Montreal comedians Emna Achour and Coralie LaPerrière created an Instagram account called Pas de fille sur le pacing — No girls in the lineup — as a way to call out gender inequality in Quebec comedy.
“We did it as an answer to us being told that we exaggerate when we say, ‘it’s a problem guys, let’s try to book more women,'” said Achour, a standup comedian, “and people are like ‘no, it doesn’t happen that often,’ so we started this page to be like, ‘here are the receipts.'”
The Instagram page, which denounces “the boys’ club in comedy,” calls out all-male lineups at comedy clubs and events across the province. It has more than 150 posts after just a few months in operation.
One of the bars that’s been featured several times is Le Troquet in Gatineau, Que., which hosts a comedy night every Thursday, often spotlighting only male performers.
So in June, when the face of one female comic by the name of Sonia Bélanger began appearing in every lineup posted to the event’s Facebook page, there was hope the problem was being taken seriously.
Until it was found that Sonia Bélanger herself was a joke. She doesn’t exist, but was instead created by artificial intelligence (AI).
The Instagram page called out the bar once again this week, posting several screenshots of its lineups featuring Sonia Bélanger with the caption, “It’s crazy how much effort goes into just not booking a female comedian! Hats off to you, really. Slow clap.”
While LaPerrière says the bar’s owner has been upset about being criticized in the past, she didn’t think he would take it this far. Then again, she says there are many people who are still opposed to women in comedy.
“I really think it’s because they’re scared to lose their privileges,” she said. “There’s a saying that says, ‘to the privileged, equality feels like oppression,’ so I really think there’s that that’s going on right now.”
Bar owner claps back
Éric Gaudreault, the owner of Le Troquet, says he created the fake comic in response to the Pas de fille sur le pacing posts that said his bar rarely books female comedians.
“That page often mentioned us, painted us as misogynists, as if we weren’t making any effort,” said Gaudreault, who said “plenty of women have performed” on his stage.
“So, in response to their joke of associating us with this type of management, we responded with the joke of creating this comedian from scratch.”
Gaudreault says Sonia Bélanger’s performance is cancelled at the start of every show, “and most of our clientele knows it’s a running joke.”
In response to the criticism for creating an AI-generated woman instead of booking a real one, Gaudreault said the bar is “doing more today by getting Quebec talking about this issue,” acknowledging the need to strengthen the presence of female comedians on stage.
“Are we going to make more of an effort? No. Are we going to keep trying to help female comedians gain the same prominence as male comedians? Yes, we’ll definitely help advance this cause,” he said.
Fewer opportunities for women in comedy
Elspeth Wright, a comedian and writer based in Montreal, says this particular situation speaks to the wider problem of sexism in the comedy industry.
“So often there is only one woman on a lineup and for that one woman to be not a real woman — like I can see how, OK, it became a running joke — but it points to a larger issue,” she said, “and that’s that there are fewer opportunities for women in comedy and it’s 2023 and that’s ridiculous.”
Wright says even when women are given opportunities, they’re often in competition with each other to get them because there are so often only one or two spots for them.
LaPerrière says the idea that women are less funny than men has persisted for decades — and the lack of opportunities for them is not unique to Quebec.
“It happens in the United States, it happens in Canada … it happens in France,” she said. “I think it’s a worldwide problem.”
Wright hopes this situation will make venues and events more open to booking multiple women on one lineup, “because we’re funny, we’re here and we want to work,” she said.
“We don’t want to take anything away from the guys; we just want to join them.”