Sunday, May 15, 2011

Stepping toward funny

I don't know about you guys, but I'm feeling enormous pressure for Bridesmaids (billed as the female The Hangover) to have a huge opening weekend.  I don't want to feel this pressure because it implies that everything women do has to be some statement about feminism and I don't like that.  But I feel it anyway.  Apparently, the future of comedic women in film is entirely riding on Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo's ability to write a funny movie, starring women and about women that can entertain men.  Although I think this is kind of a ridiculous premise -- if Bridesmaids doesn't do well it's not like women aren't going to continue to be funny and maybe a studio will even take a chance on them again in 75 years or so -- I do heavily resent the prevalent notion that women aren't funny.  Women are hilariously, smartly, stupidly, subtly and not-so-subtly, funny.  And, yet, men (and generally men who aren't very funny) are always telling me that we are not.

How many wedding photographers will force women to pose like this this
wedding season?  I'm guessing it will be roughly equal to the number of
wedding DJs playing Train's Marry Me at receptions.
While I agree that there are far fewer women comedians and women comedy writers than men, I think that this is attributable not to the fact that women aren't funny, but to the massive sexism throughout the entertainment industry.  It's much more difficult for women to get and stay in jobs as comedians and writers because these organizations are run like old boys clubs. (Even Jon Stewart, love of my life, has been accused of being a part of this institutionalized sexism in the workplace.)  From the earliest days of Saturday Night Live female cast members have been underrepresented (both on screen and in the writers room), under-promoted and over-terminated. Allegations abound of SNL producers of firing women over their weight.  Anyone who have ever watched SNL knows that this is not a problem that men on the show experience.  Women writers and cast members have routinely been undermine by male performers -- including SNL darling Jim Belushi who reportedly went out his way to undermine women because "women aren't funny."   SNL cast reunions are notoriously awkward with men squirming, denying and joking as women bring up the mistreatment they experienced.  Ingrained, institutionalized sexism exists throughout the film-making industry, and never is it more obvious than in comedy.

Funny girls.
But "women aren't funny" refrain is not just heard in Hollywood and live from New York, it prevails throughout society.  When describing what they look for in a mate, women consistently look for a man who "is funny", while men are more likely to describe a woman who "laughs at his jokes" or who "has a good sense of humor."   Women aren't expected to be funny, they are just expected to think that men are.  I think this common misconception comes from the same segment of the population that believed (or still believes) that women aren't smart.  Vanity Fair writer Christopher Hitchens writes that men are funny because they are trying to attract women and women aren't funny because they are trying to attract men.  Men don't wish to see women as rivals for comedy or anything else.  He then goes on to write a bunch of bullshit about how this relates to conception and men's overall inferiority to women and how the human condition is about the march to death women can't find the death of a child funny.  That part is a whole load of crap.  But the part about attracting the opposite sex is on the nose.  Women aren't thought to be funny because they aren't allowed to be funny.  If they are too funny, society assumes that they must be making up for something that is wrong with them, like they are fat, or ugly, or barren.  And, if they are pretty and thin and fertilely abled, they should only be funny in a way that is stupid -- like Cameron Diaz, or in a way that plays off the man's humor (the joke is the woman's reaction to the man, not the women herself) like Jennifer Aniston in every movie ever.  It's all part of the societal narrative that teaches women (and men) that they should never be equal to men.  This narrative is so insidious that even the most self-aware and feminist men and women don't realize that they fall into it.  But the root of the problem is not that women inherently aren't funny, it's that they are taught (implicitly and explicitly) that being funny isn't for them. 
Ironically, there is no "Everyone loves 
a funny girl" shirt.

So, is Bridesmaids the key to changing all that?  No.  And even Bridesmaids, with it's sparkling "Judd Apatow Produced" headline, and women-are-obsessed-with-weddings-and-getting-married-concept is certainly not a pillar of feminist values.  But a funny movie that is written by women and about women, but aimed at both women and men, is a step in the right direction.  Having women who are funny as writers, as actresses and as producers is a step in the right direction.  Creating a new normal, where women's humor is valid and appreciated on it's own and not as compensation for something else is a step in the right direction.  This week, in honor of Bridesmaids, I'm going to write about some women that I think are very funny.  Call it my step in the right direction.  Hope you enjoy.

xo kate

1 comment:

  1. The movie is HILARIOUS. Head thrown back in laughter, clap your hands, slap your knees, hysterical. Women are very very funny. Word to your mother.

    P.S. This movie only furthers cements my girl crush on Kristin Wiig.