Michael J Dolan
Michael J Dolan

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Opinion: I Was A Misogynist Comedian

Comedian Michael J Dolan takes himself to task for allowing himself to write misognystic jokes
Feature by Michael J Dolan.
Published 02 January 2013

In June this year I put out my first stand-up record. Self-released, I tried to rattle up some press but mostly I was told to shove it. In the end I managed to get two reviews on indie comedy blogs and I was grateful for those. One was lovely. Enthusiastic, positive, the kind of thing I was hoping for. The other called me a misogynist and compared me to Bernard Manning. I was a little bit fucking shocked.

My initial reaction was that this was clearly wrong. The writer had brought an agenda to the review, she'd mapped her own paranoia onto an entirely inoffensive show. I tried to laugh it off, forget about it but I couldn't stop thinking about it, couldn't stop analysing my act, looking for where I'd crossed the line.

I don't consider myself a misogynist, but then I'm pretty sure most misogynists don't. That doesn't mean they don't hate the living shit out of all women, they just don't know that they do. Was I one of these deluded nutcases? Roaming the land's stages barking sexual threats at terrified women all the while still thinking myself ever so modern?

I called a friend (hey, look at that, some of my best friends are women). Well-read when it comes to contemporary feminism, little gets past her. I thought she would tell me the reviewer was full of shit, that I had nothing to worry about and that would be that. I asked her straight if she thought that any of the material was misogynistic. She said yes.

Fuck.

We went through the show and she pointed out parts she wasn't comfortable with. It was awful. I had been proud of this show, but looking at it now there are things I'd change. Some jokes I would remove entirely. Individually, they feel borderline. Together, they work to colour the whole in a nasty woman-hating hue. There's one joke towards the end of the record about tying up an ex and burying her alive which I now definitely consider to be the worst bit. That joke specifically is predicated on an act of violence against a woman and I believe that it speaks of a bigger problem in comedy.

I offer this observation, not as a defence, but by way of explanation. It's easy to lose sight of yourself as a comedian. In most comedy clubs I performed in that joke would easily get the biggest laugh of my set. It was such a sure-fire hit that I'd close on it. On the record however, in front of the slightly hippie crowd at XS Malarkey in Manchester, it receives a deservedly muted response (and I'm flustered by that, you can hear it in how I move into the next routine).

The truth is that misogyny is rife in British stand-up right now. Step into any comedy club and see how long it takes until one of the acts calls a woman from the audience a slut for a cheap laugh. See how many jokes revolve around the comic visiting violence on some imaginary girl and marvel at how well those jokes are received. Or just count the rape jokes. There may only be a few, but there will almost certainly be one or two.

Except that it isn't just one or two. The defence so often used is that they're only jokes. They're not to be taken at face value, we obviously don't mean it. But you'll rarely hear a contemporary act try to justify racism that way. We know that in a culture of racism every racist joke contributes to that culture and that none of them are acceptable. This is no different. In our culture of misogyny, of violence against women, every misogynistic joke contributes.

I wasn't vigilant enough. I let things into my act that I shouldn't have. I believe we need to hold ourselves to a higher standard than we currently do and think beyond just crowd pleasing. The crowd don't necessarily know what's best for us.

The racist comedians of old were left behind as the rest of the world moved on, some wilfully refusing to change, some genuinely unable to see what was wrong with what they did. A new generation of comedians are about to be left behind. Those peddling misogyny, homophobia or other varieties of hate to drunks who don't know better are going to find themselves out of favour.

Usually when a comedian apologises for the horrible shit they got caught saying, it's a climbdown for PR purposes. That's not what this is. I know this because I didn't really get caught. Sales of the record were insultingly low and not even my friends read the reviews, so I'm pretty sure no other fucker read them either. I'm not saying the work I put out is indefensible, just that I am no longer willing to defend it. Except maybe the cat bit.

