The XX Factor

Why Are There So Few Women in the SXSW Comedy Lineup?

When South by Southwest put out its comedy lineup for this year’s forthcoming festival , which runs from Mar. 12-19 in Austin, Tex., the initial roster looked fantastic, save for a glaring omission. There was only one woman comic-the excellent Tig Notaro -out of more than 30 performers listed. Generally I’m not a fan of bean counting, but that ratio seemed egregious. The Internet upset over the lack of women was swift. As writer Lindsay Robertson pointed out , “What the f*** is up with the fact that SXSW comedy has booked TONS of male comedians and only ONE female *”?  I contacted SXSW comedy programmer Charlie Sotelo to find out.

In an e-mail, Sotelo says he is “heartbroken” over the reaction to the paucity of women performers. He explained that the “initial announcements are rarely complete, and this year is no exception,” and that they’re already in the process of finalizing arrangements with some well-known female comedians. Sotelo went on to list a few reasons why more women were not in this initial press release. First off, only three women applied in the SXSW open auditions this year. Secondly, they did try to reach out to several women comedians, but many had scheduling conflicts. Finally, SXSW runs at the same time as television pilot season. “This year, it cost us some great women,” Sotelo said.

These all sound like decent explanations. It’s pretty unreasonable to expect that there will be an equal number of women as men in any comedy festival, as the pool of women stand-ups is not huge. One female comic I spoke to said that she estimates that in most cities, about 10 percent of working comics are women. Still, the 31 men to 1 woman ratio of SXSW is pretty shameful, and it’s heartening that Sotelo seems committed to fixing it. Let’s see how this progresses. And hey, good job in nabbing the hilarious Donald Glover from Community .

* Correction, Feb. 18, 2011 : The original version of this post included an erroneous mention of a SXSW panel.