become very good. I think this is already happening, we are seeing more and more popular female comedians, we saw the success of Bridget Christie last year, for example. But we are definitely late in conquering this specific world. We must remember the art of comedy is a new thing, it’s a new practice. Sometimes you’ll be in a lineup and a man or a woman will come up to you and say, ‘Oh, I normally don’t like female comedians but I actually thought you were extremely funny’. I didn’t believe these kinds of people existed but trust me they do exist. What I would like now is to reach the stage where people judge us as comedians full stop and say, ‘Oh, I like Daphna Baram’ or, ‘No, she absolutely sucks’. Don’t judge it on the criteria that I am a woman, judge it on the criteria that I am a comedian. I think that would be an indication that we are in better days. People can be very welcoming - I did a gig once and I was talking to the promoter on the phone and I asked, ‘How do I get to the venue?’ and he replied, ‘Can you bring another comedian with you who drives?’ So I recommended a comedian called Sandra Hale, and he said, ‘That’s great, we do love female comedians in my club’, which is nice, a lot nicer than if he said, ‘Oh no, no we can’t really have two female comedians in my club,’ which I’ve heard in the past. Female comedians are so rare that people consider us to be a genre of comedy. If I was to say I was bringing a different comedian who happened to be Jewish, they wouldn’t turn around and say, ‘Oh, we love Jewish people in here’. But the thinking behind it was way more favourable than saying, ‘Oh, no, no we don’t want another bird round here.’
Where would you suggest that a young woman looking to get into the comedy industry should start?
Well, I think they should start by going to watch a comedy night or two - this sounds like stating the obvious, but so many people start doing comedy without watching comedy and I am one of them. There were people who came to the comedy course and got asked, ‘Who is your favourite comedian?’ and half of them were unable to answer the question. So check it out, go to an open mic night, see how it works, watch some comedy, watch some specials, see if there’s anyone you like, it will definitely help. I think that would be my secondary piece of advice, my first piece of advice would be that if you want to do it, do it. Don’t think about it - people are going to tell you, ‘It’s a competitive world and there’s no money in it,’ which may be true, but if you are like me in the sense that you have a constant need to express yourself, and you like performing, comedy is amazingly rewarding. All it takes is a mic and a box to stand on. I think it’s way more interesting and rewarding than it looks, it’s a lot more than just telling jokes, it’s really about tuning into distinct things that you want to say. It’ll take you around the country and possibly around the world, you’ll meet amazing people and it’s just a great adventure.
Which women in the world personally inspire you?
I was personally inspired actually by Lea Tzemel, the lawyer I mentioned, who, in a political atmosphere that completely made it out of the question, went and became an advocate for Palestinians in Israel at a time when they were completely invisible, twenty years before the First Intifada and she fought for what she thought was right. The other woman is my mother, who lost her arm in 1967 in the Six-Day War and was very brave - she raised myself and my brother on her own without any complaining about the things that other mothers do.
Would you consider yourself a feminist?
Yes. Of course. The attack on feminists these days is absolutely sickening. There are different branches, different waves, far too many for us to get into it but I think everybody, not just women but men too, should be a feminist. Anyone who isn’t a feminist should be bloody ashamed of themselves! It’s basically like saying, ‘I don’t want to have rights’. And people who call themselves humanists - well, what does that mean? You support everybody’s rights except women’s? Of course I am a humanist - being a feminist is not my only political identity. I have many wars to fight; I’m a socialist and I think my opinions on race and feminism and everything else comes under that umbrella definition instead of the other way around. Feminism has become more complex and has more undertones: in the beginning, it was surrounding women having rights equal to those of men’s, which was easy to understand. Now, those people are talking about identity, about ways in which women are being marginalised in society in ways which have more to do with men’s behaviour in the public space than to do with policy, and these are harder things to understand. I think this may make some men feel very threatened and, as a result, very angry. Feminism now talks about how men behave in public spaces, the way in which they take space and intimidate women, the way they behave on the tube and in the street. We do need to take the time to look at how we explain these things as we can sometimes talk about it in an alienating way. I still believe feminism does way more good than bad. If we want to have equality, we do have to feel as safe and as secure as men in public spaces, which is why I’m in awe of everything that is being done today, like SlutWalk.
What is the one main piece of advice that you have picked up over your professional life that could apply to any career path that you would like to pass on?
If you’re passionate about it, do it. If you want to be a corporate lawyer, not many people are going to try and stop you, but if you want a career that has an element of creativity in it, people are going to say, ‘Oh no, it’s competitive, it’s hard, why would you want to be out there? You’re so brave.’ Comedy is not brave! People climb into burning buildings to save others, that’s brave. I personally think I was far braver going to military court in Israel when I did law. I was interviewing Hamas people in caves, why would I be scared of getting on stage and telling a few jokes? What’s the worse that can happen – they won’t laugh? Women often fear being out there, not just performing - everything that feels a bit bold or in people’s faces. I want to encourage women to be out there, the more out there we are, the more visible we are, the more normalised we are in our own society, which means we can do anything. But to be normalised does not mean we have to conform or to change our opinions or our style or our way of doing things to match those of men. Being normalised means that these new attitudes are going to become a normal part of society - this is the way towards equality.
The Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Human rights lawyer
Features writer - Kol Ha’ir newspaper, Jerusalem
News Editor - Kol Ha’ir newspaper, Jerusalem
Deputy Editor-in-Chief - Kol Ha’ir newspaper, Jerusalem
Journalism Fellowship from Reuters Institute, University of Oxford
Senior Associate Member - St. Antony’s College, University of Oxford
Freelance journalist, including The Guardian, New Statesman, Independent
The second half of the wonderful Daphna Baram's interview covers the gender inequality in comedy and how aspiring young comedians can get a foot in the door. Read part two below...
What did we learn from Daphna?
Times are changing for women in comedy - when Daphna first started, women were defiitely in the minority for comedy, and still are to some extent, but things are changing and pretty fast at that
Watch comedy if you think you might want to go into it as a career. Go to open mic nights
"If you want to do it, do it" - don't let anyone put you off something that they think isn't worthwhile if it's what you've always wanted to do
Feminism is for everyone, and we as feminists need to learn how to explain feminism without alienating those who do not understand it
Daphna wants to encourage women to be out there, and that way we can have our voices heard
"Don’t judge it on the criteria that I am a woman, judge it on the criteria that I am a comedian"
Photo by Giada Garofalo
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