“Women Aren’t Funny.”
“Women aren’t funny.”
This bullshit is uttered every year or two, usually by men over the age of 40. The last time there was a big hooplah over “Women aren’t funny” was in 2012. (Ah, 2012. Good times.) Radio host and podcaster Adam Carolla spewed a similar statement during an interview with The New York Post while discussing his new book. The comment got a lot more attention than his book did.
“The reason why you know more funny dudes than funny chicks is that dudes are funnier than chicks.”
Well said, sir. Shakespeare only wishes he could be as eloquent as you.
I watched this guy drag poor Julianne Hough around the floor on Dancing With the Stars in 2008. Whenever the camera was on him for more than a second, he would start talking. He tried so hard to be funny, failed miserably and it was just saaaaad. He’s a sad little man, living in a saaaaad little world. But at least he shares his name with a reliable vehicle with good resale value. Good for him.
Carolla is far from the first to share his negative opinion of women in comedy. John Belushi apparently requested female Saturday Night Live writers be fired on a regular basis. In 1998, Jerry Lewis said, “I don’t like any female comedians. A woman doing comedy doesn’t offend me but sets me back a bit. I, as a viewer, have trouble with it. I think of her as a producing machine that brings babies in the world.”
This has got to be one of the most offensive and sexist things ever said but most people shrug it off as “He’s a relic from another time,” so it seems less offensive than it actually is.
“Women aren’t funny” is a stupid lie to tell. Of course women are funny. It’s all a matter of taste. For instance, I don’t find Adam Carolla funny but some people (apparently) do. Humour is subjective. A female comedian may not be the favourite of dinosaurs and sexists but who cares what they likes and dislike?
I can only assume Carolla isn’t big into gender-related psychology. From an early age, men are taught that in order to find a mate, a male must be funny. “Man make joke. Pretty lady like joke. Man get pretty lady.” On the flip side, society teaches women they must be pretty. Being funny is just not something young women are encouraged to be. Kind, friendly, intelligent, charming and polite are acceptable traits. In the biological sense, there is no point to a woman being funny, especially since research shows many men are intimidated by funny women. This surprises me because women have been killing it in comedy for a long time.
The Mary Tyler Moore Show won 29 Emmy awards in seven seasons (1970-1977). It is second only to Frasier in number of wins for a comedy series. The Carol Burnett Show won 25 Emmys during its 12-season run (1967-1978). Murphy Brown (1988-1998) has 18. Sex and the City was nominated for over 50 Emmy awards in its six seasons. Further back, Golden Girls received 68 Emmy nominations. Other Emmy favourites from the past include Roseanne, I Love Lucy, Maude, Bewitched, Rhoda, Designing Women and Ally McBeal.
If winning or being nominated for an Emmy is any indication of the presence of funny in a television program — and I think it is — we’ve got lots of proof women are indeed funny. (So Carolla, Lewis and Belushi’s ghost can suck it.)
We’re living in a really great time for funny women on television. Comedy rock star Tina Fey, the creator of 30 Rock and former head writer for Saturday Night Live, is at the helm of a new single-camera comedy, Tooken, premiering in the fall of 2014. HBO series Girls is funny, smart and realistic. Star Lena Dunham also writes and directs the show.
Veep, another HBO sitcom, has been a recent Emmy favourite, winning lead actress Julia Louis-Dreyfus boat loads of critical acclaim for her portrayal of Vice President Selina Meyer. Over on NBC, Amy Poehler plays politician and do-gooder Leslie Knope on Parks and Recreation. Knope and Meyer might be two of the most ambitious, feminist character ever created for TV.
When Poehler isn’t on the set of Parks and Recreation, she’s executive producing a new sitcom, Broad City on Comedy Central. Broad City started out as a web series in 2009, created by and starring Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson. Broad City is hilarious, filthy and wonderful. (And everyone should watch it.) I’m thrilled to say it’s been picked up for a second season.
Women have flourished in sketch comedy shows too. I’m loving the charming, sweet, hipster-drenched show, Portlandia starring Carrie Brownstein and Fred Armisen. I’m also enjoying Inside Amy Schumer, a sketch show starring Last Comic Standing alum (and goddess), Amy Schumer. Her stand-up comedy is shocking and brazen but her show reveals a silly side.
