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We asked the Vodafone Comedy Festival booker about the number of female acts on its line-up

“I am constantly thinking about balance. Gender balance is important.”

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EARLIER THIS YEAR, the absence of women from many of the summer’s music festivals made headlines.

On several of the line-ups, female acts were significantly outnumbered by men.

But the problem isn’t just confined to music.

Ireland is home to several comedy festivals, including Kilkenny Cat Laughs and Vodafone Comedy Festival.

Both have previously come under fire for featuring too few female comics on the bill.

Today, the line-up for this year’s Vodafone Comedy Festival was unveiled and rather notably features 18 female acts on the bill, an improvement on recent years.

The bill features Irish comedians like Deirdre O’Kane, Eleanor Tiernan, Maeve Higgins, Alison Spittle and Andrea Farrell, as well as international acts like Aparna Nancherla, Holly Walsh, Michelle Wolf and Luisa Omielan.

Striking a gender balance in comedy has become a priority of late, a recent example being the BBC’s ban on all-male line-ups for comedy panel shows, a move which many criticised as inadvertently promoting “tokenism”.

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So, was striking a balance on the agenda for the Vodafone Comedy Festival?

Bren Berry of Aiken Promotions told, “I feel I have always made a concerted effort to book female artists and I have always championed female comedians at the festival.”

He explained that, as a booker, there are more male acts available to him than female acts, but that he still strives to book female talent where possible.

Our line-up, like any line-up, is always going to be reflective of how the industry works globally and the simple truth is there has always been way more male acts available to me to book than female acts. It is also a simple truth that there are way more commercially successful male comedians than female comedians. I wish that wasn’t the case, but it is. It annoys me when people don’t get this and assume that I in some way place more value or importance on male comedians than I do female comedians. I don’t. They are equally important.
And every year, we introduce what I believe to be brilliant new female talent via the festival. On rare occasions I’ll get to book an established female artist like Maria Bamford or Sarah Millican, but more often than not it’ll be new female performers.

Berry told us that balance is of the utmost importance to him. “I am constantly thinking about balance. Gender balance is important, as is a balance between established ticket-selling artists and new artists, mainstream artists and alternative artists, international artists and Irish artists.”

So, what do the acts make of it all?

Comedian Eleanor Tiernan told that she thinks balance is important if only for the fact that she’ll get fewer of these sorts of questions…

If balance means I eventually get asked fewer maudlin questions on the lines of  ”What’s it like being a woman in comedy?” then I think it’s very important.

As for when the word “quota” is mentioned?

I close my eyes and dream of being left alone to the business of being funny.

1891177_511911255586279_437453362_n Alison Spittle Comedy / Facebook Alison Spittle Comedy / Facebook / Facebook

Similarly, Alison Spittle expressed excitement at being part of this year’s festival and described the Vodafone Comedy Festival as a “great champion of women in comedy”.

This year, the line-up is amazing irrespective of gender with Andrea Farrell, Eleanor Tiernan and Maeve Higgins, who are in my top 10 favourite comedians list. I’m excited just to be and see all the great acts there, never mind gig.

For his part, Bren Berry believes that the landscape is slowly improving for female comedians.

I think people like Amy Schumer and Sarah Silverman are helping make that change through their success and determination to provide opportunities to other female comics. You probably saw that Maeve Higgins, who is a highly valued Irish female comedian on our line-up every year, recently got a spot on Schumer’s show which was really heartening.

Hon the gals.

giphy (14) dailydot / Tumblr dailydot / Tumblr / Tumblr

Here’s how Ireland’s summer festivals look without the men >

Irish women are sharing their dreams for a ‘feminist’ future on Twitter >

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