Finally then, the worst part of this. After five months agonising over the content of my act and wrestling with all this self-loathing, after writing this piece which has taken me all of those months, I re-read the review in question only to find that it doesn't actually call me a misogynist, it just says that some of my jokes about women are a bit shit. Which they are.

Evidently I've got my own paranoid agenda. I hate myself.

Comments (60)

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  • For reference the review in question can be read here: http://www.gigglebeats.co.uk/2012/06/review-michael-j-dolan-dress-to-depress/

    Posted by MJD | Saturday 05 January 2013 @ 03:01

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  • Very brave and honest.

    Posted by Christine Dolan | Saturday 05 January 2013 @ 19:12

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  • Thank you for this, it's really important, and I deeply hope you're right about the comedians who are going to be left behind next.

    Posted by Soph | Saturday 05 January 2013 @ 22:39

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  • These comments do you great credit, Mike. We need more people talking about this sort of thing, especially after what happened in India.

    Posted by Lynn | Sunday 06 January 2013 @ 10:48

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  • Well said that man! Good on you :)

    Posted by Clare | Sunday 06 January 2013 @ 19:43

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  • It's the easiest thing in the world not to question your own privilege, but it still makes you a crappy person. Well done for not being that person, and also for writing about it so well.

    Posted by Finisterre | Sunday 06 January 2013 @ 20:05

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  • Get you, how much do you rock right now!? You are dead on the nail about the way standup is at the moment, the fact that you have seen this and pulled away from it, and written this, is top.

    Posted by Jo | Sunday 06 January 2013 @ 21:38

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  • It's great to read this kind of self-reflection. I think it's interesting, and telling, that you were troubled by being called a misogynist when nobody was actually calling you it. Often people interpret criticism of certain behaviour as criticism of themselves as a person, as if they're being slapped with a label that will never come off - and frequently they get defensive and shut down any discussion of it rather than engaging with the issue. For a great response to a somewhat analogous situation, see Jay Smooth: How To Tell People They Sound Racist https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b0Ti-gkJiXc

    Posted by Nine | Monday 07 January 2013 @ 07:59

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  • good on you mate

    Posted by Callum | Monday 07 January 2013 @ 18:40

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  • Absolutely love this article. Thank you for writing about it and, as mentioned, one day I hope we will look back at misognistic jokes as very much a thing of the past

    Posted by DJ | Monday 07 January 2013 @ 21:38

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  • This is great. Your ability to change is so much more important and uncommon than you can even imagine. Congratulations.

    Posted by Maria | Tuesday 08 January 2013 @ 22:33

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  • Well written but another nail in the coffin of comedy. If you insist on reading into jokes then you're never going to like what you find.

    Posted by Steve | Tuesday 08 January 2013 @ 22:39

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  • Well, that's not really true. You're going to like what you find just fine if you're not relying on misogynistic tropes for humor.

    And yes, there are a lot of comedians who aren't actively misogynistic -- who probably DO think of their misogynistic jokes as just expressions of commonplace comedy tropes, not to be taken seriously. And yeah, it sucks for them that now they have to work a little harder. But it sucks worse for everyone else if they don't, and a lot of misogynists take them at face value, and a lot of women (and men, for that matter) are not comfortable with them.

    I fail to see how "we criticize THOSE guys for being jerks, and THESE guys for being lazy, but THESE comics over here actually put the effort into thinking about what they're saying, and good for them" is "a nail in the coffin of comedy." It's the next step in comedy -- it's insisting on better. And insisting on better has never been anything but good for an art form.

    Posted by ECN | Wednesday 09 January 2013 @ 03:51

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  • Is he talking about the one on the end of this reel:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9kFdO8Kp79s

    ?

    If so where is the misogyny in that? A female comic could easily tell the same joke about her boyfriend. It's gender-neutral to feel trapped or annoyed about being in a relationship and absurd violence is a means of expressing it. The joke does nothing to specifically invite such acts against people of that ilk nor discriminate against them in a particular fashion.