As I write this sentence, I’m watching Iliza Shlesinger: War Paint on Netflix. Shlesinger is making fun of dieting tips from Cosmopolitan, drinking with girlfriends, dating and KY jelly. Her delivery is lightning fast, some of her jokes are incredibly bizarre and elaborate, she uses voices and has jokes for everyone. It’s almost like her uterus has no effect on her level of funny whatsoever.
Other stand-up comedians I adore are Maria Bamford, Aisha Tyler, Kristen Schaal, Margaret Cho, Nikki Glaser, Emily Heller, Jen Kirkman and the oh-so-wonderful Tig Nataro. YouTube personalities Hannah Hart, Jenna Marbles and Grace Helbig are in a related category but are no less adored.
Have I mentioned how much I admire Jenji Kohan? She’s the creator of two comedy-dramas featuring upperclass women who did bad things and have to deal with the consequences: Weeds and Orange is the New Black. She was also a writer and executive producer for both shows, in addition to her work on Gilmore Girls, Will & Grace and Mad About You. Are we seeing a pattern in her work? Kohan is great at writing funny material for women in television shows that appeal to both sexes. We need more Jenji Kohans! But we need them working on feature films more than TV, although both mediums are still dominated by men.
A 2013 study conducted by the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film found women accounted for only 16% of all directors, producers, writers, cinematographers and editors. Of the top 250 films of 2013, women accounted for only 25% of all producers and 33% of those 250 films didn’t have a single female producer on set. What the hell is that about?
Despite these depressing odds, female comedians are finding an audience on the big screen but the progress is slow as molasses.
One can’t discuss women in comedy without mentioning Bridesmaids. It’s almost a cliché at this point. I only bring it up because it stars women almost exclusively and the screenplay was written by women. Oh, and the fact it made $288 million at the box office. It proves people will dish out money — a lot of money — to see comedies starring women.
Pitch Perfect (2012), another comedy featuring funny females, had a budget of $17 million. At the box office, it made $113 million. Not bad at all! A sequel is due out in 2015 and Elizabeth Banks is stepping in as director.
The Heat (2013) made $229 million. Mean Girls (2004) made $129 million. Juno (2007) made $231 million.
Let’s take a step back a bit. A League of Their Own (“There’s no crying in baseball!”) from 1992 made $132 million. Sister Act (1992) made $231 million. 9 to 5 (1980) made $103 million — that’s over $300 million if you consider inflation.
My point is this: if you build it, they will come. To the movie theatre, I mean.
That leaves one area of comedy writing that cannot be left out — books.
According to data from digital library service Scribd, the most popular book in the state of New York in 2013 was Sarah Silverman‘s The Bedwetter: Stories of Courage, Redemption, and Pee. To date, Tiny Fey’s book Bossypants has sold more than a million copies. Chelsea Handler has, like, ten bestselling humour memoirs. Mindy Kaling, Caitlin Moran, Ellen DeGeneres, Samantha Bee, Kathy Griffin, Jane Lynch, Louise Rennison, Jen Lancaster, Rachel Dratch, Meg Cabot, Sophie Kinsella…
Ya know what? I’m not going to just keep listing names. The point is women are thriving in the world of funny books. It helps if you can get on TV or in movies first but the opportunity is still there. Lena Dunham and Amy Poehler also have books coming out soon. Is memoir-writing a right of passage for actresses? Whatever. I like it.
Women are killing it when it comes to comedy. If only Hollywood could increase the percentage of women working behind the camera. But women are creating, producing and writing their own media and that’s a step in the right direction.
This is not the Golden Age of women in comedy. This is comedy.
Who is your favorite female comedian? Or what funny female-fronted film do adore? Comment below, I’d love to hear your thoughts.
Jillianne Hamilton is the author of Molly Miranda: Thief for Hire, its two action/comedy sequels, and The Lazy Historian's Guide to the Wives of Henry VIII. She is also a graphic designer, a hoarder of podcasts and a history enthusiast. Learn more.