The sobriety of variety: Why we made the Diversity Quota

Contributed by Eliott Simpson

Comedy provides more than laughter; it provides understanding, empathy, education, and absurdity from an all-sorts assortment of amazing talent.

But in order to stay relevant and engaging, exciting and revolutionary, comedy needs variety in its voices: new and different viewpoints to keep crowds confined to their seats. Although the industry has previously satisfied this demand with a consistent slew of acts to tantalize and tickle the masses, the variety of voices being allowed on stage to share these comedic cognitions still doesn’t seem quite as high as it should be in today’s ever evolving culture.

Having been performing across the UK and the US, I’ve had the privilege of meeting many minority comics. Yet rarely would I ever see more than one of them on a bill at any one time, nor have I ever met another openly asexual comedian like myself.

I shared my concerns with fellow queer comic, Craig Thomson-Gold, in my current home of Glasgow. Together we decided to create The Diversity Quota; a night that openly and unashamedly celebrated the diversity of performers that Scotland has at its disposal.

We made The Diversity Quota primarily to make a platform for diverse voices in comedy. While there are some exceptional comics that come from a myriad of different backgrounds, they are still within the minority especially at the level of standard clubs and open-mics. I think a lot of this comes down to the fact that we overlook just how inaccessible comedy can be.

Stand-up comedy is an incredibly courageous thing for anyone to do. It requires an immense level of confidence and bravery to even attempt, but I think that applies even more so to those from minority communities. If you’re someone outside of what society perceives as the norm, often you’ll find yourself as an odd one out in the room – let alone on a standard comedy bill. You may be the only one on who is female, queer, trans, black, or not able-bodied.

When placed in that position, the comedy industry is far more overwhelming and intimidating, compelling you to prove your right to be there alongside everyone else. As a performer and as a minority-in-the-crowd, it can be easy to feel discouraged; that your voice is drowned out or doesn’t matter compared to your peers.

When few nights exist that actively encourage and facilitate a collection of these types of different and diverse voices, it can lead to comedy appearing inaccessible to many people, not just to acts, but to audiences as well. Many communities from LGBT+ and BAME backgrounds may often feel like their voices are rarely represented in comedy, so they may feel less inclined to go to shows. In the case of disabled acts and audiences, comedy is literally inaccessible due to most venues being in basements or on upper floors, making it near impossible to perform or watch comedy as easily as others.

I quickly realised that it isn’t enough to simply have an open platform and expect minority acts to get involved: you need to actively reach out and facilitate spaces for those voices so that they are as validated and accepted as those who often outnumber them on standard nights. If you create an accessible space where every comedian is from a different background, where no one type of performer vastly dominates the bill, then acts feel more validated in the company of their peers, because in this case, no one is the odd one out.

This ethos also lends well to attracting supportive and diverse audiences, comprised of people from communities that rarely see their voices represented on stage.

Since starting the Diversity Quota, we’ve attracted several people who had rarely seen live comedy before. Due to the diversity of voices displayed, they actively wanted to show their support and enjoy the night. Facilitating a space with a supportive audience helps to boost the confidence of newer acts from minority backgrounds, to assure them that they are performing amongst fellow performers and audiences that share understanding and empathy, and that they are free and encouraged to express themselves just as much as anyone else.

It may seem simple, but it makes an extraordinary difference.

We started the Diversity Quota already knowing several minority comics that we felt deserved more stage time and recognition. But I could never have imagined just how many completely new comedians would approach us once we started; how many would come to us for their 2nd or 1st gig; how much they would value their experience and use it to boost their confidence enough to improve and try other nights. Seeing brand new comics like this become more self-assured and confident in such a short space of time due to the support and encouragement of acts and audiences alike is exactly why the Diversity Quota exists.

Seeing the positive influence the night and community we created was having on acts inspired us to also start creating social events for comedians such as meet-ups and writing sessions, which we know has helped to facilitate positive support and help between performers. We’ve also now made The Diversity Quota a charity night, in order to encourage people to expand their support to minorities outside of just the arts.

As much as I’m aware that minority voices are, by definition, not the largest population – there are still far more than people realise. These lesser heard groups just need active encouragement, help, and understanding as well as spaces like The Diversity Quota to build up experience and confidence, and to attract audiences who want to hear these revolutionary, modern voices.

The comedy industry can be a wonderful place. Like all forms of art, it’s a bright pool of potential, brimming with laughter from all walks of life. That’s what the Diversity Quota was made for, and so far I think it’s been a tremendous success.

The Diversity Quota is based in Glasgow.

You can keep up with the show by following it on Facebook and Twitter.

You can keep up with Eliott’s work by following him on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.