Unlike other performing arts such as theater or music, little research has been conducted on the Francophone comedy industry in Québec. Who works in the industry? What do they do? How is success achieved? How are women fairing in an industry traditionally dominated by men?
Researchers from Carleton University and Brunel University London conducted a study to lay the foundations for a census of the Francophone comedy industry in Québec. The objective was to help cultural institutions and other stakeholders better understand the Francophone comedy-industry ecosystem.
One survey consisting of two parts was developed to gather socio-demographic data and perceptions of gender equality. Two hundred professionals working in Québec’s Francophone comedy industry participated in the surveys. Ninety-nine (99) respondents were women, and 101 were men.
The following article highlights the findings of a Groupe de recherche sur l’industrie de l’humour (GRIH) study authored by:
- François Brouard, Carleton University
- Christelle Paré, Brunel University London and independent researcher
Gender in the Business of Being Funny. Perspectives in Québec’s Francophone Comedy Industry
Profile of the Francophone comedy creators in Québec
According to Dr. Brouard, the comedy sector is not well recognized as an industry, making it harder to obtain funding as provided to other performing arts. Consequently, comedians are dependent on the profitability of their shows to earn a living and advance their careers. Dr. Brouard emphasizes one of the advantages of better understanding the Francophone comedy industry in Québec.
“Comedians are entrepreneurs; they need to manage their business and their careers to ensure they are successful and to potentially become famous.”
Survey participants’ roles ranged from comedians, to authors, and stage directors, among others. They had the following to say about themselves:
Training: The majority (77%) of men and women creating comedy in Québec’s Francophone comedy industry, studied at École nationale de l’humour.
Core activity: Half (51%) described themselves as comedians.
Method of working: Most comedy creators (86% women, 81% men) worked solo.
Representation: Women (41%) preferred to work without a talent manager, compared to men (21%).
Professional status: The artists most advanced in their careers in Québec’s comedy industry were more likely to be men (46%) than women (33%).
Age group: Half of Francophone comedy creators in Québec were in their thirties (54% women, 50% men).
Income: One in three women (38%) earned less than $25,000 annually, compared to one in four men (25%).
Regions: One third of Francophone comedy creators in Québec were raised in Montreal (34% women, 39% men).
Native language: French is the native language for the majority (98% women, 95% men).
Ethnic diversity: Most Francophone comedy creators in Québec were born in Canada (90% women, 85% men).
Parenthood: One third of comedy creators had children, though fathers had more advanced careers (20 out of 28), compared to mothers (7 out of 20).
Perceptions of gender equality in Québec’s Francophone comedy industry
For many years, Québec’s Francophone comedy industry has traditionally been a “boys’ club.” Though more women are entering the industry, challenges remain. Meanwhile, newcomers in the industry, especially women comedians, are becoming more and more popular.
Women, work and sexism
Women feel strongly that they are not treated equally. Eighty-five percent (85%) of women found that men and women were not treated equally in Québec’s Francophone comedy industry, compared to men (68%). Moreover, it could be that mostly men think gender equality is getting better among younger generations. When asked if comedy creators under the age of 50 were generally less sexist, 61% of women disagreed compared to 29% of men.
Women’s position in comedy has improved. Most survey respondents agreed that there has been improvement overtime in the perception of women in comedy among the public (86% women, 87% men) and within Québec’s Francophone comedy industry (65% women, 79% men).
There are double standards for women. There was a strong perception among women that double standards exist in the acceptance of characters women can play on stage, as opposed to men. Seventy-five percent (75%) of women felt this way, compared to 50% of men.
In developing the survey with members of the Coalition des femmes en humour, Dr. Paré and Dr. Brouard, several statements were examined and included in the survey. Several were experienced by women comedians.
Women who complain are singled out as “whinny.” The majority (64%) of women agreed that women who complain, risk damaging their reputation if they complained about a situation they experienced as sexist. In comparison, 27% of men had the same opinion.
It is harder for women to overcome a false start. The opinion of women and men was overwhelmingly different about the influence of gender on getting a second chance in comedy. Seventy-one percent (71%) of women felt that women beginners had a harder time getting opportunities after an initial unsuccessful show, compared to 29% of men.
Negative generalization affects women more than men. Most respondents agreed that a less talented female comedian was likely to contribute to the preconception that women are less funny than men, compared to a less talented man that is more likely seen as a less talented individual. (90% women, 56% men).
Women have a higher perception of pay inequality. Thirty-four percent (34%) of women said to never have experienced a man getting a better pay for the same work, compared to 74% of men that said men were never paid more than women for the same work.
