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Yet another women in comedy rant…

It seems there has been a lot of press recently about women in comedy. Of course, there was the notoriously stupid article by Christopher Hitchens in Vanity Fair last year entitled, “Why Women Aren’t Funny.” I’d link you, but, you know, it’s stupid. He essentially says that women aren’t funny biologically because they don’t need to be funny to attract a mate, they just need to be attractive. Then Vanity Fair tried to make nice a year later by spotlighting women in comedy, with a cover featuring media darlings Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, and Sarah Silverman and profiles inside on a bunch of other up-and-coming funny ladies. The thesis of that article: “Wait no, women can be funny AND attractive!”

This week, Paolo tipped me off to this article in Time Out Chicago and its ensuing discussion, and Annie tipped me off to this article in Ireland’s Sunday Tribune, and I thought I would weigh in.

I’m a comedian, I’m a feminist, and I have over-thought the issue almost to the point that I don’t know where to begin. I don’t like how the discussion has put a lot of male comics on the defensive, especially because as a white person, I know how hard it can be to see how easy you have it. A lot of well intentioned, perfectly nice male comedians I know have NO IDEA why it is hard for women to be comics or what they can do about it.

For the purposes of discussion, I offer what I think are two of the main reasons why it has taken so long for women to break into comedy, and some possible things we can do about it (all of us! together!),

1. Less role models. Yes, there are a lot of amazing women comics out there, but wouldn’t you have to admit that there are a hell of a lot more successful male comedians than women? This has pretty far-reaching implications, because when there are less women comics, the few who do it are held up as representatives, and that’s how we get stuck with stereotypes of what women comics talk about (see: Maria Bamford video below), which in turn affects people’s preconceived notions about women comics, which in turn causes them to either avoid women comics or be disappointed in those who don’t talk about these issues. This also causes women to not want to BE comics (because who wants to be one of THOSE comics?) until they see a woman comic they actually WANT to be like.

Solutions: Watch women comics; laugh! Are you funny? Be a woman comic! Tell women comics you like them. If you can, book them in a show! Don’t assume you know what women comics are going to talk about. Assume they are going to be funny (you will laugh more if you do). Go see movies where women get to be comedic leads. Don’t introduce women as, “one of my favorite female comics” – it will just leave them wondering where they stand overall, and while it may be intended as a complement, not all women like their gender singled out, especially in regards to comedy.

2. Yes, sexism from male comics. I don’t want to put anyone on the defensive, and I don’t support censorship, and I know the whole PC thing is a delicate tightrope, but can you seriously expect women comics to feel like your peers when they hear you imply that you don’t respect them? This one is hard, because we all live in a culture that tells us that jokes about hating women are funny and okay, and I don’t think male comics are responsible for this sensibility. But try to understand what that does to female comics:

Even when the majority of male comics in a room respect and enjoy female comedians, if there is one comic in their ‘posse’ who tells a joke condoning rape, I’m not going to feel comfortable going up and talking to the group. Even if it is a joke, I know too many women who have been raped to assume anyone’s intentions. I’m going to avoid those groups of people, I’m not going to make friends with them, I’m not going to have fun at open mics, and I’m eventually going to stop going. Plain and simple.

I’m also not going to invite my female friends to come see me perform when I think other comedians in the lineup are going to offend them or single them out in the audience (this has happened multiple times), just like I’m not going to invite my black friends to come see a show where I know someone is going to tell a racist joke while looking them in the eye (this also happened). So while I am willing to endure sexism from male comics on stage, I’m not willing to subject my friends to it, and there goes my support system.

Solution: Fellas, tell women comics you appreciate them. If someone tells a hateful joke about women, don’t laugh. Invite women comics into your circle. If you must continue telling jokes that hate on women, don’t assume someone is humorless if they are offended. Oh, and don’t sexually harass women comics on stage. I’ve seen this too many times.

These are just a few thoughts… I welcome discussion. Perhaps in the newly revamped forum?


Comment from Elizabeth McQuern
Time: July 30, 2008, 10:08 am

Hi there, I was quoted in that Time Out Chicago article, which actually spawned a much lengthier and more comprehensive comment thread by all the comics involved on the Bastion:

The only thing we could really all agree on was that the article was much too brief and generalized to do much more than stir up a bunch of angry and defensive feelings among our comics.

Comment from Dave
Time: November 10, 2009, 8:30 am

I am all about the female comedians. One of my favorites is Susie Essman from Curb Your Enthusiasm. Check out this new widget featuring Susie cursing up a storm. Its hilarious….enjoy!