“Stage Fright” & Netflix’s Gender Gap

You may be familiar with Jenny Slate’s quirky animated personas, her performance as Jean-Ralphio’s sister on Parks & Rec, or her funny yet poetic tweets—but do you really know Jenny Slate? Her new Netflix special, Stage Fright, is a sincere and personal look at Slate, both on-stage and off. A comedy special and documentary, her standup is woven with interviews of her and family in her childhood home. Joking about her painful divorce, the bullying she experienced in adolescence, and dating in a #MeToo era, Slate brings a certain vulnerability to comedy that you don’t often see. In a sea of male-helmed comedies, Stage Fright is offers a refreshing voice to stand-up. 

In 2016, Tina Fey said it that it’s a “terrible time” for women in comedy. Nearly four years later, has much changed? Of course, we can’t help but cheer when we see Ali Wong on the Netflix homepage or get a notification for new specials like Stage Fright, but the number of female comedians on the Netflix slate is certainly a bummer. Out of nearly 150 Netflix original specials, only about 30 are headlined by women. And no, it’s not because women “just aren’t that funny.”

A study by stand-up comedian Meredith Kachel proved a significant gender bias in the comedy sphere. The majority of comedy show producers are men and tend to hire people that look like them. Men aren’t funnier than women—they’re just more likely to get booked. 

Women comics are clearly underrepresented on Netflix’s lineup, so it’s no surprise that there’s also been controversy surrounding the possibility of a Netflix pay gap. Amy Schumer took home $11 million for The Leather Special standup. But after learning that fellow comedians Dave Chappelle and Chris Rock earned $20 million per special, she felt it was time to negotiate a raise. Variety states that Schumer admits she didn’t feel she should earn as much as long-time comedians Chappelle and Rock, but questioned what was considered fair compensation. In 2018, Mo’nique called for a Netflix boycott after accusing the streaming company of paying Black women in comedy far less. While Amy Schumer, Dave Chappelle, and Chris Rock secured millions for their work, comedy vet Mo’nique alleges that she was offered only $500,000 for a special. Wanda Sykes said she was offered even less. 

While women comedians struggle with equal pay, they’re also forced to confront the media’s general perceptions of their work. Amy Schumer was labeled “the sex comic” for her raunchy jokes. Schumer responded by saying, “Honestly when people say I’m dirty and I talk about sex a lot, I don’t feel like I talk about it any more than is normal, and I think because I am a woman that people notice it more.” Men don’t have to deal with the “dirty” qualifier—they’re just comedians. 

Take Action! Stream Stage Fright and support women in comedy!