New Zealand comedian Louise Beuvink was frustrated with gender roles and society’s expectations of women, so she created Ladylike: A Modern Guide to Etiquette. The show opens this week, so we caught up with the rising star to talk about women, patriarchy and being told to be ‘ladylike’.
Villainesse: What inspired you to create Ladylike: A Modern Guide to Etiquette?
Louise: The concept started as a satirical column for a women’s magazine in early 2014. It was going to be “A Modern Lady’s Guide to…” with a different topic for each issue, addressing it in a ridiculous and subversive way. I’ve always enjoyed creating comedy in a written format, and a women’s mag felt like the perfect outlet for material about womanhood, which has often been lambasted in a mainstream setting. There’s that tired old complaint that “all female comedians talk about is their vaginas” while dudes talk about their dicks and that’s all G.
The magazine was a start up that never got off the ground, so I kept my little nugget of an idea knowing it’d be a great show but not quite feeling like I was a good enough comedian to create it yet. Then, in late 2016, I bit the bullet and pitched the idea for the 2017 NZ International Comedy Festival. They accepted, and now here we are!
There’s a huge amount of pressure put on women to act in a certain way, how have you navigated that pressure?
I don’t believe anyone should act or be a particular way just because of their gender. I like to be assertive, share my opinions, perform stand up comedy and say “fuck” in casual conversation. The people who don’t think I should do any of that because I’m a woman aren't people I care about impressing anyway, so that makes it easier.
Gender roles are still prevalent in our society. How does Ladylike: A Modern Guide to Etiquette deconstruct them?
It doesn’t deconstruct them in a gender studies lecture kind of way, and it doesn’t attempt to. It’s a silly, fun, interactive show that makes people laugh about the weird gender role bullshit that maybe they hadn’t thought about before. Then hopefully they go away afterwards and have a good think about it all.
Did you ever learn about ‘etiquette’ as a child?
Not in the ‘old school’ sense of the word. It was mostly just table manners and not swearing. Although I do remember having a life-skills session at my Catholic all-girls high school when I was 14 where we learned how to walk like catwalk models. That was fucking weird.
Have you ever been told that you should be more ‘ladylike’?
I’m sure my Mum told me to be “ladylike” when I was farting on my younger siblings or something like that. I don’t think I’ve been told it as much in my adult years, but that’s probably more to do with the people I surround myself with. Maybe I should start farting on people again.
How did you get into comedy?
Under duress. I was always a drama-nerd kid, and as a student at the University of Otago I got involved in the Capping Show, which is the annual Otago student revue. A bunch of my Capping Show friends started an open mic comedy night, and peer pressured me into doing a spot, which I really didn’t want to but eventually relented. I ended up loving it and now it’s my job!
What’s the main message that you want audiences to take away from Ladylike: A modern guide to etiquette?
That your gender shouldn’t mean shit about how you should be, look or act, or what you should do with your life. Also that I’m really funny.
If you could give young women one piece of advice, what would it be?
Love and support each other. Don’t fall prey to that bullshit movie cliche that women are all competitive and hate each other. We’re stronger together.
I’m ashamed to say I used to be one of those “I’m not like other girls” teenagers, and didn’t have a lot of girl friends. I realised later that was some serious internalised misogyny on my part, and now I am so lucky to be friends with some fucking amazing women.
As a comedian who is a woman, how do you deal with the gendered bullshit that sometimes comes with being female in a male dominated profession?
We are very lucky in New Zealand to have an amazingly supportive comedy industry. We’re like a big family where everyone looks out for each other, and the men of NZ comedy are bloody great on the whole. There’s still room for improvement, but I think the industry has made some genuine progress on being more inclusive and diverse.
Most of the sexist bullshit that has been directed at me has come from audience members. Going into a gig, I always have some heckle put-downs up my sleeve so I can deal with any sexist crap that gets thrown at me. It also helps that I don’t drink before a gig, so being stone cold sober means I’m a lot sharper and quicker than the drunk dickhead in the crowd.
It gets scary though. I did a gig at a rugby club recently where I had to get another comedian to walk me back to my car afterwards. And I guarantee if you ask any other comedian who is a woman, she’ll tell you a similar story.
Unfortunately, occasionally being sexually harassed by an audience member is basically a fact of life for comedians who are women. It needs to change, and for that [to happen], society’s attitude to women needs to change.
What’s your reaction when someone says ‘I don’t usually find women funny, but you’re hilarious’?
I get annoyed, which makes me look like a massive asshole because whoever said it thinks that they’re giving me a lovely compliment. And you know what the saddest thing is? I’ve been told that more often by other women than men. It’s a classic piece of internalised misogyny.
I’ve found the best way to make them understand what they’ve just said is to turn it around on them and their profession. “I don’t particularly like female accountants, but you’re pretty good.” They usually get it after that.
Is there anything else you’d like to tell us?
Fuck the patriarchy. Also come to my show!
Ladylike: A Modern Guide to Etiquette opens at Q Theatre Vault on Tuesday and runs until Saturday. More information can be found here.Support Villainesse