Bonnie McFarlane is a Canadian success story. Hailing from Cold Lake, Alberta; she’s a comedian, writer, director, and co-hosts a radio show on Sirius XM. As a filmmaker she’s worked to combat sexism in comedy with the award-winning documentary Women Aren’t Funny. She’s returning to Montreal as part of The Nasty Show, and co-hosting a game show at Just for Laughs with her husband, comedian Rich Vos.
I had the opportunity to meet with Bonnie McFarlane so I asked her why there is the assumption that women aren’t funny. McFarlane has a lot of theories about it.
She said that comedy clubs have been catering to “bro audiences” for a long time so when a woman goes on and performs something other than “bro comedy”, they may not receive a positive response.
McFarlane herself identifies as male-friendly and she’s been working in this system for so long that she’s learned to tailor her act to those audiences. She thinks, however, that it’s important to make room for voices outside “bro comedy”, speaking with deference about comedian Hanna Gadsby and director Jill Soloway, who helped pave the way for female voices in comedy.
Macfarlane experiences inequality when people boycotting Louis CK and urging others to do the same asked her not to play at The Comedy Cellar in New York due to their reputation to book comedians like Louis CK, who in 2017 was accused of sexual misconduct.
“Why should I have to not work because of things that he did? If you want to stop going to The Comedy Cellar that’s fantastic, do whatever you want to do, but I’m not going to work less.”
For McFarlane, the problem lies in boycott and cancel culture, describing once being at a show where Louis CK came in unannounced and did a set. She went on stage after him and people told her after the show that she shouldn’t have gone on.
McFarlane doesn’t see how having fewer female voices is going to help sexism in comedy. There’s a lot of debate in comedy about political correctness and feminism often takes part of the blame for that.
McFarlane acknowledges that it’s a complicated issue but she believes in free speech and that comedians should hold themselves more accountable for what they say. She says it’s especially hard if you’re a female comic because you’re expected to have such strong opinions about these things.
While she has no sympathy for comedians like Louis CK, she personally does not want to stop him from working, highlighting the importance of moving forward instead of constantly drawing attention to bad people.
As she often opens her sets by announcing she’s a feminist, an atheist, and a vegan, I wondered what her take was on whether feminism was compatible with comedy. Her response was an enthusiastic no, saying that making fun of oneself is another way of taking charge.
“We know how far we’ve come when we can laugh at ourselves,” she said.
In addition to being a comic, McFarlane is an author, she directs, and she co-hosts has a radio show, so I asked her which role she identifies with most.
“I’ll always love standup most because it’s given me everything else,” she said.
While her favourite thing in the world is writing jokes, she also loves writing screenplays and TV shows and directing.
“I love taking something from one idea and seeing it all the way through to the end. It’s such a satisfying process.”
In addition to doing The Nasty Show, Bonnie McFarlane is co-hosting Would You Bang Him? with her husband, comedian, Rich Vos. The show is a contest in which a panel of female judges assess male comedians and whether they’d sleep with them. McFarlane cheerfully promises there will be beefy guys in addition to the comedians. Check it out.