What is the #MeTooStandUp campaign and how is it shaking up the French comedy scene?


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Following the flurry of accusations against Gérard Depardieu and the watershed #MeToo moment France is finally facing in its insular entertainment industry, there seems to be further forward progress.  

The French comedy industry has adopted an essential “charter of good conduct”, in order to combat the growing cases of sexual and sexist harassment and violence that have been reported in the industry.

Spearheaded by Jessie Varin, artistic director of Parisian barge theatre Nouvelle Seine, the #MeTooStandUp initiative aims to prevent all “forms of sexist and sexual violence and harassment before, during and after performances”.

This new text, drafted by entertainment industry professionals (producers, directors, artists) has been submitted to all Parisian comedy venues, alongside a logo by the famous cartoonist Pénélope Bagieu, which shows a microphone being passed between two people with the slogan: “Dans ce comedy club” (“In this comedy club”).

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Une publication partagée par La Nouvelle Seine Comedy Club (@lanouvelleseinecomedyclub)

“There’s a desire for women not to be confronted with sexism in dressing rooms or little remarks that destabilise you when you’re in a phase of your work where you’re more vulnerable,” stated Jessie Varin in French outlet Le Parisien. “Women and minorities always have to armour themselves a little more”.

In practice, all the signatory venues – 59 comedy clubs and theatres to date, including La Nouvelle Seine, Paname Art Café, Petit Olympia Comedy, Cartel Comedy Club and Bo Saint-Martin – have also undertaken to “programme at least two female artists per evening” and to intervene in the event of sexist, racist, homophobic or transphobic remarks or attitudes.

And these attitudes are a common occurrence. According to French comedian and journlist Mahaut Drama, comedy clubs are “programmed by men who favour a form of bromance,” highlighting the systemic sexism in the world of stand-up comedy that tends to encourage a boys’ club mentality.

“They never have the reflex to say to themselves ‘I have to force myself to programme women’. They often use the excuse that there are too few women.”

Drama stated: “There’s this impression of a double standard where, for a woman to be programmed, her CV has to be three times longer than that of her male colleagues. You get the impression that no matter how much you do on radio and TV, write a book, do a podcast, go on tour and get your fill, you’re still going to be the “I’m not sure” type.”

French actress Judith Godrèche, who has filed a rape complaint against director Benoît Jacquot

#MeTooStandUp comes at a time when the #MeToo stand-up movement has been increasingly liberating speech in the French entertainment industry, and in the wake of the actions of French actress Judith Godrèche, who has urged politicians to establish a commission to investigate sex crimes and sexism in French cinema.

That being said, there are repeated cases of harassment and abuse – and the comedy scene is far from exempt. One key incident which made headlines earlier this year came when twenty comedians condemned the behaviour of Seb Mellia, the 38-year-old comedian who made his name in the Jamel Comedy Club.

Seb Mellia denounced “a cabal” and promised that the matter would be resolved in court.

With any luck, the #MeTooStandUp initiative will start making more waves within the comedy circuit, even if it feels like an uphill struggle considering that parity “is complicated” in the stand-up world, according to Varin.

“The idea is not to create parity stages but to plant a small seed, to get a little more feminine energy circulating in the profession”.

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