Women and comedy

I am rather excited about the Peckham Literary Festival coming up in a few weeks. Not only because the organisers took several of my suggestions to heart and hence Nikesh Shukla and Tall Tales will be heading SE London-wards, but also we get a local Book Swap. Huzzah for Peckham Book Swap! And double huzzah that one of the authors is DJ Connell, who wrote my second-favourite of the books I took with me on my spring travels, Julian Corkle is a Filthy Liar. (My favourite? Arthur and George, by Julian Barnes. Come on, it’s a massive prize winner, it’s no slight that Julian Corkle loses out to Barnes.)

Anyway, it transpires that DJ Connell is a female author who’s gone the ‘using her initials rather than her full name’ route. From memory (I left the book with Helen in Sydney, purely for reasons of keeping down luggage weight) I think the bio is gender neutral, but I’d assumed from the off that the author was a man. My reasons for this are:

  • I’ve been brainwashed by the patriarchy
  • I have known men who have called themselves “DJ”
  • The book gets into the head of a gay teenage boy so painfully well that I thought this may have been a case of ‘first novel, drawing on what you know’
  • While the overall feel of the book is gleeful, the humour is quite savage and sharp

Now, however, I know DJ Connell is actually Diane, and having read this article in the Guardian where she explains her decision to publish under her initials, I understand where she’s coming from. She’s written a funny book. And the funny does not take any prisoners, which is unusual for women’s comedy. I see a reasonable amount of live stand-up and the women are so often characterised by a clear need (is it a need or is it a role they’re expected to play?) to be liked, to not offend. I mean, I love Josie Long, and her new show is incredibly angry towards the end, but she’s also very open about how she doesn’t want to upset anyone. She’s wrapped up her kookiness and insecurities into her comedic persona and maybe she feels this allows her to get away with dropping the odd ‘cunt’. Ava Vidal, on the other hand, has a lot more front and I think that’s brilliant – even more so for being rare.

(Incidentally, I swear a lot not because I am trying to challenge the perception of women, but because I am uncouth.)

I cannot wait to hear what else DJ Connell has to say. I fear I may have another author crush coming on.


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