    IMO it seems that both the critic and the friend were unable to effectively emphathise with you when you were telling that joke to view it from _your_ perspective. Therefore they deemed it somehow offensive to their gender. Another point to consider is that were you gay then the joke _still_ would not lose its impact. That's an effective way of demonstrating that the joke is _not_ misogynist.

    Posted by tpyo | Wednesday 09 January 2013 @ 06:57

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  • Wow, this article is disgusting. Humor is supposed to push boundaries, it is supposed to go where other people won't.

    People like you do a disservice to the industry.

    Posted by Paul | Wednesday 09 January 2013 @ 16:38

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  • Surely an evolutionary take on one's act and on comedy as entertainment. It would be great if all comedians (myself in America included) visited their act to find something they did for a Shock-Laugh instead of a Truth-fueled laugh.
    TYPO's comment is spot-on. People's sensitivities & perspectives can put a filter on their Sense of Humor. Almost anything can get a laugh if well-written and delivered properly.
    If we abandon all humor based in anger, disbelief, disillusionment, and/or perception of others, well, I envy the comedian with 68min of Knock-Knock Jokes.

    )Knock Knock(
    Who's there?
    "Comedian"
    Comedian who?
    "Comedian who had a decent career going but gave it all up so as not to offend anybody, interested in a subscription to Outdoor Times?"

    Posted by GLRules | Wednesday 09 January 2013 @ 20:45

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  • You can say that "humor is supposed to push boundaries, it is supposed to go where other people won't." And sure, some humor is. (I'd argue that going places other people wouldn't even THINK of, pushing boundaries of inventiveness rather than prodding the same old limits of propriety to see if anything gives way, is a higher calling. But maybe that's me.)

    But just because some great comedy has been transgressive -- which I'll acknowledge -- doesn't mean that transgressive comedy is necessarily great. Sometimes "where other people won't go" is fruitful ground for smart, insightful, daring comedy. But sometimes, other people won't go to a place because it's a stupid, hateful place. (Much like some comedy clubs.)

    I mean, there's a fine line between "what we're all thinking but wouldn't dare say out loud" and "what you're thinking because you're a dick, and wouldn't dare say out loud because people would rightly call you a dick." Not everything comes from the id, you know. Most stuff really worth the attention of an intelligent person doesn't.

    Posted by ECN | Wednesday 09 January 2013 @ 22:25

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  • Oh, don't be so hard on yourself. It's the comedians who never realize their work is misogynistic who are a bigger threat to women. You can go back to not hating yourself. You seem like an okay dude.

    Posted by lolyla | Wednesday 09 January 2013 @ 22:45

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  • Thank you. This is refreshing.

    Posted by Ashley Pitre | Thursday 10 January 2013 @ 02:07

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  • Fair play. There are far too many comedians out there with a total lack of self-awareness, who don't realise that they're slowly evolving into Roy Chubby Brown. The end of the pier is a real place, and that's where they're in danger of playing for the rest of their lives.

    An example is Tommy Tiernan, me and all my mates loved him, but these days he spends half the time thinking he's some philosopher-flaneur, and the other half taking the piss out of foreigners. He has no idea how much of a tit he looks, and no idea why his audience is filling up with the worst kind of small-minded arseholes that he used to pillory.

    Posted by Davey | Friday 11 January 2013 @ 14:23

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  • Pussy.

    Posted by Mr | Friday 11 January 2013 @ 14:41

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  • It will be a glorious future when all comics stop making fun of every day life and the emotions incurred while living as such. Killing and burying - gender neutral - quite a few employers I wish I could have done that too.

    But indeed - completely censor yourself - perform your act in a warm beanie, with one hand between your thighs for warmth. There's a wealth of up and coming misandry filled acts that are completely politically correct.

    Posted by Zibbleton | Saturday 12 January 2013 @ 13:49

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  • Ah, the plaintive sounds of hack comics worried about having to write as much as five whole minutes of new material to replace their "edgy" rape gags.

    Posted by Bernard | Saturday 12 January 2013 @ 18:44

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  • Only one MRA nutbag? Disappointed.

