‘Ding-dong the witch is dead, the wicked old witch is dead’ is a celebratory song lyric written by a couple of musical men in the 1930s for one of the most popular films of all times, The Wizard of Oz. And for fans of this song, film and character – the Wicked Witch of the West, whose death they so joyously celebrate, a character widely voted ‘the best witch’ and female villain of all time – you will be pleased to hear that they have been resurrected recently by a bar in central Auckland called Ding Dong Lounge that hosts a regular Thursday night open-mic comedy gig known as Dead Witch Comedy. The witch may be dead – ding dong – but she lives on every Thursday night in Auckland.
As it happens I do a bit of stand-up comedy and performed fairly regularly at this open-mic venue last year, but that was before it was renamed for 2020 as Dead Witch Comedy. Then it was more innocently known as Comedy at Ding Dong, and on those occasions, standing up under a green light, with my big nose and pointy chin (and mic stand for broomstick when needed), I was probably the closest thing to a witch in body if not name, living or dead, on the premises. Probably; one never knows for sure with witches.
But with the re-naming to Dead Witch Comedy to bring in the new year and decade, along with a new logo depicting a young naked woman on a broomstick in rear view, I decided I was not comfortable performing there anymore and got in touch with the man who runs the gig, telling him I could not perform there in the name of dead witches and naked women and requesting they be removed. He replied that he had no control over the changes but defended the naked woman logo by telling me it was taken from a 1910 painting. Oh, so it’s art. That’s alright then. Except by my reckoning it is not alright. ‘Art’ has come a long way since 1910, but it needs to come further still. And so I have not been back to do my funny dance under the green light at Ding Dong since these changes. Their loss, only it’s my loss too of course because comics need as much broom time as we can get.
The NZ Comedy Trust has just received a chunk of money from Creative New Zealand, some for Covid relief and the rest, they say, for working to make our comedy industry more diverse. Meanwhile the various industry Facebook groups, such as the NZ Comedy Guild and Auckland Comedy Community that are there to serve comedians and the wider comedy industry, especially the Guild, remain happy to let the producers of this gig publicise it in image and name on their sites, something that in my opinion is not fairly serving comedians nor likely to facilitate diversity in an industry that always was and remains still young male heavy, the very demographic that naked women and dead witch humour clearly panders to.
And sure enough the line-ups for these DWC gigs that comics volunteer to take part in continue to see far more men than women signing up, with the average line-up being 10 to 2 men to women, as well as a male MC. And these numbers are repeated across the vast majority of comedy line-ups for rookie and paid pro gigs in Auckland and beyond, because the problem of male bias in comedy is of course not only at Ding Dong. They’re just the most brazen and, you could say, honest about it. But the problem is global and in my observation increasing, not decreasing, as it should be with more women every year trying to break into the industry and ‘killing it’ on the comedy stage when they are given the opportunity, which is not often enough.
With increasing evidence being brought to light that female comics are at risk of sexual harassment and bullying in the comedy industry by male comics, here as elsewhere, I think there are more than enough disincentives for female comics in our industry without us having to promote comedy with dead witches and naked women on broomsticks, and that any organisation claiming to represent comedians and care about improving the industry’s diversity should be objecting to this kind of promotion not encouraging it, as our local comedy organisations effectively are.
I would like to end on a joke but I am a little out of practice, also, I don’t feel exactly amused by this situation, not least because I have already had a previous complaint about this publicly mocked and shut down by men and women in the NZ comedy community. But if we are serious about making the industry more diverse and spending public money wisely and fairly, my two cents worth (I’m not making a lot of money here) is that we need to take active measures to ensure we have more inclusive and less abusive ways to ‘kill’ on the comedy stage than by sexualising young and demonising older women in the name of comedy. Ding dong.
Scoop Editor's note: This article replaces an earlier version of this article which contained some inaccuracies.
The Comedy Guild also asked for this note covering their point of view to be attached.
" The purpose of the Guild isn't to police comedy nor the content. We encourage acceptable behaviour through a code of conduct that both producers and performers are familiar with. We also assist in complaints and resolving disputes. An example of this is the event that the author has mentioned. We have worked with the producer who is going to rename the event, this required him to carefully negotiate with the venue manager. If a formal complaint was made with us earlier, we would have assisted in coming up with a solution."