Sexually derogatory comments are being used. Half of the survey respondents (51% women, 48% men) had at least one instance when they experienced (in case of women) or witnessed (in case of men) an industry member using sexually derogatory comments against a woman.
Sexually derogatory acts are not prevalent. When asked if “someone in the industry had committed a sexually derogatory act towards you or a colleague,” 39% of women said “never,” 44% said “sometimes” and 8% said “often.” In comparison, 72% of men never witnessed a derogatory sexual act against a female colleague, 25% said “sometimes,” and 3% said “often.”
Opportunities offered in exchange for sexual favours are not common. The majority (73%) of women surveyed have not been offered a professional opportunity in exchange for a sexual act, however 20% of women were asked a few times. When men were asked if they witnessed a woman being offered an opportunity in exchange for a sexual act, 75% never witnessed this, while 25% saw it a few times.
Industry and public perceptions
Women and men are perceived as equally funny, though industry bias persists. Ninety-five percent (95%) of women surveyed found women in comedy to be equally funny to men, compared to 89% men surveyed. However, when asked about their experiences in interactions within the industry, 50% of women heard “quite often” or “constantly” that women were less funny than men. In comparison, only 28% of men heard “quite often” or “constantly” that women were less funny.
Women experience pressure around beauty. Sixty-one percent (61%) of women heard “quite often” to “constantly” that beauty takes away the focus from comedy. In contrast, 31% of men heard the same.
For women, the focus is on their gender first then talent. Most comedy professionals heard “quite often” that a woman was hired because of the requirement of having a woman on the show (74% women, 59 % men). Furthermore, 41% of women heard “quite often” that they could not be added to a show, because “there already was another woman.” In comparison, 11% of men heard that a second woman could not be added to a show.
There is gender bias among the media and critics. Most women (71%) and men (70%) have the impression that the media and critics before talking about a comedian’s talent, first specify if the artist is a woman.
Public perceptions of women in comedy improved, but biases remain. Seventy percent (70%) of women respondents heard members of the public “quite often” or “constantly” commenting that they enjoyed their performance even though they did not like women comedians. In comparison, 52% of men heard the same. Furthermore, half (54%) of the women still heard from the public that women in comedy are less funny than man. Thirty-one percent (31%), heard the same.
When asked about the significance of this study and next steps in looking at women’s position in Québec’s Francophone comedy industry, Dr. Brouard commented,
“Humour occupies a large part in the Francophone culture in Québec. With our study, we wanted to create a broader picture of the arts and culture ecosystem. We envision broadening the scope of future studies to help uncover challenges and opportunities for the industry thrive.”
Research Highlight writer: This Research Highlight was written by Fiorella Jansen-Nicorescu. CRIW’s Research Highlights share relevant and actionable information about workplace inclusion with a broad audience.
One survey consisting of two parts was developed to gather socio-demographic data and perceptions of gender equality in Québec’s Francophone comedy industry:
Summary of Findings – Part 1: Paré, Christelle et Brouard, François. (2018). Enquête sur le portrait sociodémographique et l’égalité homme-femme chez les créatrices et créateurs d’humour au Québec – Sommaire 2018-1: Données sociodémographiques, Sommaire de recherche, Groupe de recherche sur l’industrie de l’humour (GRIH), SCSE/CSES, Sprott Centre for Social Enterprises / Centre Sprott pour les entreprises sociales (SCSE/CSES), Université Carleton, 9 juin, 10p.
Summary of Findings – Part 2: Paré, Christelle et Brouard, François. (2018). Enquête sur le portrait sociodémographique et l’égalité homme-femme chez les créatrices et créateurs d’humour au Québec – Sommaire 2018-2: Données sur la perception de l’égalité entre les femmes et les hommes, Sommaire de recherche, Groupe de recherche sur l’industrie de l’humour (GRIH), SCSE/CSES, Sprott Centre for Social Enterprises / Centre Sprott pour les entreprises sociales (SCSE/CSES), Université Carleton, 9 juin, 16p.
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This study was made possible, in part, through the generous support from the RBC Foundation.
Additionally, this study was conducted in collaboration with the following research partners: Groupe de recherche sur l’industrie de l’humour (GRIH), Coalition des femmes en humour (Coalition FH), Association des professionnels de l’industrie de l‘humour (APIH) and École nationale de l’humour (ENH).
About the Centre for Research on Inclusion at Work (CRIW)
The Centre for Research on Inclusion at Work (CRIW) is a research centre at the Sprott School of Business, Carleton University, focused on conducting and sharing research that advances diversity, equity and inclusion at work. By making research findings available to the public and connecting academia with the broader community, CRIW aims to advance knowledge and drive change towards more inclusive workplaces that welcome and support greater participation of all peoples.