    Posted by RR | Sunday 13 January 2013 @ 01:06

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  • A stand-up comedian who consciously won't be including misogynistic jokes in their routines? Holy shit, when does your next record come out?

    Posted by Andrea Elizabeth | Sunday 13 January 2013 @ 18:21

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  • A very lucid, brave and well-written article. Thank you for sharing this- you're doing important work.
    People like you give me hope that the world will become a better place. :)

    Posted by Enna | Monday 14 January 2013 @ 19:06

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  • Wow...written perfectly like a guy who's never successful with women under 200 lbs. Well done, sir.

    Posted by PirkDerfect | Monday 14 January 2013 @ 19:21

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  • That last comment was an parody of MRA logic. Just realized that it wasn't very obvious.

    Posted by PirkDerfect | Monday 14 January 2013 @ 19:27

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  • This is awesome! It's hard to even go to comedy shows as a lady - I love edgy comedy but 'asshole comedy' is stale & sounds like stuff people say in earnest every day. Good comedy's an art, not a lazy series of potshots at women and homosexuals.

    Hive five + don't beat yourself up! No-one gets it perfect but damn you're ahead of the pack.

    Posted by Pangolin | Tuesday 15 January 2013 @ 01:03

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  • Thanks for this piece; I really appreciate the journey you made, I and many other guys have been there. I live in the US and the reasons I don't bother with stand-up comedy is that so much of it is so ridiculously misognystic. It's not remotely funny, just people being nasty and relying on some TIRED cliches. Clearly these people are not talented comedians. Good on you for challenging yourself to write great materials, and hope you're performing in the US soon.

    Posted by Joe | Tuesday 15 January 2013 @ 14:17

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  • "Wow, this article is disgusting. Humor is supposed to push boundaries, it is supposed to go where other people won't."

    Yeah, joking about beating and raping women isn't really pushing any boundaries, dude. It's been so totally massively done that it reveals the hackiness of whoever is doing it. Even Louis CK.

    Posted by Sarah | Tuesday 15 January 2013 @ 15:47

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  • Don't hate yourself. You took the most important step - recognizing the problem.

    It's very common for bigots to react to "what you said is misogynistic" with "i'm not a misogynist!" -because they're NOT listening.

    You are.

    Keep listening.

    Posted by BruceMcGlory | Tuesday 15 January 2013 @ 17:48

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  • A pretty good review in general.

    Posted by MK | Wednesday 16 January 2013 @ 02:45

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  • Very brave indeed, thank you for this. Coming from a male comedian, this carries a great deal more weight than if a woman were to make these points. Thanks for backing us up!

    Posted by Erika | Wednesday 16 January 2013 @ 04:21

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  • 'Wow, this article is disgusting. Humor is supposed to push boundaries, it is supposed to go where other people won't.

    People like you do a disservice to the industry.'

    As Sarah above said - misogynistic jokes are not pushing boundaries, they are playing into the rape culture we already live within. Nothing transgressive there.

    Also, I brace myself with every male stand-up comedian on TV, waiting for the rape/abuse/violent/sexist joke to arrive and it does. Every time. One day, perhaps watching you, I won't have to turn the TV off.

    Well done.

    Posted by Steffi | Wednesday 16 January 2013 @ 21:18

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  • Your next act is going to kick ass.

    Love,
    A woman

    Posted by Marie | Thursday 17 January 2013 @ 20:35

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  • THANK YOU for writing this. I'm beyond impressed.

    Posted by graham | Friday 18 January 2013 @ 00:21

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  • Well, this may impress some people (who, IMHO, are not worth impressing), but to everyone else, it is just boring.

    Posted by JENSEN | Friday 18 January 2013 @ 08:06

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  • @ I thought the purpose of comedy was to make people laugh, not to push boundaries. Sure comedy sometimes needs to take risks, but for too many comedians it seems like causing of fence has become the goal of their 'work' instead of a by-product. As has been said before rape jokes are so mainstream they can hardly be considered 'edgy'.

