The first company I worked for in Sweden, I was based in their sales office just outside of Stockholm. When I visited their factory in the south of Sweden, very much in the middle of nowhere, my guide for the day drove me twenty minutes to the nearest restaurant for lunch. As we headed to car at the end of our meal, he mentioned that he’d once tried to watch baseball on TV but found the rules too complicated to understand.

“What? Baseball isn’t complicated!” I’m far from a fan of sports, but even I grasp the basics of a game as simple as baseball. I began to explain the rules and, noticing that I was still explaining them as we arrived back at the factory twenty minutes later, I realized that baseball actually is pretty complicated.

I was reminded of this during a recent conversation with a female comic about the current state of women in standup. I told her I’d just spoken to another female comic on the topic, said I wished every lineup was a 50-50 split between men and women and that it was a shame it’s so complicated. While the first woman had agreed with me outright, this time my comment was met by, “It’s not complicated!”

Twenty minutes into the subsequent conversation, I said, “Aaaand this is why I said it was complicated.” She begrudgingly agreed.

Let me paint a picture of a perfect world. Comic wants a spot at a club. Comic goes to club, meets owner, politely asks for a spot. Owner asks for a clip, comic provides a short clip showing them at their best. Owner judges that the comic will likely do well in their club, gives the comic a five-minute spot. Comic does well, gets another five-minute spot. Does well again, gets an eight-minute spot. Continues to do well, gets a support spot. Then headlines.

Sadly, we don’t live in a perfect world, and there are a lot of variables that get in the way of each of the above steps. Not all comics aggressively hunt for spots, but GENERALLY SPEAKING (really have to emphasize that) men are more likely to hunt. I’m not big on the biological arguments here. I think it has more to do with the fact that female rookies are significantly more likely to be offered unsolicited gigs as they are unsolicited feedback, much more so than men. I’ve never met a club owner who didn’t want any women on the lineup, although some are more proactive about it than others, of course.

Comics of all genders flake out, cancel at the last minute, or don’t show up at all, but I’ve heard club owners complain about female comics blowing off gigs more often than men (and that’s club owners of all genders). I don’t know if women really cancel more often or if it’s just more noticeable when it happens, since there are so many more men on the lineup. At Power Comedy Club, I used to take pictures of everyone that had a spot, and there was a night when two female comics were prebooked but neither showed, and no female comics walked in for a spot. I brought up a woman from the crowd and took her picture just so we could say it wasn’t only penis owners on stage that night.

Women in the audience want a woman on stage so that they have someone to whom they can relate, but not too pretty because of competition. I’ve heard this blamed on the Patriarchy and it can be, for all I know, but women compete with each other in ways men do not. I remember a night when a female comic was on stage who happens to be objectively lovely, there was a couple in the front row and the girlfriend sat with arms folded and a scowl fixed on her face. Her boyfriend, however, sat leaning forward, laughing at everything. After a few minutes the girlfriend stopped staring daggers into the comic and began staring daggers at her boyfriend instead.

That competitiveness affects how female comics treat each other as well. When I’m in a club and a male comic walks in that I’ve never seen before, I don’t have any reaction other than, if I end up talking to this guy before he goes on stage, I really hope he’s funny. I’ve talked to women who said they either felt threatened by other women, or that other women had made them feel they were a threat, since any new woman on the scene is a new competitor for that clichéd one female spot on the lineup.

Then there’s the fact that the typical comedy club has an aggressive atmosphere by default. Comics are enjoying alcohol and other substances, trying to one-up each other. I once saw an ad for a course, Standup for LGBQT+, and my immediate reaction was, is standup for CIS really so different? It isn’t, and that wasn’t the point, and I knew that as well. It was a course for people who wouldn’t feel comfortable trying out standup in the average open mic environment. That’s why I don’t mind niche clubs, just so long as they don’t advertise, “Of course [enter protected class here] are funny and we’re here to prove it!!!” First of all, no one should need to prove something that’s obvious, and secondly, niche clubs attract niche crowds. You’re preaching to the choir.

I had these two conversations and while they took different paths, we reached the same conclusion- yes, having diverse lineups takes work, probably more than one would think is realistic, but it’s worth it. More clubs, more welcoming, more comics of all stripes. Until we get to the day that, as one female comic put it, “there are so many women in comedy I don’t have to like them all.”