    Posted by CMan | Friday 18 January 2013 @ 10:41

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  • Yes I had noticed that pattern of misogyny that you identify that can ruin what is meant to be a good live entertainment night out. Thanks for posting your self-reflection I very much admire your honesty. The ability to critique and reinvent surely is what excellent comedy grows out of so I guess as well as proving you are human it will only help your career to be able to do that!

    Posted by Stef | Friday 18 January 2013 @ 11:43

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  • This was such a brave gesture, it makes me want to hug you and/or come see your show now I know there's no chance of me being uncomfortably silent as a rape joke is loudly applauded. Renews my faith in stand-ups.

    Posted by Rosy | Friday 18 January 2013 @ 15:23

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  • I look forward to your next album. Lots of comedians were and are brilliant and edgy motherfuckers without resorting to misogyny. George Carlin and Patton Oswalt to name two.

    People who are decrying your new perspective as you folding under pressure must have missed the part where you expressed how you would prefer not to have misogyny in your act and then asked for input to remove it. Nobody pressured you, as far as I can tell. Some comedians are openly misogynistic, and they do well because people expect it from them. If you're not expecting it, it sucks when the misogynistic jokes inevitably come pouring out of an otherwise funny comedian's mouth. People of other races, gay people, foreigners–all of us know that feeling and it sucks because you like the performer SO MUCH and once they do a cheap bigoted joke or use a sexist slur, the magic is broken and it's hard to get it back.

    Posted by Songthe | Friday 18 January 2013 @ 18:33

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  • I respect you for your ability of self-introspection.
    Not so many people can do it.
    Thank you.
    Move on.

    Posted by Vlad Patryshev | Friday 18 January 2013 @ 22:52

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  • Bern rolling hard with a promising early contender for Most Idiotic Post of the Year.

    The Bill Burr shoutout was a decent entrée but the Hitler analogy was next level.

    Great work Bern!

    Posted by Shukla | Monday 21 January 2013 @ 15:22

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  • Thank you so much for being one of the few men willing to examine his shit. My faith in humanity is a little bit restored after reading this.

    Posted by Jamie | Monday 21 January 2013 @ 18:07

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  • What a pathetic man you are, almost as pathetic as the complaining women.

    I can see why you are on the telly all the time.

    Posted by Andy | Monday 21 January 2013 @ 18:59

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  • Thank you so much for writing that article. You're completely right about misogyny in comedy. I am sad no one made you aware sooner that your jokes were sexist, but better late than never, and that kind of humour can only be prevented by people speaking out about it like you have done here.

    Posted by Julia | Monday 21 January 2013 @ 22:03

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  • wonderful - realising, and admitting that you have perpetrated misogyny is the first step.

    don't hate yourself, forgive yourself and move on with a promise to act against misogynist comedy. it's all uphill from here. :)

    Posted by Rebecca | Tuesday 22 January 2013 @ 00:57

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  • As a comedian myself, and one of the female persuasion, I thank your gorgeous balls for this article.

    Posted by Johanna | Monday 28 January 2013 @ 17:15

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  • Good for you and thank you for writing this. Looking forward to your future sets that prove rape and murder of women ain't THAT funny. :)

    Posted by Clay | Wednesday 30 January 2013 @ 05:25

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  • I don't believe the joke about burying your girlfriend is misogynistic. it's certainly 'your-ex-girlfriend-istic', but then it sounds like yiou didn't really like her... so fair enough.

    Let's imagine you were a woman telling the same joke about your boyfriend, or that you were gay telling the same joke about your boyfriend. Would it be misogynistic then - nope. Would it be just as funny - yes.

    I've just been listening to Woman's Hour (the one which you appeared on), where Jenni Murray consistently talked over any interesting point you tried to make and implied that you hated women. Now, I know that she has to act as an agent provocateur and chair person so this mitigates this complaint to some degree... However, I personally found the tone of this section of the programme more sexist than the joke for which you were being taken to task.

    Some argue we live in an unequal society. Maybe we do. However, some of our society/life/biology is skewed for the benefit of women... and some skewed for the benefit of men... despite this I know of very few women who say they would rather be men. So why see the gender of the subject of your joke as more important than the jokes narrative?

    Posted by Edward Thatcher | Wednesday 30 January 2013 @ 11:17

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  • Well done! Wish others cared as much

    Posted by Mary Cahill | Wednesday 30 January 2013 @ 14:52

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  • I've never heard of you before, but I will be sure to keep a close eye out for your name form here on in. I think things are going to change for you, sir. Your next album will probably sell a lot better.

    Posted by Knave Murdok | Wednesday 22 May 2013 @ 00:29

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  • It's really depressing that this post, which would make even the most victimised women feel just a little bit pleased that some progress is being made, is filled with tonnes of REALLY fucking misogynistic comments. Blegh. Don't let it get you down. We're human beings. I really don;t understand human beings who hate other humans for no specific reason, even when they don't realise they're doing it. Blegh.

    Posted by Andrew Marty | Wednesday 22 May 2013 @ 03:04

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  • Respect to you Michael J Dolan. I'd never heard of you until today. Guess what?? All/most women hate themselves.... It's this misogynistic culture we live in. I feel a change coming. :)

    Posted by Jackie | Tuesday 28 May 2013 @ 08:57

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  • Do you mean Misogyny or sexist jokes. Misogyny is a more offensive term

    Posted by NEIL SEQUEIRA | Monday 23 September 2013 @ 17:25

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  • When am I going to learn to stop reading the comments...ughh. After reading this uplifting confessional from a man who is forced to confront his own misogynistic tendencies, I feel overwhelmed by defeat when I read the comments from the Archie Bunker crowd. Like any good politician or aspiring celebrity, the apology seems to be a preemptive PR move. In the event he ever gets famous, he doesn't want it getting out that he used violence and insults toward women for cheap laughs. Even acknowledging that sexism is the new racism sounds very calculating rather than genuinely apologetic. As a feminist, I am glad to hear any man accepting responsibility for perpetuating misogyny, but I question your motives, Michael. Why did you leave out the specifics? You could have used this article as an educational tool to shed light on the problem, not to simply distance yourself from it. What are you doing to end misogyny? If you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem. Your silence doesn't help anyone.

    Posted by Dubbs | Saturday 26 October 2013 @ 01:31

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  • @Dubbs

    Firstly, that's incredibly cynical. There's nothing in this to suggest it's some kind of PR move.

    Secondly, I was the editor who commissioned this piece, and for space reasons (it appeared in print), the original draft was cut by almost 50%. I can assure you that Michael's original piece contained even more detail about this issue, but unfortunately I had to remove some parts of it so it would fit in the allotted space. It's a shame we couldn't print the whole thing but I think it's a terrific credit to Michael that even this shortened version has struck such a chord.

    Posted by Bernard | Saturday 26 October 2013 @ 21:04

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  • Don't hate yourself, you're wonderful, and from one feminist to another I thank you for recognising your error in judgment and having the fortitude to own it and address it. Believe me, not many men are able to do this.

    xxx ooo

    Posted by Leisha | Tuesday 26 November 2013 @ 21:54

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  • Not an easy thing to tangle with, but really, it's for the best, and not just because rape culture needs dismantling and every voice helps.

    But for you. People will tell you that the secret to comedy is timing, or tragedy plus time, or getting loaded and just saying whatever gets a laugh however cheap, but really self-reflection is the big one. If you look at guys like Patton Oswalt and Louis C.K. you can see that self reflection, going back again and again and mining ones own flaws and making something true and sincere and soluble out of that, being able to call out others in the act of calling out yourself, that's the key to endless laughter that really connects people to your act in ways that make them say to others "my god, you have to see this guy".

    So good luck to you in finding your best sincerity and your deepest shortcomings. They will serve you well.

    Posted by Rebecca | Tuesday 14 January 2014 @ 06:47

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